Like so many Americans across the country I spent the 4th of July with family, watching the kids play while eating hotdogs, sausages, burgers, potato salad, watermelon and strawberry pie. As the sun set my son-in-law got out the $40 of fireworks he’d purchased at Costco and his kids and their grandparents shrieked at the wonders of the multicolored displays. Still not totally dark as Sandy and I drove home, we heard periodic explosions and saw an occasional rocket light up the sky first on one side of the road, then on the other as people prepared for a long night of celebration. After I pulled into my garage I got on my bike and determined to risk riding in the dark through a few surrounding subdivisions to enjoy the barrage of rockets-blue, purple, orange, yellow and red-glare that must have cost some of my neighbors a mortgage payment or two.
When I finally came in for the evening I scanned my TV options and settled on the history channel’s final episode of “Sons of Liberty,” a three-night series about a group of young men who changed the course of history and made America a nation. Interestingly enough it was playing opposite of “Independence Day,” a science fiction movie about humanity’s fending off a destructive alien invasion by launching a counterattack on the same date as the Independence Day holiday in the United States. It made me wonder which account most young Americans today would receive as the most likely reason for celebrating the 4th of July, the history channel’s version or Hollywood’s. I fear the latter, since it was stocked with well-known stars: from Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Judd Hirsch, to Harry Connick, Jr.; for every time I hear the youth of America queried on current and historical events and characters, it tears me to hear them demonstrate their ignorance of the people and events that made this country great, while they divulge every detail about the lives of Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
While their elders espouse principles like “Freedom is never free” and “Freedom carries the responsibility to share that freedom with others,” the kids are taught by an amoral education system to turn a blind eye to the sacrifices that their forerunners made to gain them their freedom. So how can we expect our children to understand and appreciate these principles?
This past weekend a friend of mine republished the Declaration of Independence on FaceBook and encouraged his followers to read it for the holiday. I did. And it brought back to my mind how it had once been a required eighth grade memorization exercise (along with the Gettysburg Address). How times have changed!
Independence and freedom though often used interchangeably, are not exactly the same. Independence is defined as a state whereby one is not influenced or controlled by others, self-confidence, and possessing value not dependent on others. Freedom on the other hand is defined as personal liberty, absence from obligations, ease of movement, and the power to exercise choice without internal constraints. Paradoxically, both independence and freedom imply the acceptance of a lot of responsibilities. Not many adults, much less our young people really comprehend this fact.
In 1776, a bunch of people in the new world that became America signed a Declaration which didn’t guarantee things were about to get a lot easier. No! Those who signed it recognized they were surrendering their finances and their ties with many supply chains, and accepted great personal risk in order to support not only a new government, but also a war effort that would hopefully gain them their independence/freedom from a tyrannical mother country. And many made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in the process.
We often get frustrated with the lack of support we receive from our education system and our political and social leaders as we try to pass on our heritage to our children. But as elders (parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends) we owe it to our youth to teach them about our heritage, our traditions and their godly foundation. It’s actually a Biblical command, stated and restated. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them.” Timothy 4:11 I believe it’s just as important as teaching our children about how to make choices regarding smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, credit card debt and other “adult” decisions in life.
Today many of our young people are floundering precisely because they lack an understanding of where they came from (in a nationalistic sense) or where they are headed. While no people group can ever claim lily white perfection from a historical perspective, there is much to be proud of in the story of America, its Christian roots, its motivation toward helping the less fortunate among us and around the world and the opportunities our nation provides for all its citizens. Black, brown, yellow, red and white, we have much to be thankful for and of which to hold our heads up high as Americans.