Written by Carol Beaver, Church Advocate, Legacy Coalition
The aroma of grilling burgers mingles with the fragrance of summer flowers. Flags fly from every lamppost, and red, white, and blue bunting adorns podiums around the town.
Parades down Main Street feature marching soldiers, both young and old, as well as local politicians and civic leaders. The high school band plays John Phillip Sousa marches.
Somewhere a little dinging sound grows gradually louder until the ice cream truck comes by with its offering of cool treats on a hot July Day!
The scene repeats itself in various versions across the nation from the smallest hamlet to the largest city. As dusk arrives, the crowds disperse to their favorite location for viewing the evening fireworks. Perhaps a band plays the Military March medley honoring all the branches of the armed services.
The gathered crowd rises, puts their hands or caps over their hearts, and repeats the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America.
During this celebration, a child will look up to their grandpa or grandma and ask, “So, why are we doing all of this? What is this all about? It’s fun, but why?” Grandma might say that it is a reminder of our country’s beginning. “I think it’s about celebrating freedom,” Grandpa might add.
Grandma and Grandpa are both right and it is a great time to retell the stories of this nation’s beginning, about brave and adventurous men, women, and children who wanted a better life or greater freedom to live as they chose. Some of the story is not very pretty, but even those parts are important.
When Europeans arrived on the North American continent, it was already populated by Native people who had developed a simple civilization that served them well, but the newcomers moved in anyways.
The Puritans and Pilgrims, the Huguenots and the French, and the Spanish and the Portuguese all sought the New World’s wealth, space, and freedom.
Eventually, the British colonies became dominant along the eastern coasts of this new land called America and began to consider changing their relationship with England, which ruled the colonies and benefitted from the resources of this new land.
For the American’s part, they began to realize that England was growing wealthy at their expense. Anger began to boil on both sides of the Atlantic. The American side began to think about freedom and independence.
Most American citizens know of the political and social back and forth between England and the colonies. From The Stamp Act in 1765 to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the anger mounted on both sides of the ocean.
England was losing their grip on the Colonies, and in turn, the Colonies were growing more willing to fight for freedoms they had come to appreciate. They wanted more influence on the decisions made in England.
We remember Paul Revere and the Midnight Ride, and we have learned more recently of others who rode out that night including a young girl, Sybil Ludington. The colonists were ready, and the British came.
The war began with the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775 and ended with General Cornwallis’ surrender to General Washington in October 1781.
During the war period, the patriots of the day were meeting and arguing over this new nation. In the spring and summer of 1776, representatives from every colony came together and grappled with the ideas of independence and freedom for the people of this new land.
By July 1, they had a draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was approved by the Continental Congress the next day. John Adams said that day would live in history.
However, July 4, 1776, became the official day of celebration and so it would stay.
When the war was over, a new task lay before them – to create the nation of which they dreamed. Once again, the men came from among all the colonies to draft a constitution.
They argued, yelled, left, and returned until they reached a consensus of their vision and voted to approve the Constitution of the United States of America on May 25, 1787. Yet, they had to win one more war to make it happen: The War of 1812 was a decisive victory.
The new nation proved it could defend itself and stand among the nations. During that war, while a prisoner on a British ship, Frances Scott Key penned the Star-Spangled Banner which became our national anthem.
In the following years, we have discovered flaws in the leaders, questions about the ideals not being for all the people, and changing perspectives that come from experience and progress.
Those men (and women behind the scenes) stood firm and vociferously debated every line and paragraph of that constitution and even set forth a structure to modify it if needed.
They were forced to compromise strongly held ideals to find a way of declaring and living out their independence as a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
And now we come back to Main Street, USA, to the backyard picnics, to the mountainside or lakeside celebrations, to the marching bands playing the Star-Spangled Banner gloriously, to crowds singing the words while trying to hit the high notes, and to a grand display of fireworks all to celebrate the United States of America.
Grandma and Grandpa, how will you answer the questions about this holiday? These are hard days and recent events have blurred our perspectives.
Can this nation, or any nation so conceived long endure? Only God has the answer to that question.
This Independence Day, may we celebrate the gift of Freedom that ultimately comes from God. May we teach our children and grandchildren to pray for the nation and the leaders. May we pray earnestly for our land.
Let’s grab a burger and celebrate our earthly freedom and the freedom we have in Christ, and let’s share these stories with our grandkids.