Thursday, July 04, 2013

Faith Works 7-06-13

Faith Works 7-06-13

Jeff Gill


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 or @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Knapsack 7-04-13

Notes from my Knapsack 7-04-13
Jeff Gill

What is America, anyhow?

It was disconcerting to read a letter to the editor in a recent Sentinel expressing the hope that a writer whose opinions disagreed with their own would not be heard from again here.

These pages, and the columns of any American newspaper, are ideally a place where the rich, full, complex and diverse range of community viewpoint can be aired, where they may find themselves in open disagreement, and where they might be able to exchange full and frank arguments about the basis of their respective perspectives.

To say not "I disagree with you, and here's why," but rather "I wish you'd go away and not come back" is . . . well, to me, that's not America.

What is America?

America is Eugene V. Debs, and William F. Buckley. This country has given birth to the Republican Party, and the Democratic Socialists of America. We are Mother Jones, and Mother Angelica. We’re Rachel Carson and Dorothy Day, Carrie Nation and Hillary Rodham Clinton. This nation is Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd, Harold Stassen and Norman Thomas.

Woody Guthrie's song reminds us we extend as a nation from California to the New York island, even as Irving Berlin's song asks God to bless America; we also encompass the train they call the City of New Orleans, and the Big Rock Candy Mountain, and on beyond the hundredth meridian.

Within this very week, committed pacifists will enjoy martial music from marching bands as fireworks explode overhead, while elsewhere on the ground in broad daylight SEAL teams in combat zones will use alternative dispute resolution techniques to end arguments peacefully. Those are both very much America.

America is "Howl" and "Leaves of Grass" and "Casey at the Bat." We are Phyllis Schlafly and Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Our nation has been led by elected officials like Harvey Milk, Richard J. Daley, Barbara Jordan, Bella Abzug, Salmon P. Chase, and James Traficant.

To our bemusement and amazement, we are "Birth of a Nation" and "Die Hard 5," but we're also "The Trip to Bountiful," "Places in the Heart," "Days of Heaven," and "Field of Dreams."  Of course, we're also "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

In music, we're the inspiration if not the nationality of the composers of "From the New World" and "Grand Canyon Suite," while we're certainly "West Side Story" and "Fanfare for the Common Man." We are the Ramones and Frank Sinatra; we're Etta James and Janis Joplin and Joan Jett; we're Willie Nelson and Mark Mothersbaugh. America is jazz and rock and roll and elevator music, we are jukeboxes and iPods and streaming downloads, we are for good or ill the home of MTV and BET and CMT as much as we are Univision and Telmundo.

America can be Scout troops and soccer leagues, art academies and drill teams, amateurs and professionals working side by side with children underfoot and interns doing the heavy lifting. We're capitalists and state socialists and social democrats. We're media celebrities if only for fifteen minutes, and we're small town publishers of weekly print products that work three times as hard to sell the same amount of ad space.

As Walt Whitman, that great unacknowledged legislator of Camden, NJ said, "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

And we need us all, for it is only from "e pluribus" that we get our "unum"; it is only out of many that we can find our common oneness. Because that's what America is: a one that only can be found through the many, and as for that many, as Uncle Sam's finger points out, this means you, too.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him where you find America at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.