Faith Works 7-06-13
237 birthdays, and counting
Yes, I'm back from Philmont Scout Ranch, and yes, I know you've been promised a series of columns on the Bible that's not done yet (two more to go!), but I would like to seasonally digress before we go on with my scriptural mediations.
We're wrapping up a week of celebrations and commemorations of the birth of the United States of America, now 237 years young. During the days leading up to July 4, there've been some other special observances for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 2, & 3, and also of the end of the Siege of Vicksburg. Here in Ohio, we're creeping up on the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, Oliver Hazard Perry's key contribution to the War of 1812 and perhaps the brightest moment for the USA in that conflict other than the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner" in Baltimore harbor.
But it's the Glorious Fourth that we tend to focus on, which marks . . . well, what does it mark, exactly?
Technically, it is the date on the Declaration of Independence, approved by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. John Adams had pressed the resolution which the Declaration itself represents on July 2nd, and it was signed on August 2nd, but the resolution was, technically, "ratified" on July 4th, and some evidence indicates it was first read to the public on July 4.
John Adams wanted the country to celebrate July 2, which he felt was the moment in which a new nation was born, but he reconciled himself in later years to July 4, dying on that day in the same year as Thomas Jefferson, which certainly ratified the date in a strange sense.
Many of you probably are familiar with a letter John wrote to Abigail Adams and this passage from it: "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
Yes, he was talking about what he thought July 2nd would be for us in the future, but the general outlines have held true to our celebrations for the Fourth of July . . . except for . . . you're probably a step ahead of me here, aren't you? "Solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty."
You can tell that John, Massachusetts puritan that he might be by birth, was wanting something more than solemnity ("Shews, Games, Sports" et cetera are all on the list), but devotional moments are part of the program in his vision of July 4. Did we use them all up back on Memorial Day weekend, those pauses for reflection and prayerful appreciation? I don't have a program in mind, I'm just noticing the general lack.
Part of what we might need to reclaim Adams' sense of what this observance should be is right there in the letter to Abigail. Because while many have heard the preceeding statement, too few know the very next lines of their July 3, 1776 correspondence: "You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."
As we celebrate freedom, and recall from Gettysburg's battlefield a "new birth of freedom" Lincoln called for from there; as we watch Egypt stumble in implementing democracy and we welcome home our "blood and treasure" from Afghanistan even as we hear calls to send troops in harm's way for well-meant purposes around the world; we might just read and reflect in our Independence Day events and activities on the rueful reflection and prayerful consideration suggested by John Adams in these lines, the ones he wrote right after commending to us "bonfires and illuminations" and fireworks in the night.
I trust in God that we shall.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your reflections on independence & freedom at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Knapsack on Twitter.