04
Jul
22

Forward or Backward?

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July.

Celebrating this holiday has rarely ever been a question for me. I mean, who wouldn’t jump at the chance for a day off, a backyard BBQ, a frosty cold adult beverage, all topped off by watching a display of loud, colorful fireworks. 

But something is different this year. 

Something seems psychically, spiritually, and certainly politically out of whack here on July 3, 2022.

My blogger idol Mitch Teemley (find his thoughtful work here) has jarred my consciousness about what it means for anyone… but ESPECIALLY a follower of Christ… to engage in this national festivity. 

We have all witnessed the way this date can easily become a jingoistic bacchanalia of flag-waving excess, raising this nation onto the altar in place of the One God, in the meantime willfully turning a blind eye to the violent and blood-stained chapters of our national story.

Mitch has forced me out of my sleepwalk and invited me to confront this question: What is it exactly that I am celebrating when I celebrate the Fourth of July? 

  • Am I celebrating the publication of the document that declared this nation’s independence from its overbearing British parent? 
  • Am I celebrating the IDEA of a nation “… of the people, by the people, and for the people,” where all are created equal, with preference accorded to none? 
  • Am I celebrating everything this nation is today… warts and all?

And finally, is it even possible to celebrate the IDEA of the nation without acknowledging its shortcomings and monumental moral failures? 

First, as a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, I must remember that I am called to a Higher Citizenship than the citizenship of any particular nation-state. Jesus reminds me that God’s kingdom – that I pray will come, “… on earth as it is in heaven…” – is the only kingdom worthy of my ultimate allegiance. 

Jesus helped us keep these priorities in order when he said: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, NRSVU). 

But what ARE “… the things that are Caesar’s”?

For example, do I owe “Caesar” (i.e., the political power structures of my country) my unquestioning loyalty? Do I owe “Caesar” silence in the light of injustice? Do I owe “Caesar” the benefit of the doubt? Do I owe “Caesar” a joyous birthday celebration that conveniently glosses over damage being done today (in “Caesar’s” name) to women, people of color, disabled people, people living in poverty, people denied access to education, and numerous other disenfranchised groups?

Jesus’ words also remind me that those who aspire to follow him are called to be instruments of justice wherever and whenever they encounter injustice. “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NRSVU). 

Which, it seems to me, applies even when “Caesar” is the instrument of injustice. 

Frankly, I am torn. I don’t ever remember being this ambivalent about celebrating the Fourth in my life. I have heard some people say, “My country, right or wrong.” I have heard other people say, “Today, I am NOT proud to call myself an American.”

I waver back and forth between those two wildly oppositional poles.

I suppose I could choose to ignore my distress and say, “What the heck. This day is all about the fireworks, beer, and BBQ. Don’t overthink it, bruh.”

Or maybe… just maybe…

I could find a way to COMPLETELY and RADICALLY reframe this holiday. Maybe even give it a new name! 

Hear me out! What if… instead of making this a BACKWARD-LOOKING celebration that forces me to conveniently ignore things like slavery, and the extermination of the First Inhabitants, and similarly ugly chapters, what if I choose to make this a FORWARD-LOOKING celebration? A FORWARD-LOOKING celebration that is about claiming a bold promise for a just and truly compassionate nation?

What if… to cement this FORWARD-LOOKING theme in place a little more solidly… what if instead of calling it the FOURTH of JULY, we call it the FORTH of JULY?? You know… the day when we GO FORTH to work hand-in-hand to create that “shining city on a hill” our Founders envisioned? 

And what if we do that as an expression of our allegiance to Jesus and his vision of God’s kingdom where, “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” enjoys justice, peace, security, and life in equal measure with all other citizens?

What if… 

Now THAT is something I’d shoot off a firework or two about.

Abundant blessings;


10 Responses to “Forward or Backward?”


  1. July 4, 2022 at 10:41 am

    Reblogged this on Wibble and commented:
    I’m a Brit, so I suspect that I may well get flak from USAns telling me that this is none of my business; however, I believe that Russell has hit the nail squarely on the head here (well, all except his penultimate sentence, on shooting off fireworks, as – call me a killjoy if you wish – I’m on a crusade against litter; and those things are just expensive examples of the stuff).

    Happy ‘Forth’ of July, USAns!

    • July 4, 2022 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks for those comments, Colin. By the way, I hear that some communities here are moving away from fireworks and toward those drone shows like we saw at a couple of recent Olympic Games. I really liked that idea.

      • July 4, 2022 at 7:26 pm

        Sounds good!

        After I wrote that comment, I remembered going to a Genesis concert at Knebworth, back in 1978. The laser light show was fabulous… I’ve never seen the like since, which is, I think, a pity; such displays could give these antiquated pyrotechnics displays a run for their money!

  2. July 4, 2022 at 12:56 pm

    You and Mitch always have my mind in gear. I love this post, Russell! I celebrate the FORTH. Admittedly, I looked back yesterday. I have taken our anthem and added notes to each line to share. I researched Francis Scott Key again,…the history, the time,…there’s so much to gain there. To move forward I wish more to sing God Bless America or This Land is Your Land (thank you, Woody). Ultimately, like you, the freedom I have in Christ is one that I will NEVER take for granted. Happy Independence Day to you both. Thank you for always inspiring me. I’m so glad my thoughts and inner “workings” find similar souls.

  3. 7 ephesians413
    July 4, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    This is also called Independence Day. We, as members of the Kingdom of God, can make it our personal goal to be independent from – whatever those things are that are yet in us that don’t have a place in His Kingdom – selfishness, anger, impatience, etc, etc. Knowing the truth will truly make us free from all of that. Happy Independence Day!

  4. July 4, 2022 at 10:48 pm

    Great point, as always, my friend! (But “blogger idol?” Surely you jest!) Happy forth, Russell!


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