A hope for the Fourth of July

Posted 6/30/21

I once had a dog who hated the Fourth of July. She was not vehemently unpatriotic. In fact, she liked to chase a baseball and eat apple pie!

But she was terrified of fireworks.

At the time, we …

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A hope for the Fourth of July

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I once had a dog who hated the Fourth of July. She was not vehemently unpatriotic. In fact, she liked to chase a baseball and eat apple pie!

But she was terrified of fireworks.

At the time, we lived less than a mile from the fairgrounds. A little after dark-thirty on the Fourth of July, this poor pup would hide under the bed, her body shaking harder than the dishes in cabinets with each loud blast.

The Fourth of July or Independence Day was only established as a federal holiday in 1941. But in 1776, just two days after the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Britain, there were celebrations in the streets. John Adams, who would become the second president of the United States, wrote to his wife, Abigail, that the Declaration of Independence “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade … Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”

Fireworks have been around long before the founding of this country. As early as 200 B.C., the Chinese were heating bamboo stalks over coals until they burst with a bang. Though my dog would disagree there was any upside, they thought the loud noise scared off evil spirits. Almost a thousand years later, Chinese alchemists accidentally created potassium nitrate — that is, gunpowder — while searching for an elixir for immortality. In light of our history of violence, that is a tragic irony.

The Fourth of July marks not only independence but the best ideals of the new nation. Adams appointed a politician from Virginia to write a declaration of the new nation’s values and beliefs. Thomas Jefferson declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yet, the historical record is just as clear that the founding fathers and citizens did not extend these “unalienable Rights” to Black people, Indigenous people or people of any color at all. In fact, these people were brutally enslaved or exiled from their own lands, and if they tried to resist, they were put to death. It should not be lost in our loud celebrations that such racially motivated violence is part of our history to lament.

My dog has been dead for almost five years, and I hope that she rests in peace. I also hope that, as long as we have the breath of life in us, we will work for a lived reality that matches our best ideals, a country where all men, women and children are treated as equals, a world where gunpowder is only used for celebrations and the only collateral damages are scared house pets. May it be so: amen.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His forthcoming book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”


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