This Sunday is the 4th of July, Independence Day, a day more associated with fireworks and picnics than church and prayers. And yet, are they really at odds with each other?
For the nation, independence came as the result of a deep dissatisfaction with being ruled by others, far away, who had little interest or understanding of who we were or what we needed. It took courage to recognize the state of things and acts of rebellion to win a hard fought freedom from foreign rule. Not everyone wanted this freedom because it risked losing a certain identity and security. Yet the courage of many led to the creation of a new nation.
Once independence was achieved through violent revolution, it would take centuries to realize the full benefits and consequences of this revolution. We are still struggling with the implications of our Declaration of Independence. We slowly have come to see the necessity of ending slavery, giving women the right to vote and addressing so many other injustices and exclusions and with the leadership of prophetic voices, the arc of inclusion continues to expand however slowly. We have also re-established close ties with our former, parent nation. Showing that revolution is not the end of relationships but the beginning of true relationships. Our national revolution has created new alliances, new challenges and new identity even as we struggle to realize its original vision of liberty for all.
Perhaps teenagers in our culture go through a similar process of what we call separation and individuation. There is some sense of a growing discomfort with having a life ruled by parents and in one form or another, it takes an adolescent rebellion, that dethrones the parents-qua-parents, that allows the youth to begin their own independent life with its concomitant struggle for values and identity. Eventually, parents are "re-patriated" as respected friends and elders, life and relationships are reestablished between independent adults.
People of faith also come to a point of realizing that the life they have been living is somehow not their own. They somehow realize that they are being ruled and shaped by invisible powers that influence and even determine nearly every aspect of their lives. There is a constant low-level drone of alien questions of worth, desire and beauty warping identity…Am I smart enough? Rich enough? Pretty enough? Thin enough?…". Am I normal, behaving properly, do I have the right friends, is my house big enough and so on and so forth. The invisible demands are ubiquitous and relentless and they are manipulated by a complicit society and economic engine based on stirring and directing our desires.
But for those who listen for the still small voice of God, they sense there is another way. There is the difficult road less traveled, a personal Via Dolorosa where the old life must end. We realize the inner impoverishment (Blessed are the poor in spirit) of having our life controlled by distant unfriendly powers that tax our energies without honoring our being (formed in the image of God). Along this path we choose to follow this quiet presence, as it inevitably leads to deeper truth and a desire to break the foreign rule of our souls. We follow a star in the east and listen to dreams that echo the power of the ancient prophets calling us home.
The casting off the foreign sovereign is a revolution in spirit and consciousness. Our signals now come from the inner depths. What seemed arcane and foolish now glistens as wisdom, what seemed shiny and elusive before, now appear as dust and dross. St. Paul recites his honors and accomplishments but punctuates the list with the phrase, “But I count it all as loss for the surpassing worth of Christ.” He found the pearl of great value.
Yes, we are going to celebrate Independence Day, but can we muster our own revolutionary spirit and manifest our own independence of thought and spirit? Can we claim our true birthright of freedom and joy and begin our own journey into realizing our identities as God’s beloved, a royal priesthood in the days that have been allotted to us? I believe this is the calling that each of us must answer and upon this all else depends.