On July 4, 1776, the men, and their families supporting them published the sacred document, the Declaration of Independence, that created this country. At its conclusion, they said:
FOR THE SUPPORT OF THIS DECLARATION WITH A FIRM RELIANCE ON THE PROTECTION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE WE MUTUALLY PLEDGE OUR LIVES, OUR FORTUNES AND OUR SACRED HONOR.
Imagine the risks they undertook and the courage that they needed to bring the ideal of freedom and equality that existed in their minds and hearts into external reality. They had to be willing to sacrifice everything dear to them — their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Their signatures, bound to their lives, fortunes and honor, created the United States of America. We need to return again and again to that moment. We need to re-birth America in our hearts in this time and place.
We honor the sacrifices of the women and men and their families who have served in Iraq and now in Afghanistan in service of our country. Many of these men and women have been compelled to serve tour after tour, sacrificing their physical and emotional lives and those of their families. But the rest of us American people have been asked to sacrifice very little.
Where is the courage and the leadership in our President and in our Congress?
I received an email last year from a friend that showed what happened to many of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence:
Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and they pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. What kind of men were they?
Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well-educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.
Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton.
At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.
Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife; she died shortly after.
John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.
We go on with our complacent lives, untouched by the reality of war for our Marines or the children of war.
May we not take for granted what we have here in America. May this Fourth of July be a time for us to take stock of ourselves.
John Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
I have pleaded for years that we need to be willing to enter a path of personal transformation for the sake of transformation of our country.
And so again today, I invite you to pray for God’s help in that transformation.
Good and gracious God of our understanding,
we thank You for the courage and vision of our founding fathers and mothers,
May each of us be willing to transform
our hate to respect for all people,
our reliance on material things to reliance on You,
our greed and selfishness to self-giving and compassion
May we always be willing to respond to the grace You give us
to transform our lives and our country to serve the good of all.
Let the lessons of hardship that many of us now are experiencing
bring us to You, God of our understanding,
for You, are the Source of all that is good in our lives.
May all our actions show Your wisdom and love.
Now, before you go, here’s Celine Dion singing God Bless America with a wonderful slide show that just might give you some goosebumps! Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
Dear Friends, the boy in the image above was reading the Declaration of Independence emblazoned on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial when I visited there in October 2007. He represents our future.
The folks in the following video taken at Colonial Williamsburg represent our past as they reenact how our country was born. Our fore fathers and mothers pledged their “lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” in order to birth America. Tomorrow we’ll consider how severely that cost was for many of them and their families.
Now consider what you and I can and must do in order to ensure the re-birthing of America in its third century.
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
This is an actual image of one of the four panels of the words of Thomas Jefferson emblazoned upon the walls of of perhaps America’s most sacred shrine, the Jefferson Memorial. The image was taken in October 2007 on my first pilgrimage to pray for our country’s transformation.
As I offer my thoughts, I invite you to observe this Fourth of July by a deeper interior observance of the heart. Take time to make these words, of the Declaration of Independence, your own. Those of you who are young people, realize that these words conceived, founded and established our country.
What existed only in the minds and hearts of our founding fathers and mothers became the United States of America.
But, we have wandered far way from this vision. We fail to realize that we must constantly re-birth America — for good or for ill.
It is my sense that at this critical point of American history that we — each and every American — ought to re-visit that moment of our founding.
Imagine what it was like.
Imagine their vision of what did not yet exist in the external world.
Imagine the courage they had.
Next to the Word of God, there are no words that are more sacred to me than these. They are sacred because they reflected divine reality. God blessed these words of Thomas Jefferson. And our country was born on the Fourth of July 1776.
When I lived in Washington in the summer of 1979 when I was 36 years old, I would go very often and sit in the rotunda of this sacred shrine and ponder anew the vision of these sacred words.
I’d like to share with you what was going on in my head and my heart 34 years ago They are faith-based thoughts. I don’t want to impose them on you. I just share them because they lead me to a very positive view of our country and our world, a view that resists the hatred and violence and self-indulgence of our comatose society. As you ponder my thoughts, ask yourself what vision of America, what vision of the world and our future do you yourself have? What do you want for you, for your children, for our country, for our world, for our planet?
I believe your Holy Spirit inspired these words:
WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT THAT ALL [PEOPLE] ARE CREATE EQUAL AND ARE ENDOWED WITH CERTAIN INALIENABLE RIGHTS. AMONG THESE ARE THE RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.
As a Christian among other God-fearing women and men, I address You and love You as my Father. You are my Father. But this means that You are not just my Father, but the Father of all those you have created. You care about every person on this planet who has ever lived or who ever will. Therefore, we are all equal in your sight. We are all persons. You conceived and created each human being with a unique identity, a body and soul, in Your mind and heart from the very beginning and you sustain each one of us today and for all eternity.
I have come to recognize that ALL of us are in Your family, Father. And that makes us but sisters and brothers. Help me to embrace all of Your children on this planet in my heart. Help me to desire for every one what you have so generously provided for me – a little place to call home, simple food on my table, a decent education and decent health care.
Help me, Father, to recognize and support the right of every human person to life, liberty and the pursuit of other people’s happiness as well as my own. Help me not to be only concerned about my own needs, my own family’s needs, but to realize that we are all one family. Yet we are torn apart by hatred and violence; brother still kills brother. Help us export love not hate, peace and development for all people, not war and destruction.
This is my constant prayer, heavenly Father, for the world in which I live.
I pray that you would allow me the grace to be able to help bring that about,
not only for the people of America but for the whole world.
To you, heavenly Father ~
Father of my Redeemer and elder brother Jesus ~
all honor and praise and thanksgiving now and forever.
This, dear friends, is my constant prayer for the world in which we live, the world I wish to be a part of and help to bring into reality. It has ever been such since my lazy summer of ’79 in Washington and always will be. I don’t expect you to use my words as you pray. I just invite you to make your own prayer.
Make this Fourth of July a re-dedication to our ideals. We need God in our world today.
But we rely on ourselves and not on God. Capitalism, by definition, creates that illusion. I urge you to re-birth the vision of our founding fathers and mothers in your own heart this Fourth of July 2014.
We need to renew that vision, that commitment every year, every day, from the mightiest to the lowest of our land. And I warn you (me too), if we don’t constantly attend to our renewal, we will lose what we have and are. Great civilizations before us have collapsed because of their complacency.
Nevertheless, it is my sense that God will transform us if we pray and bind together. All we have to do is co-operate with the process.
Let us be at prayer and reflection, this Fourth of July. Ask God for guidance. Ask forgiveness for taking all of this for granted. We need God to bring us through these critical times.
And now, before you go, here’s a powerful song with historical images to inspire your reflection. Click here.
Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. Enjoy your celebration for it’s still a beautiful land.