Independence Day 2016

We who live in the U.S. celebrate our Independence Day today.

Let us express our thanks to God for his common grace of giving us the opportunity to live in this land. Let us offer prayers for wisdom, peace, and justice today and in days to come, for our own nation and for all our neighbors in the world.


We, the people without a race,
Without a language;
Of all races, and of none;
Of all tongues, and one imposed;
Of all traditions and all pasts,
With no tradition and no past.
A patchwork and an altar-piece,
Vague as sea-mist,
Myriad as forest-trees,
Living into a present,
Building a future.

From “The Congressional Library”
by Amy Lowell

23 thoughts on “Independence Day 2016

  1. Yes, I agree with the second part of what you wrote – the backpack cannot be put down. Better to realize what you carry. My main objection to the poem above is that it would love, if allowed, to forget the backpack entirely. And then ask those who can’t or aren’t allowed to perform such a memory lapse what their problem is.

    If there’s a grace here, it is that the backpack contains a mixed legacy that offers some choices. It includes oppression and if we imagine a history that doesn’t acknowledge this or minimizes this fact, we can’t see ourselves clearly or what our current problems are. Some of our inveterate problems may, as you hint below, be staring at us in the face and grinning at the moment. The shared national legacy also includes other things – there’s been a capacity, albeit with great difficulty, in America and the modern west, to gnaw uneasily at the edges and limitations what we call “freedom” — to make the backpack a bit lighter or easier to pack and unpack. At least, we’ve been at moments willing to recognize other people’s work in gnawing away at it. Trying to understand the meaning and implications of our theoretical commitments has always been the “big questions” for us, politically and socially.

    Many times, and today may be one of them, we’re presented with the options to be our better or worse selves. Let’s hope we manage to chose the better versions.


  2. we have the saying ‘what is not remembered is doomed to be repeated’ . . . . and also the saying ‘never forget’

    I am worried about what is coming. Even if Trump loses, all his millions of supporters are out there, many of whom are angry and alienated. And I can understand that frustration, but I can’t understand their choice of Trump, no. At the end of WW I, Germany was ‘punished’ to breaking point, and resentment grew, and the resentment exploded under a manipulator who exploited the mood of the people.

    And Trump keeps sending dog whistles to his base . . . racist remarks . . . and people listen, and still they support him. Yeah, I think I have good reason to be concerned. I’m not ‘paranoid’. We haven’t seen something like this in a very long time. I hope it doesn’t explode in our face.


  3. I cannot find my character as formed in Christ by remembering and trying to recreate an illusory, idyllic past; neither can this nation find its soul by “Make America Great Again”. Never was, never will be. Our country has never adequately dealt with questions of institutional and cultural racism, nor have we even begun to make redress for what was done, and is still being done, to Native Americans. The only way is the way forward, but it must be a way that is honest about the past, otherwise it will just revisit all the crimes and sins of the past; the nation is on the cusp of undertaking just such a blind journey into the future guided by an illusion, and an especially pernicious illusion, of the past.


  4. Robert, if our nation is defined more by the sins of the past and present then your character as well is defined by YOUR sins. It is a proctologist’s view of life and reality. Sorry, I do NOT buy that philosophy.


  5. Good observations, Danielle. But by the time this poem was written, America and Americans did have a history, one that included exclusion and oppression. By this time, to become an American was to make that history part of one’s own legacy, wherever one’s or one’s family hailed from, and even though one might be ignorant of being such an heir. When my mother’s parents, and my father, came from Italy, they made that history their own, though they knew little about it and were unaware of the legacy all their lives; and I was born an heir to that history, despite the recency of arrival of both sides of my family. History abhors a vacuum, and fills it quickly. The American history is now my own, for good and ill.


  6. The problem, of course, is that the ability to write this way is privilege, and one that is less tolerable, the more exclusionary it is. Frederick Douglas, on the irony of being asked to make a Fourth of July speech as a black man and abolitionist in 1852: “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us…”


  7. “The poem is strangely Gnostic, describing a Gnostic people, a patchwork people who make themselves up as they go ….”

    This is a strength and a weakness; a fiction with an element of truth.

    It is a fiction, because everyone has a history behind them; there is no generic “me” unbound from the particulars of history. To imagine that I am unbound from it is to be unable or unwilling see what is obvious to any outsider observer; being unable to think about it, I lose some of the freedom to confront it intelligently. To imagine that I am unbound also permits me the mistake of believing that I represent a generic humanity, which I can impose on others. I become the everyman, and my sense becomes common sense; surely the others are partisans and lunatics.

    Perhaps one good thing about improvision, however, is that there’s a freedom in being able to pick creatively from shared histories. And there is always the possibility that having a family or social network, or a “nation” for that matter, that stems from multiple pasts, multiple peoples is that one might see that the world is a big place. My family history stems from the French and Austrians, with smaller amounts of other things; I am married to the descendant of Russian Germans. My closest three neighbors are Jewish and Italian. Somehow, some people are reading this narrative as a signal that America, their own version of it, is or ought to be the universe. I read it the opposite way: community transcends these markers of clan, or should try not to be shackled to them. If my past is the backpack I can’t put down, there’s also nothing stopping me from carrying it along, place-to-place, collecting and unloading as I go.


  8. Thanks for the response, Charles. While I can honor the integrity and rigor of your search and practice, I cannot make it my own. My practice of Zen never took me to place from which I could see alternative propped-up illusions that ultimately didn’t turn out to be a propped-illusion itself. I’ve become accepting of the idea that whatever perspective I adopt will be partly illusory; and that, despite this, or maybe even because of it, grace will see me and everybody else through. I think maybe I’ve stopped looking for solutions; now I’m just looking and asking for enough courage and fortitude to see things thru to the end decently. Peace, and happy Independence Day, Charles.


  9. >> Tell me: what should I stay tuned to?

    That’s a difficult question and I hesitate to be too specific. I have some current sources of information that I pay attention to as alternative viewpoints but they certainly would not be helpful to most people, and they would provide an opportunity for scoffing and merriment for some. It seems important to me to keep alternate perspectives in view, even if they appear to be mutually exclusive, if nothing else to keep your mind from getting rigid and set in its ways. It is almost like parallel universes happening and you have the ability to hop from one to another. In many ways it seems to work like quantum physics where the observer determines some of what is observed just by observing. I would think your background in Buddhism would be helpful in that much of this acts as an illusion propped up by the agreement of a number of people. The mass media feeds one such illusion. Alternative news sources can help counteract that programming, but may be an illusion and an unhelpful attempt to program in themselves.

    Ultimately I depend upon the discernment provided by the Holy Spirit under the protection of the name of Jesus Messiah. In my experience this is not learned quickly and can be counterfeited by outside forces or inside egotism. In any case, I don’t find many Christians who take the power of the Holy Spirit seriously except as an intellectual concept. Even outside the specific help and protection afforded a follower of Jesus, the human being is capable of recognizing truth at an instinctive level, or at the level of spirit, if you will.This is also prone to becoming sidetracked or derailed by human selfishness. Alertness is called for. It’s not primarily an intellectual undertaking, and the intellect can get in your way.

    So what to do? Well, if you never start trying to sort it outside the box we are usually kept in, you’ll always be at the mercy of what someone else tells you. There is a lot of intentional disinformation available to confuse and misdirect anyone starting to search for something closer to truth. The way that disinformation works is to present a lot of insider truths along with some clunkers and pitfalls to keep you stupid and ineffective. Intelligence operations proceed by regarding everything as disinformation that can be mined for useful truth. Some sources that promote disclosure may also include means for denial so as not to overly provoke the powers that be. I take everything with a grain of salt but look for what resonates as possibly truthful, and when I speak of truth here I am speaking of truth relative to a specific context. I’m always looking for ulterior motives, always looking for the catch, and most especially looking for anything that carries with it the spirits of fear and anger and oppression, overtly or wearing a mask. These are to be avoided like the plague, even if carrying a Christian label. Know your enemy but don’t invite him into your heart.

    I could email you some of the sources I read but I don’t know that you could jump right into the middle of things I have been following for years and am accustomed to as outwardly preposterous for most. I’m thinking if you are really looking for something to tune to in a higher vibration that you might best ask God to show it to you, and then be as open to the answer as you can while keeping your wits about you. If you are looking for solutions to a problem, it doesn’t help to look for them in the same box the problem is in. In the end this isn’t so much about being able to change the world around you as it is not being controlled by the world around you. Sort of a personal Fourth of July.


  10. Since 1789? Native Americans would set the date somewhat earlier than that.

    Don’t believe the news? Well, I try to read at a variety of news sources, and I only watch/listen to it about 15 minutes a day. Tell me: what should I stay tuned to?


  11. >> . . . how can we have any free and personally responsible input in any of it?

    Informed and intelligent awareness with discernment is a big help, but it can be difficult to sort things out. I believe our prayers and meditative support for all those working to establish a just and equitable world system can make all the difference. Obviously opinions differ as to what a just and equitable system looks like, and just as obviously the present corrupt world system is composed of factions and not monolithic. Still and all it tends to sort out as those dedicated in service to other vs those in service to self, Or if you prefer, those serving Light as opposed to the forces of Darkness. That is something we can choose ourselves, and in my view is the basic question to be decided by each and every human on Earth, whether taken or not. Positive prayer in whatever form is a vital element toward victory as I see it. This could involve the return of Jesus in one way or another, who is to say? If we wait helplessly for someone else to save us, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

    Those we call the Founding Fathers didn’t all agree with each other, but together they brought forth a remarkable turning point in history. It has perhaps been going downhill ever since 1789, and the French Revolution showed a dark side, but still and all the blow against tyranny has not totally been dissipated in greed and selfishness. Close maybe. We can always pray, and the prayers of one person could tip the balance. Do what you can, Ask for Light. Don’t believe everything you are fed in the so called news. Stay tuned.


  12. …They massacred the buffalo
    Kitty corner from the bank
    The taxis run across my feet
    And my eyes have turned to blanks

    In my little box at the top of the stairs
    With my Indian rug and a pipe to share…
    — Neil Young


  13. Charles, when did we (in the mythological sense) have a handle on the concepts of liberty and personal responsibility? And if the bigger drama that you refer to is going on behind our little Punch & Judy show (and what I suppose the numerous Punch & Judy shows that have occurred down through history), in a place invisible to many or most of us, how can we have any free and personally responsible input in any of it? If the really important things are going on behind the scenes, if a conspiracy is behind it all, then we are even more powerless than the Punch & Judy show itself would lead us to believe.


  14. Following the bigger drama apparently going on behind our little Punch & Judy show that has most of the world transfixed, I feel as if the fate of us all hangs in the balance more than at any time in my life, and perhaps the life of the nation since the first War for Independence. I would liken it to the WW II European Theater after the final commitment of D-Day and during the desperation of the Battle of the Bulge. The outcome of that was likely but uncertain, and I believe the same can be said today. Just as then, it comes down to liberty and personal responsibility, a concept I’m not so sure we have a handle on any more. Even then, we had our Alexander Hamilton representing the 1%. God have mercy on us all.


  15. The poem is strangely Gnostic, describing a Gnostic people, a patchwork people who make themselves up as they go, unbound to any specific past, though borrowing from many, and free of any debt to the past. It’s this Gnostic national mythology that tends to make us forget that we in fact do have a history now, if we didn’t have one before, a history that includes genocide against other peoples who lived here before we did, and slavery as the foundation on which the wealth of this nation was built. We owe a debt, and we have a pockmarked history full of bad karma.

    Today I saw a pickup go by, with a big American flag standing up in its flatbed, the flag fluttering in the draft made by the vehicle’s speed. I realized that lately, when I’ve seen displays like this one, they frighten me a little. Maybe more than a little. Because there was an aggression in the pickup’s speed, and in the violence with which that flag waved. There was a threat; I felt it as it approached, and passed. It said, “Make America Great Again”.


  16. strange days, OSCAR …… but ‘wistful’ is good . . . . as long as we ‘remember’, there is hope


  17. At one time that poem was an idealized expression of our country’s vision of itself. Today it is a catalog of “micro aggressions”. Pandora opened that box and nothing can reseal it or collect the demons that were released.

    I am not optimistic, but I remain wistful on this Fourth.


  18. ” we come on the ship they call the ‘Mayflower’,
    we come on the ship that sailed the Moon,
    we come in the age’s most uncertain hour,
    and sing an American tune”

    (Simon and Garfunkel)


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