Monday, July 06, 2015

Reflection: Independence Day 2015

92nd Annual Lake Floyd WV July 4th Celebration
 This past weekend, Jamie and I traveled to the place she was raised, Lake Floyd, WV to celebrate July 4th with her family and friends. At Lake Floyd, the July 4th celebration is a bit of a throwback to a different era of America. On July 3rd, the entire community gathers for a covered dish dinner and hot dog roast at the clubhouse (which is for all practical purposes the center of activity for the lakeside community).  I would estimate roughly 150 people came out for the hot dog roast. And the thing is, people come from near and far to be back at Lake Floyd for July 4th. The atmosphere is similar to a large family reunion or homecoming.

And on July 4th, the day starts with Irish RoadBowling, then a parade. The parade is comprised almost entirely of all of the kids from the lake community riding in wagons, bicycles, tricycles, and other decorated riding toys. After this comes “the games.” Of course there are fireworks at the end of the evening, but “the games” are not to be missed. Different age groups of boys and girls, men and women compete in three-legged races, obstacle courses, tug-of-wars, wheelbarrow races, and even an egg toss. This was the 92nd anniversary of the Lake Floyd July 4th celebration.

Open division wheelbarrow race July 4th
And this year, I was asked to pray to open up the games. For me, it was a big deal because 1) I’m not a member of the community like Jamie and others are and 2) I have witnessed a few of the others who have prayed to open the time, and those men and women were patriarchs and matriarchs in the community. Men and women who were giants of faith, who led lives of service, and who were stalwart champions of goodness in their community. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not trying to place myself in that league—these are the exact reasons why I felt completely out of place standing in that position. At the same time, it made me want to aspire to live a life that could even be a shadow of the one they led.
Jamie rocking a Nuru shirt and getting ready for the parade.

Jamie’s cousin sang the national anthem (beautifully I might add), and the MC led the gathered crowd in the pledge of allegiance. And as these events transipired, I found myself reflecting as I stepped up to pray before the hundreds of men and women and boys and girls entered the “competition” at the 92nd annual Lake Floyd July 4th celebration. What I reflected on was a bit different than what others might have found themselves considering.

I reflected on this. What are we celebrating and highlighting when we come together at gatherings like this on the fourth of July. Are we celebrating our independence? Are we celebrating the freedoms we enjoy in America? Are we celebrating a successful rebellion from a tyrannical England that happened 239 years ago? In a sense we may be celebrating all of those things, but when I think about what values we choose to highlight on Independence Day, I think we are celebrating the fact that freedom imparts to us a need to take responsibility. Freedom means that we are called to serve and look out for the interests for others.

Jamie and her cousin Genevieve speeding past the competition.
As the list of those occupations and careers we typically honor on Independence Day are mentioned or listed they bear one thing in common. They the outflow of lives committed to the service of others. We often take time on Independence Day to pray for and honor the sacrifices of service men and women, first responders, fire-fighters, and police (among others), and these occupations share a common thread. They are careers and occupations when at their best demonstrate an ethic of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. There is a sense with each of these vocations that their practitioners have come to the conclusion that a life of “freedom” also means a life of “responsibility.”

I have been privileged to be surrounded by others who champion this philosophy that is not uniquely American, but it is a part of America’s roots. Growing up I saw it in my parents and relatives who committed themselves to hard work to make sure there was food on the table for me and my generation, or in my neighbors who were always ready and willing to chip in and share skills to help repair a vehicle or a home. They weren’t living for themselves, but were looking out for the interests of others.

As I grew older, I felt the tensions of an increasingly dominant culture that said that I needed to put myself first, that it was survival of the fittest, that only the strong survive and these principles were in direct contrast to what I had witnessed in my own family and community. As I went off to college, the dominant culture was winning. I was pursuing an education that would line me up for a career where I could make a lot of money and “have all of the toys.” But something kept drawing me back. Among other happenings, during my college years, I became a Christian, and I was part of a community of Christians who were striving earnestly to live out their faith in tangible ways (and I’m grateful to still be part of that community). In addition, I had the opportunity to become more involved with my own tribal community. One of the highest principles among my tribe, is that you are here to serve. And now, I work for an organization in which servant leadership is among the core values.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. has said, “Anyone can be great, because anyone can serve.” You want to lead? Serve. You want to be respected by others? Serve. President Kennedy said it this way, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

So back to Independence Day. I believe that part of what we celebrate on Independence Day is freedom of responsibility. I think what makes America great (among many other attributes) is this. There is a rich tradition of service that has been woven into America. Of course there are ugly patches in this nation’s history, and there is definitely a need for introspection and correction, but while some of these wrongs cannot be righted easily, they can cease to continue if more people commit their lives to the service of others.

Right now, in the faith community of which I am part, we have been studying the letter Paul the Apostle wrote to the church at Philippi. One of the foremost themes of the book is service. Paul holds up multiple examples, including the life and example of Jesus Himself. Service brings out our best, and it actually can bring out the best in those around us too.

And while on various holidays and occasions we often celebrate those who serve, I look around and I see service trending downward. I see people who are caught up in their own interests. They have grabbed hold of an ethos of looking out for number one. They disrespect themselves, they disrespect rules, they disrespect property, and they, as a natural outflow, disrespect others. And yet, this is part of what it means to be free. We are also free to make bad choices. We are free not to take responsibility or expect consequences for our actions, but at some point there will be a reckoning.  My hope is that as a society we can begin to course correct. My hope is that Americans can celebrate not only the sacrifices of past generations that have enabled us to continue as a democracy, but also look to imitate an ethos of service that makes us our communities better, and also makes this entire world a better place for others.

So as we return to our normal rhythms after celebrating Independence Day, I want to encourage you to strive to maintain or develop an ethos of service. Your family will be better off. Your community will be better off. Your country will be better off. And, I believe wholeheartedly this world will be better off.  And this is the great irony, I believe you will be better off as well, because you will be living for a purpose greater than yourself, your bank account, or your own indulgence. There’s something about service that transforms us into a better version of ourselves than we would be otherwise. Will you take steps toward a greater ethos of service in your life by saying yes to others and no to yourself?

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