Two hundred and forty years ago, representatives of the thirteen English colonies in North America declared their independence. They took this action on the second of July. We celebrate the day of its signing: July 4th. Of course, fireworks lit the sky and we cheered our nation’s beginning.
Like so much of the past, we too easily see this moment in time through rose-colored glasses. John Turnbull’s iconic mural of the declaration’s signing that adorns the Capital rotunda conveys confidence, unity, and grandeur. The reality was quite different. Even for its principal author, the debate on the declaration was torturous as he watched his masterpiece be whittled down through compromise. While history reports the passage of the declaration as a unanimous vote, that assertion masks the deep divisions over the question. Indeed, the New York delegation abstained on the final vote, and several delegates abstained or voted against the measure. John Dickson, delegate from Pennsylvania and noted founding father, abstained and even declined to signed the final proclamation.
In this season, when there is so much division in our political life, we do well to recognize that even our moments of greatest achievement, that call forth our greatest celebrations, are not easy affairs. Conflict and division are present in all critical moments in our history. However, what is notable about that fateful and hot July day was the commitment to the commonwealth. The debate and decisions about a vision for common life, while not perfect, were transcendent. Those gathered delegates dared to hope that a new covenant of governance and rights could be achieved. Despite ragtag armies in retreat and empty coffers, they stepped forward.
In this 240th summer of our independence, perhaps we do well to recognize our dependence on each other. Such focus and reflection would lead us to see our diversity as a gift, not a threat. It would invite us to live into our abundance rather than our fear. It challenges us to give rather than to receive.
As a bishop of the church, I see these lessons as equally applying to the church as a sacred community that mirrors the larger society. May how we gather around the table of Jesus also reflect on our common life as the Body of Christ, where the body has a variety of parts that must work together, where we are called not to fear, where we have plenty, and are most like Jesus when we give, even sacrificially. Blessings to you and those you love in this season of celebrating Independence (Dependence) Day.
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