This Independence Day morning as I sit by the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, CO, my heart is a mix of emotions for a day typically marked by family cookouts and fireworks. As a white female, I find that I am feeling the tension of deep gratitude and bitter lament for my country. I am so grateful to be in a place with such strength, imagination, individuality and hope. I also grieve that strength has often become dominance, imagination wasn’t enough to combat prejudice, individuality has forgotten community, and hope has not been shared by all.
Our hearts ache, but we always have joy…I Corinthians 6:10
The truth is all these joys and sorrows can share space. They can dwell with each other in my heart and mind. And for my white friends and neighbors, I dare challenge that joy in our freedom can share space with the whole story of how we got here today. We can dwell with each other in the history. We can listen. We can recognize that Independence Day is not the same celebration of freedom for all.
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. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…— Frederick Douglass, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ (Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852)
We can hear the glorious and brave stories again and learn the malicious and destructive stories that have been veiled and ignored. We can genuinely care that in our retelling of a nation being born, there are also stories that have flowed down through the generations from a place of pain, suffering and oppression. We can acknowledge that sacrifice and domination made the birth of our nation possible. We can be willing to sit alongside the discomfort that brings like a devoted friend. We can draw near to it and to one another so we can truly embrace a future together..
And we can open up space for the goodness and gratitude some of us feel to be shared by those who have never or rarely felt it. Here’s the thing, though: in order for someone else to be able to take it up as their joy, I must be willing to lay it down. I must be willing to give up an identity that though has proven beneficial to me, has caused others great pain.
Greater love has no one that this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13
There is no greater love I can show to my neighbor than to lay down that which has been so life giving to me so he can live more fully. And I am finding that in laying down the partial story of my nation that I hold so dear, I trade fear for true freedom when I am willing to know the whole story.
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32
It is my hope and prayer on this July 4 holiday that the strain of COVID-19 on our communities, the struggle to reach a cultural and systemic norm where Black lives truly matter, the awakening to how indigenous peoples and immigrants and descendants of those who came from non-Western European nations still feel the destructive pain of white culture taking over, would be the truth and fullness of our shared story that really set us free to be more than platitudes of freedom could ever achieve.