I love the traditions of the 4th of July:
The sight of fireworks in the night sky, a plate heaped high with potato salad and BBQ and a bowl filled with homemade ice cream, preferably peach.
The sense of camaraderie that comes from hauling a chair up to Peachtree Street and watching the Road Race with thousands of others, cheering on the kids, the grandmothers, the chemo patients, the wheelchair athletes, the beer buddies, the Ghanaians, the goofy guy dressed as the Statue of Liberty.
I will definitely be wearing red, white, and blue this 4th of July, along with a new pair of star-shaped silver earrings.
I am in a particularly intense Stars and Stripes mood right now, because I am worried about America. So divided we are in the summer of 2012 over many important matters. I am thankful that for one July day, we will celebrate the fact that, at our best, we are “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
One recent decision by the Supreme Court has dramatically brought to the surface some of our fundamental differences about what is America and who is an American. The ruling regarding Arizona’s immigration law, which allows police to stop, question, and detain a person suspected of being in the country illegally, has roiled the waters in Georgia and other states.
The President’s decision to allow the children of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work toward citizenship has also revealed a sharp difference of opinion. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot debate these questions on legal grounds. I can only speak from the perspective of my faith tradition. I can only lift up the Hebrew Scriptures, which maintain that concern for the welfare of the alien, legal or otherwise, is a matter of great consequence to Almighty God: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the Land of Egypt. . .” (Leviticus 19:36)
I can only say that in the Christian Scriptures, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, there is a fellow nobody knows beaten up and lying in the ditch. He had no papers, no credentials. He was there, he was in a mess, and a man from Samaria helped him, no questions asked. “Go, and do likewise,” Jesus said. (Luke 10:25-37)
I think of the Statue of Liberty that has stood in New York Harbor as a beacon of hope since 1883 for millions of people. On ships they came, seeking freedom and a chance for a new life. Except for the Native Americans among us, every single one of us is a descendant of immigrants. America is itself a jumble of identities, ethnic backgrounds, habits and customs. That is who we have been and who we will be.
In one hand, Lady Liberty holds a torch, a beckoning, guiding source of light. In the other, she holds a tablet on which is inscribed the date of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress, July 4th, 1776. On her pedestal are inscribed the words of a sonnet penned by poet Emma Lazarus:
. . .Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden shore.
I’ll wear my silver star earrings with pride this 4th of July, but even more, I will give thanks to God for this great nation and its golden dreams.