I had a Fourth of July to make a patriotic soul happy. And I was.
I packed us a picnic lunch and we made an early bee-line for Saratoga Springs State Park, a beloved spot since my salad days. Negotiating our way to my favorite spot on the stream, we walked close by a group of African American picnickers who wished us a happy Fourth. Then we fired up the grill and dished out the fruit salad and slaw.
The Asian couple at the next picnic table took a shine to my dog, Jack--of course!--and stopped by to chat. A multi-generational Middle Eastern family arrived with young children and grown children and a couple of different versions of English while the aroma of whatever it was they were cooking made our own menu seem mundane.
Later, sated and sleepy, we roused ourselves to walk to the geysers, watching as families sampled the sulfurous water--families of Asian, Pakistani, Hispanic origin, people in saris and yarmulkes and shorts. The unifying consensus seemed to be a general dislike of the water--though a few outliers, like me, thought it refreshing. The other unifying, though unspoken, consensus was that we were all here to celebrate the holiday that, however imperfectly signifies our twinned needs for independence and interdependence.
We went back to my house happy, Jack sleepy. Skip the fireworks? Maybe. But then the sun set and we agreed--let's find some.
I knew a parking lot behind a convenience store that would have a good view. So we stood there, hard by the dumpster, with a lot of other neighborhood people, ooing and ahhing all together.
Driving home, we thought we saw more fireworks. Right in the park right where I live. We drove in, the park dark, closed. And yet--up on a knoll an extended family sat beneath awning tents watching a professional-grade, but private showing. What? How?
A man came up to us--excited. Between blasts he said, "Yeah, my nephew has connections." Blast. "Come on up and join us." Blast. "There's lots of food." Blast. "We got chicken and--." Blast "And my wife is white so it's okay."
This--astonishing--invitation represented all that we should ever be to each other as human beings.
He wanted to feed us. He wanted us to put us at our ease. There is no better description of true hospitality.
And his invitation capped the Fourth for me--a holiday that people of color can't even claim as their historic day of independence, because it definitely wasn't. But even so, celebrating it as a day of aspiration, and action in service to that aspiration, makes us better people.
The Rev. Jim Hazelwood, Bishop of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in which I am an ordained pastor, asks in a recent blog post, "How does one embrace both loves of country and love of God?"
This is an apt question, but one made more difficult because so many so-called Jesus followers have wrapped the cross in a flag and called it good. (This makes those of us who take both seriously, though serving God a matter of ultimacy, cringe.)
As Bishop Hazelwood lays out his proposal for humane immigration reform, he reflects on the soil in which this idea is dug: "My argument above is ultimately rooted in my faith, my understanding of a wide swath of scripture that calls for an embrace and welcome of the stranger, hospitality for the sojourner, and welcome of the refugee. I'm also holding this position because I genuinely believe it's best for our democracy as well as the economic well being of our nation."
Bishop Hazelwood's "also" is important. Politics without sound moral or spiritual footing is demagoguery. Or in simpler terms, selfishness.
And that looks nothing like my Fourth of July picnic in Saratoga Springs State Park. Or the invitation offered to us in a dark park: "We've got chicken! And my wife is white. So it's okay."
If we can't learn from that, then we are neither faithful. Nor patriotic.