Happy 4th of July
It's Independence Day in America, when we celebrate the start of this remarkable project self-government that has endured for 246 years.
This is the most significant patriotic day on the American calendar.
It is also a good thing that June 19th—Juneteenth—is now an official holiday as well. It was on that day that freedom to slaves was proclaimed in Texas, and it's the date we have marked to celebrate the end of slavery. Like today’s July 4th celebration, it symbolizes a decisive turn toward fuller freedom, greater liberation, and more justice for all.
We all know that the soaring ambitions of our founding declaration—life, liberty, pursuit of happiness—were statements of intent, targets to aim at. They didn't happen for everyone immediately, and millions of Americans were actively deprived of those rights for generations.
The story of justice for all is messy and incomplete and often much too slow, but any honest look at the last 250 years shows a perpetual march toward freedom.
That march toward freedom has happened through the selfless labor of many. They've shed blood, lifted up prayers, and made great personal sacrifices, often for strangers and future generations.
A new poll shows how poorly Americans think of the America.
To the question: "Are you proud of the country today?"
In 2011, 69% said yes.
In 2022, 39% said yes.
In just one decade, that's quite a collapse.
Here’s Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking in 1967:
When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.
Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.”
Amen to that.
The confounding setbacks, deep valleys, and grim uncertainties are but temporary. There’s a long story in the making, and it ends with truth rising again.
Over the years, Speak Up has offered a number of internships to students from area colleges and universities. The curiosity, energy, and creativity brought by these young people has been inspiring. They've done everything from editing, writing, cleaning, graphic design, transcribing, interviewing homeless people, and more.
One of the hardest-working interns was a young lady from Ecuador. She came to us by way of an area community college.
We spent most of our time mission-focused—trying to figure out the best ways to empower people facing homelessness—and she didn't talk much about herself, so her biography wasn't a big topic of conversation.
But one day she came in with an irrepressible smile and news to share.
"Matt, I'm an American citizen now."
She said that it had been a long process, one that required years of investment and a lot of patience. She had come into country legally and pursued citizenship legally and had finally achieved it.
"America is better now that you are part of it," I said. "This is your country now. You are as much an American as I am."
I'm humbled by those who choose to become Americans. They bring an optimism that brightens our national character.
Changing citizenship to join this country is a remarkable thing. In an instant, your guaranteed rights immediately expand. Your opportunities open up. Your responsibilities shift.
One of those new opportunities is the privilege, mentioned earlier, of sacrificing for others.
This is not to be confused with the loud and prevailing sentiment that some of us, for various reasons, should be punished for crimes we didn't commit or be held to account for the past injustices of others. I strongly disagree: no one is responsible for the sins of their ancestors.
This word here is opportunity, not obligation.
A favorite teacher said that the true mark of strength is one’s ability to bear the burdens of others.
Sometimes those burden-sharing opportunities are close to home in the form of a relative or coworker in need of unusual grace. They can also be found in our neighborhoods and cities and jails, where we see the orphaned, impoverished, lonely, addicted, victims of oppression or abuse, anyone deprived of their rights.
I’m deeply grateful for those long-deceased strangers who surrendered their comforts, sacrificed their preferences, and poured themselves out so that you and I can enjoy the freedoms of today.
I pray that future generations will say the same of us.
For more posts like this, consider reading Dear Americans, a new newsletter from Matt Shaw.