what we teach our kids about Independence Day

I try to think deeply about the actions I take and the beliefs I hold, and especially the ideas I pass on to my children - maybe even to the point of over-thinking sometimes.  (Mr. Cyrus says yes on that one.)  You may recall me grappling with what to do about Halloween last year.

Andy Castro via Creative Commons

But, as I mature, I'm figuring out how to hold to principles without crushing the fun out of everything.  Example: My first child had never even heard of Santa Claus, because I didn't want to be one of those parents who LIED to their children *tiny horrified gasp.*

By the time the second one was old enough to be aware, the kids knew Santa Claus as the guy from the St. Nicholas story, but I emphasized that he certainly wasn't real. Now there are three critters running around here and we read stories about Santa and St. Nicholas and reindeer and the whole bit.  In reality, my kids are taught about Jesus every day.  They see their parents wrestling with how to live out their faith every day. They can tell the difference between Jesus and this Santa guy who gets mentioned once a year.  I'm still careful about how I describe the meaning of Christmas and the Santa story origins, but I've relaxed enough that we can enjoy The Polar Express with only minor "corrective" commentary on my part.

So, over Independence day, through the sparklers and red, white, and blue cupcakes, and under our amazing small town fireworks, I pondered.  Yes, pondered.  I pondered so much that it took me over a week to write this post (can I blame the children?).  What are we celebrating with our fervent flag-waving on the fourth day of every July?  The birth of this great nation, you say?  Oh, you mean the nation that took its stand on equality and freedom, while some signers of the very document that declared "inalienable rights" owned other humans?  How am I going to explain that to a sensitive seven year old?!

History can be murky and ambiguous, and we could (but won't) spend a lot of time arguing about whether America's revered founding fathers truly espoused the beliefs in the Declaration of Independence, or were merely clever, political-minded statesmen looking to incite a war for some kind of personal gain, or even whether that war should have taken place at all. There's more than one version of the stories we tell, and the story of the birth of our country is no exception.

Sean Molin via Creative Commons

It's true, however, that we must not forget a bloody war was fought following the words celebrated on Independence Day.   It's true that Americans must not deify our nation's founders, and it's vital that we Jesus-followers hold our American citizenship loosely and remember our primary allegiance is to Christ and His Kingdom.  But I think there is still reason for remembrance and celebration.

The real glory in the Declaration of Independence has been our nation's epic struggle throughout history to close the gap between the ideals of this remarkable document and the sometimes painful realities of American life.  The Declaration symbolizes the birth of our nation, of course, but also the constant struggle to achieve its ideals.
Declaration of Independence dramatic reading, introduction by Morgan Freeman

I want to teach my children that all stories are nuanced and complicated, and that to glorify the 4th of July with rabid nationalism is to miss the lives that were lost or forever changed for the worse by the Revolutionary War: American, British, Native American, African and African-American.  But I also don't want them to miss the genuine good in the ideals of the Declaration.  I want them to acknowledge the history of the United States for what it is - rocky and tumultuous, but also full of faithful, justice-minded people seeking to better their world.  And I want my children to know that, however America impresses or fails them, there is a Country up ahead worthy of patriotism at its finest.

I am thankful to live in a country that acknowledges people have rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that empowers citizens to influence how they are governed. I know how rare such freedom has been throughout history, and how costly it has been to acquire and protect. I’m also proud of many other ideals America stands for, such as the principle that all people are created equal (though, we’re obviously still in the process of living up to this one). So, I see no problem with an American Christian being patriotic. . .  
At the same time, followers of Jesus need to be very careful. History shows us how easy it is for Christians to forget that the Kingdom Jesus came to establish is “not of this world” (John 18:36, TNIV). And it’s to His Kingdom we are to pledge our sole allegiance. 
Despite the fact that He lived in an age when plenty of political and nationalistic issues were being hotly debated, Jesus never displayed the slightest interest in such matters. He didn’t come to bring us a “new and improved” version of the Kingdom of the world. He came to inaugurate a Kingdom that is “not of this world.” It’s a Kingdom that is no more Israeli than it is Palestinian; no more American than it is Iraqi; and no more socialist than it is democratic. Instead, it’s a Kingdom that encompasses people from every nation and political persuasion, for it puts on display the “one new humanity” Jesus died to create (Ephesians 2:15). In this Kingdom, Paul declares, there is no longer any Jew or Greek (Galatians 3:27-29). In our Kingdom, all national, tribal, ethnic, gender, social and economic distinctions are insignificant.  
So over the Fourth of July weekend—and all year—be appreciative of your country. Be patriotic. But make sure your patriotism pales in comparison to your sacrifice, commitment and allegiance to the Kingdom of God.


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