My thoughts of the Fourth of July
While at church this past weekend, the pastor asked a simple question: "When you think of the Fourth of July, what do you think of?" Now, this seems like a straightforward question with a variety of answers, such as, fireworks, freedom, and possibly the fight for our freedom. As I thought through this question, I began to think of the formally oppressed. Those whose ancestors were enslaved and imprisoned unjustly. While for millions of American think of July fourth a national holiday of freedom for our country, not all of our American brothers and sisters will have the same memory and heart-warming thoughts.
In order to fully celebrate this holiday, we must fully understand that while all men are created equal, not all men are treated equally. Therefore, I must ask: to those who were once, or are currently enslaved to this country, what are their initial thoughts of this national holiday?
Throughout the morning I allowed these thoughts to course through my mind, where I found myself reading the manuscript, "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?" By Frederick Douglass. This was a speech that was given by Frederick Douglass in July 1852.
In this speech, Douglass addresses the facts that at the time that the United States was formed it was formed out of a need of correcting a wrong doing. For instance, when the United States forefathers reside in England, they saw the unjust actions of the English government. They persevered through hardships and founded their own country. Now, It is the United States that has a developing list of wrongdoings that need to be addressed and fixed; most notably slavery.
In response to the creation of the country and the inheritance of the forefathers, Douglass wrote; "I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me."
While we, as Americans, would like to think that all can rejoice in this holiday, celebrating freedom for all, it should come as not surprise that many cannot without deep brokenness in their hearts. Too often one's history provides obstacles and roadblocks on the road to fully celebrating freedom. This is a history that is too often ignored and not approached with an open heart.
Frederick Douglass explains that while the American country was created by brave men trying to do right, the national holiday doesn't belong to everyone who can be called American.
"The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn."
Frederick Douglass continues:
"Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them."
While we rejoice over our freedom, many more mourn the lost of freedom and the welcome the misuse, beatings and destructions of families and cultures. In order to fully understand and celebrate this holiday, we need must also hold to the understanding that these feelings are not gone. I truly believe that many of our brothers and sisters in American carry these feelings of oppression with them everyday. We rejoice over our freedom, our brothers and sisters mourn over their loss of freedom in our current day in culture.
Frederick Douglass gives this answer to the overall question:
"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."
A constant victim? That phrase brings sadness to my heart. It brings sorrow to my heart because I know that this is a reality that extends well beyond the writings of Frederick Douglass into our seemingly divided culture of 2017. While our country has made a lot of change over the last 100 plus years, we still have so much to learn as a country.
Since there is so much pain in our country's history that we inevitably brought on to ourselves, it is up to the very oppressors to lead the way to finding a solution; a path that will lead by the true believers of the church. Yet, the church is not innocent in this blood-stained history of ours.
"But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters."
Frederick Douglass continues:
"At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness."
It seems over the history of the church, as well as our country, we have turned a blind eye to the inflictions of the oppressed, the same ones that we oppressed. We did not speak truth in moments were truth was needed. We turned a blind eye to justice because it was too much of an inconvenience to help those who need help. By not speaking and turning a blind eye, we created the American that we all know today; an America of brutality and oppression.
Frederick Douglass speak as this in regards to the churches function on the oppressed as well as the churches operations amongst themselves:
"The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind."
As a churchgoer and a fellow human being, the question is what do we do next? How can we reconnect with those that feel disconnected to the community that they deserve to belong to. Due to the fact that we are all inherently American, we should be able to treat all peoples that we encounter as equals, regardless of their race, culture or any other object of deviation.
The other really important is: Is that all that it takes? We just live our lives and treat each other with respect and the world will instantly become a better place? No!
As is the case with most issues that surround individuals, there is a much deeper issue at hand; one's views and experiences. It seems that we can't just treat people with respect and suddenly hundreds of years of oppression and slavery just vanishes from the history books.
I believe that one of the most impactful ways to bridge this gap that many may feel during these celebrations of freedom is to acknowledge the differences of experiences that we all face in the history of our country that we call home. In times of division we need to fight to stay unified through communication, even through the tough discussions.
Ask questions, yet do not forget to listen to the experiences and opinions that are shared. Yet, there is more to creating unity in our country than just asking a multitude of questions and listening; we have to learn to take action in steps of reconciliation.
We will be the most effectiveness in reconciling, first, by admitting our fault in the division that we face everyday. For instance, maybe division is cause within our community due to race. That division is man-made. That division is created by ignorance and complacency amongst all involved. Another division that occurs often is the division of sex, whether that be gender or sexual orientation. This too, is man-made. This division is created through steps of misunderstanding and lack of listening.
The truth is we are all different. That is the beautiful truth of the world that we live in. That truth is the beautiful truth that resides in the individuals that call this country home. We are not meant to be all the same, not by the God who created us. We all have different experiences that we can benefit from when we take the time to see all peoples as our family, our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. When we see a family where the members have something to teach us we can learn from their differences in views and experiences, then we can see the faults of our community and in return we will see the journey that our country has taken.
We have grown as a country and we have learned a lot, yet we still have a lot to learn. It is best for us to trust God with our whole hearts as we tread through these difficult times. We can not ignore these difficult topics, we need to seek answers for them, and in order to do that we need each other. So, in this time of celebrating America's independence, we must seek healing of past wounds and extend a hand of friendship to all those who feel disconnected from this particular holiday.
Anthony K. Giesick
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