I’m sure several of you out there are going to see me as anti-patriotic, and if so, so be it. However, I think something about what we say and what we do on Independence Day, a very important holiday, needs to be reconsidered.
I keep wondering when July Fourth became a holiday to celebrate and honor only those who served in our military. I am not saying we should not honor them, should not be grateful for what they have done, should not ruminate on what it means to have men and women willing to die in our stead. But I do not understand how a holiday about independence became a holiday about the armed forces. That and grilling hot dogs and hamburgers.
Our freedom is unique. However it is not safeguarded only by military might. We should see that it takes a nation of people to make that freedom happen and for that freedom to work.
Consider, for example, that group of men (sorry ladies) we tend to refer to as the Founding Fathers. We have a tendency these days to think of them as a bunch of guys who just sat down and put together the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence in one quick, easy draft. But they argued amongst themselves, and worked with and despite many huge differences, to try to forge the documents that would not only define a fledgling nation, but keep that nation from making the mistakes that other countries had made in suppressing freedom. Was the result perfect? No. Did these men have their own agendas? You bet. Did they get it completely right and protect the freedom for all? No, but they helped make it possible for those that did not then have that freedom to eventually obtain it.
And what about the churches, laity and ministers, who work in their communities to help those who have lost a measure of freedom? Sure, there are some zealots out there who have confused the Constitution with the Word of God. But people of faith all over America do a great deal to help feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and defend those who cannot defend themselves. I believe a great measure of my freedom is protected and ensured by those people, most of whom I will never meet, even though I may not be one of the hungry, homeless, or defenseless. And what about those with no religious affiliation or creed to move them to good works, but who are making the world better by volunteering instead of staying at home watching television, or by working jobs far beneath their ability to earn so that the principles that define this country continue to matter.
Can we also think about the police, firefighters, and medical workers who take care of us, even when we do not know it? When the police catch a criminal, we can certainly see that she/he is protecting my freedom from the “bad guy” who might try to take it away from me or someone I love. But when they do their jobs well, they also help restore faith in the community as a whole, and that faith is a very important component in freedom. When my neighbor’s house is saved from fire or natural disaster, mine is too. When someone is helped by an EMT or paramedic, I am reminded that those who began this nation were fleeing and fighting against the oppression that said you had to be somebody with money or power to be considered worthy of life.
Shouldn’t we also consider teachers as playing an important role in the defense and protection of liberty? While education in the United States does continue to decline, the reasons for that decline are mostly political and financial. It is not as much due to the teachers themselves, most of whom earn a pittance, especially when compared to football coaches, and who often do take their lives in their hands every day in order to bring to the quite unwilling the tools they will need to make democracy work, tools and information that will provide more choices for them in the future. I would say that the promise of those choice is an avenue of freedom worth fighting for. Hopefully, your children are challenged and encouraged to use their brains in ways that go beyond standardized tests and rote answers. It is those kinds of thinkers our country needs for freedom to be worth anything. Otherwise we are training generations of slaves.
These are just a few of the people that come to mind for me today. I’ve left out too many others. And again, I don’t want to give the impression that we should not honor our past and present servicemen and women. But they are not the only ones who are and have been on the front lines for freedom. If they were, we would have been conquered long ago.