This year, the United States’ Independence Day falls on a Sunday, my Sabbath. (I realize it’s not everyone’s Sabbath.) The Sabbath has long seemed to me ideal for “the heav’n-rescued land” to “praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.” Those are Francis Scott Key’s words, penned in a time when it was not clear that a relatively new nation would survive the British Empire’s latest efforts to reclaim it.
Independence Day: A Day for Gratitude
I’ve been thinking – about this day – that gratitude is a gentle, humble virtue. It may seem too ordinary and small to stand against its rampaging, chest-thumping opposites. This is doubly so in a tumultuous time such as ours. By any other name we applaud and admire ingratitude and shower it with wealth. Its symbols and slogans adorn our lives, both physically and virtually. We call it by a host of trendy names which sound so modern, so enlightened, so revolutionary. I’ll leave it for you to think of names that might fit here.
I think I know the full list of ugly vices some would ascribe to me (if I ever caught their notice) for saying this in AD 2021, but I feel a deep and enduring gratitude to Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Wythe, and many others. This includes thousands whose names I never heard or read. This embraces both those who fought literal and political battles and those who loved, awaited, and sustained them from afar. I feel the same profound gratitude to God for all of these.
In an excellent short piece in City Journal this week, Mark T. Mitchell wrote that “citizenship, properly understood, begins with gratitude.” He also wrote:
“Another America still exists, beyond the sound and fury of Twitter and the Beltway. It lives quietly in homes, where parents try to raise their children well. It exists in schools, where dedicated teachers show up day after day to teach. It flourishes in neighborhoods, community centers, and diners, where neighbors gather for conversation and a shared story. It pervades churches, synagogues, and mosques, where families pause from their busy lives to return thanks to God. Indeed, despite the turmoil and uncertainty, we have much to be grateful for.”
American Equality vs. Modern Equity
One of my first goals for 2021 was to read Victor Hugo’s massive novel Les Misérables to the end. I finished it in March. The other day I watched the Hollywood film of the beloved Broadway musical adaptation again, to see if I would appreciate it more, having read the entire novel. I think I did appreciate it more, though it still seems a sort of Cliff Notes summary (sung to creditable music).
One of the novel’s most charming characters is the orphan boy Gavroche, a natural leader in the streets of a Paris slum in 1832. In the Broadway musical he sings words which might cause the mind to wonder whether a nation wildly pursuing the wrong sort of equality might forfeit its liberty and prosperity in the effort.
It’s not a new concern. Some have long sought to replace an American sense of equality before God and the law with a far different medicine: equality of outcomes. We cannot enforce such a thing without losing American freedom, and small wonder. Such enforcement requires the exercise of vast, tyrannical power. (Forgive me for thinking such power is the object of the pursuit, at least for some.) In contemporary America these partisans have cleverly repurposed a similar word, equity, to give the old poison a new name, but Gavroche uses the old name when he sings:
“This is the land that fought for liberty.
Now when we fight, we fight for bread.
Here is the thing about equality:
Everyone’s equal when we’re dead.”
It bears repeating on this day of days. To be equal before the law as we are equal before God – the equality declared in our Declaration of Independence – is a hallmark of free people. To have equal outcomes enforced upon us, regardless of choice and circumstance, is oppression beneath the dignity of every human everywhere.
American Ideals Will Endure
I wrote last Independence Day that “American Ideals Will Endure.” I reread that essay this week. If I wished to adapt it to Independence Day 2021, I would change scarcely a dozen words. Little that is essential has changed in a year, except that we now see some things we then merely foresaw.
To the end that American ideals will endure in our society and governments, not just in mind and memory, here is one thing we might do. Day after day and night after night, let us pray God to prosper, in the United States of America and all the world, the friends of truth, freedom, justice, and peace, and to confound those principles’ many foes, whoever and wherever they may be. (Presumably He sees them more clearly than we.)
Come to think of it, if on occasion He happens to suggest, in response, some thoughts about what you or I might do to advance the causes for which we pray, or if He deigns to grant us some additional wisdom on these points, we might prove our sincerity and our gratitude by listening, believing, and acting accordingly.
Happy Independence Day. And Good Sabbath, if it’s yours.
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