Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4th

AriJ sent me this EJ Dione column on the topic of Independence day.
It does a good time thinking about the ways in which progressives and regressives (err, conservatives) approach July 4th, as a national time of reflection or perhaps a chest thumping exercise. Here is an excerpt:

There is, moreover, a distinguished national tradition in which dissident voices identify with the revolutionary aspirations of the republic's founders. Frederick Douglass, the former slave turned anti-slavery champion, offered the classic text in his 1852 address often published under the title: "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"

"To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy," Douglass declared. "Everybody can say it. . . . But there was a time when, to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men's souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day."

This telling of the Fourth of July story identifies the day as part of a long, progressive history and turns "agitators" and "plotters of mischief" into the holiday's true heroes. The Fourth is transformed from an affirmation of continuity into a celebration of change. The republic's founders are praised not because they inaugurated a system designed to stand forever, unaltered, but because they blazed a path toward what Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has called "active liberty." They set the nation on a course that would, as Breyer put it, expand "the scope of democratic self-government."

This is not a philosophy for the stand-patter nor a recipe for living in the past. And it emphatically rejects any definition of true patriotism that cedes to a current ruling group the right to declare what is or is not "Americanism."

A prayer for this day: as our feet stand rooted in this land, may our memories recall the great and radical revolutions that enabled us to stand here so. May our hearts be inspired to continue the work of the righteous people who inspire us. Let us preserve the constant concern for the rights of the minority Jefferson so deeply articulated, let us constantly stand against oppressors as Fredrick Douglass preached we can, let us echo the commitment to linking causes that abolitionist-suffragettes like Lucretia Mott did, let us thirst for knowledge with Edison's love, let us share the commitment to service that JFK called upon our nation to share, let us stand with the quiet dignity and deep justice that Rosa Parks showed all the time, and let us stand with the desire for peace that Einstein articulated so clearly in his later years in princeton. And let us love each day and each breath like so many people we have never heard of. The examples are many and the stories stirring, let us live up to the best of this national mythology, to the highest ideals of a sometimes hypocritically framed set of national values. Let us fight the holy fight, the just fight, the right fight, and in that act make this nation something we can be more than embarrassed about.

At rosh hashannah, the jewish new year, we blow the shofar, a ram's horn. We blow it dozens of times. It doesn't absolve of sins, it is merely a loud noice. It may not absolve our sins but it calls on us to wake from our moral slumber and arise with energy and haste to meet the people we have harmed in that year and make amends. It calls on us to erupt with self-reflection and consider the ways we can break old habits and see ourselves honestly and take the best of what we see. Those shofar blasts mean nothing if we don't wake up. it is easy enough to hit the metaphorical snooze button and go through the motions. We have all done it. But if we truly listen it is a life changing moment, and part of a life changing and rechanging process.

I think of July 4th as our national day of reflection and the fireworks much like the shofar. They serve to break the dams that allow us to go through the motions, they break the cycle of apathy with color, noise, and beauty. Let us not hit the snooze button. Lord knows, this year, like many years, we need to wake up and consider what the mirror shows.


At 7/04/2006 , Blogger Chorus of Apes said...

this was a beautiful post. I read it outloud at my weekly fellowship meeting. Thanks for the inspiration.

At 7/04/2006 , Blogger Chorus of Apes said...

everyone loved it. Though I tried to punctuate it with a shofar blast, but it came out as more of a pooting-spitting sound, which was pretty anti-climactic.

At 7/05/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

glad to hear that you had a chance to use it! sorry the langauge was so choppy the first time. i was in a hurry so i forgot to edit. : (


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