Friday, July 4, 2008

The Glorious Fourth

“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. 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 Day’s Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.” John Adams, July 1776

I have a lot of mixed emotions about holidays. July 4th, Easter, Christmas, you name it. (Of course, my feelings are not so mixed regarding Hallmark Days like Valentine's.) It seems our culture has an uncanny ability to take a good event with deep original meaning and turn it into something worthless. Sometimes my inability to see past cute reindeer, bouncy bunnies, and fun picnics ruin the whole thing, even the parts that are good and noble.

I had fun today. Family, friends, food, fun, fireworks (and a little bit of alliteration). But it seems to me that most of it was really missing the point.

During the fireworks, I couldn't help but think that this generation of Americans is extremely unique. The deep bass sound of rockets and explosions bring mental images of beauty and fun, not terror. Pick any other nation in the world - from troubled eastern Europe to the Middle East to Asia, Africa, or the drug wars of Latin America - and the sound we know as fireworks is known as death, war, and destruction.

Go back two or three hundred years on our own American soil. A blinding flash of light is the last thing a soldiers sees before burning schrapnel tears apart his flesh. Boom! Earth and rock fly upward as fortifications are slowly deconstructed, volley by volley. Rat-a-tat-tat! The steady sound of the drum draws men forward into battle, over the bodies of fallen comrades as they face the flash of enemy fire and artillery. On the sea, the great kaboom leaves a gaping hole in the hull, ushering churning water in to take possession of the vessel commissioned to fight for freedom. Just miles away, the dreadful boom of cannon brings fear to women and children, left to wonder if the day's battle will bring the death of husband, father, brother, cousin, or friend.

Now, a distance bang draws eager children to the windows, and begins a contest to locate the pretty colors first. A star! A ring! A sizzling sparkler! Yet none tell of the horror of war, nor the struggle for freedom.

July 4, 1776 was not a day of celebration. It was a day of solemn commitment, when men determined a course of liberty or death. The signers pledged "their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor," because they knew "if they did not hang together, they would all hang separately."

We've lost that solemness because we have never had to fight to defend it on our shores. But that is all the more reason that the Fourth should be a day to fast and remember and repent, rather than recklessly celebrate that of which we do not know the cost.

Yes, we should celebrate, but we must not ever forget why we may.

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