Four for the Fourth: Holiday Ruminations

For thirty years or so, I was shielded from most July 4th festivities by attending a big Quaker Gathering which was then always held the week of the holiday.

Going about our multifarious business there (as the saying goes, “We liberal Quakers don’t believe in hell — we have committees instead.”), we didn’t take much notice. Once in awhile we’d see some local fireworks, but there was no patriotic speechifying, flag-draped parades, or wreaths laid on war monuments. (Thank goodness.)

I remember one year, the college where we were assembled was perched at the brow of a high ridge, overlooking several small towns scattered across the valley far below.

Pressed by some kids who felt pyrotechnically-deprived, several of us gathered just before bedtime in a peripheral parking lot; from its edge  the view downhill was clear. Soon a bright dotted line rose in a curve and mushroomed into colored sparks. Then another lit up, well to the south. These were followed by others.

All were so far away that the sound didn’t carry, and the scene became like a kind of subdued and scattered northern lights display. The kids were disappointed, but I liked it. Far away, small-screen, and quiet; it felt like the right frame for our patriotic outbursts.

But this year I’m not at the big gathering; too busy at home. So right now, the radio is off, the house is quiet, and my daily online newspaper-reading was soon  derailed into several non-journalistic pathways, strewn with the debris of the day. Here are a few pieces I picked up there, for recycling . . . .

Frederick Douglass, from “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” 1852

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July.
It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day.
This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young.
Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood.
I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon.
The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny?
Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young.
Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever.
But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory.
As with rivers so with nations. . . .

The full address is here.

Resistance Poetry, by Meg:

The Picnic

‘Neath a haze of charcoal fumes
And sparkling summer sky,
They gathered round the sickbed
And ate an apple pie.

They reminisced and pondered
The speed of her decline,
Fingers crossed that better days
Were not now all behind.

Despite alarming symptoms,
To hope they held on fast.
This wasn’t her first illness.
It might not be her last.

One by one, as light grew long,
They said their fare-thee-wells,
Each willing there’d be next year,
But you can never tell.

4th of July, 2017

More Resistance Poetry.



In the Other News . . .

Inspired By Patriotic Church Service, Man To Study All Biblical Passages About America

“GRAND PRAIRIE, TX—“Truly inspired and deeply moved” by his church’s patriotic 4th of July service, and particularly his pastor’s message, titled “The Shining City Upon A Hill,” local man Jim Radcliffe announced Monday his intention to launch into a comprehensive study of every mention of the United States of America in the entire Bible.

“From God’s covenant with America in the Old Testament, all the way through to America’s ultimate victory over our enemies in Revelation—I’m going to study every single verse about God’s chosen nation,” read his announcement on Facebook. “There are a ton of them, I know. But I am committed.”

Radcliffe also announced that he hopes to complete this daunting task within one calendar year.

“By this time next year I hope to have exhaustively studied the Scriptures’ entire treatment of the United States, even if it takes several hours each day,” he said in his online missive, noting his confidence that God will bless him as he endeavors to honor the U.S., quoting Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless [America].”

[Reader advisory: the website on which this piece was found is widely suspected of publishing truth disguised as fake news.]

And finally, thanks to Scott Horton for passing along this poem, which fits my mood on this date just about every year:

 On the 4th, am reading William Stafford’s “Every War Has Two Losers,” a lovely book of writings and poems about being peace in a world desperate for war, like this poem celebrating a non-4th 4th at an un-monument “remembering the unknown good in everything”… 

At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.


5 thoughts on “Four for the Fourth: Holiday Ruminations”

  1. Dear Chuck, I want to thank you for printing the words of Frederick Douglas on July 5, 1852. This is the first time I have read it. His command of the English language is unmatched. And I am disappointed that this speech is not given the same importance every year as our Declaration of Independence and other historic documents because I feel it would help our children to realize that the problem of not treating our African-Americans as equals is still with us.I am grateful to you that I have lived long enough to read and will spread the word that we all have to witness to our beliefs and acknowledge the importance of Frederic Douglas. I have emailed the article to my
    grandchildren. Again many thanks.

  2. One of the best things coming out of pre-4th babble is conversations about the difference between patriotism (loving one’s country) and nationalism (hating other countries.)

  3. Chuck, good pieces. I have known the Douglass piece for years but did not teach it as often as I should have. The Festival for the Eno in Durham is a very good alternative July 4th clebration. Mary Kay and I were there again this year. If you get another July 4th off you might try it.T

  4. I would think the flag would be an idol, not a god. The country would be a god. Something like that.

    And as for the plains?? I’m sure some Native Americans did die! Lest we forget our complicity in genocide.

    Happy 4th, Chuck. Great articles. Can’t wait until we find out those bible verses.

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