A Typical American Fourth of July
Matching flag shirts. Fireworks. Barbecues. Parades. Burgers. Friends and Family. Cookouts. This is what represents our nation’s holiday for many Americans. Commemorating the birth of our nation is a time when we celebrate and are thankful for the freedom we have. We are thankful for the women and men in our present and in our history who stand up for, lead us into, fight for, and protect our very dear freedom. Freedom is what we love. Freedom is what we stand for as a country. “Let’s celebrate this,” our politicians, marketers, business owners, church leaders, and televisions tell us. Celebrate the freedom we have. I read recently that the U.S. will spend about 7 billion dollars on Fourth of July celebrations.
Here’s the thing. I lOVE celebrations! I love happy, good times. I love parties, people, food, and good, golly, I absolutely LOVE freedom. Yet….
I haven’t felt like celebrating today. I found myself kind of jumbled up today, if I am honest.
The Idea of Multiple Narratives
Ever since I have been introduced to the idea of multiple narratives on my historic trip to Palestine and Israel, my worldview has shifted. I am now always on the lookout for the different narratives people can have on the same subject. The most basic example in the Middle East is the birth of Israel as a nation in 1948. This is a day of celebration for those who identify with the nation of Israel. The Jewish people had been scattered for centuries. In their scattering they experienced lack of respect, abuse, and the holocaust, a truly unspeakable tragedy and horrific injustice. They finally were given a place to call home again.
But hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whose families had lived on the land for decades and in some cases centuries do not celebrate freedom on May 14, 1948, the day the modern state of Israel was recognized as a nation by America and some of the rest of the international community. This is a day of sadness and lament for them. Some Palestinians were forced out of their homes and put in refugee camps. Sometimes newly established Israeli citizens moved into these homes. These were peoples’ homes. Some Palestinians were forced out. Some voluntarily left. Some stayed. For some, their homes were demolished. Whole towns were leveled. Some Palestinians still hold the keys to their homes hoping to go back someday, hence, the term, “Right of Return.” To them, May 14 is known as “Nakba,” which means disaster or catastrophe in Arabic. As I heard this other narrative my mind was blown. Growing up I only heard one narrative, a freedom narrative, a celebratory narrative. But, as it turns out, it was only for one group of people.
At some point, on my 9-day pilgrimage in the Holy Land a lightbulb went off. I thought, “I think we have multiple narratives for some of our historic events and experiences in the U.S. as well.” I think this dynamic could partially explain the issues of race in our country. Now, some of you reading may be like, duh. You are in your 40’s and just now seeing this. My friends of color have probably always known this from their earliest memories. Or there may be other people with different experiences and backgrounds reading to who this is not new. I carry a certain amount of embarrassment that it took me this long to wake up to this. I wish I could tell you a different story but I can’t. I am white, an European American. I am learning to accept my story and my white culture. (That doesn’t mean I am not letting the bias and untruths within it be challenged! In fact, quite the opposite is true.) I grew up in a predominantly white community. I went to a predominantly white college. But thank the good, Lord he gave me some good friends of color at the University of Richmond who expanded my perspective and challenged my biases in very good ways. I just wished I would have listened to them more while I was there. There are real tears here as I think of this. I wish I could blame it on the fact that I was too busy pining for my boyfriend who was attending college in Indiana! We were a upper middle class family. I had everything I needed growing up and more. I did not have to fight for opportunity. I feared almost nothing as I walked around in my communities.
In the last couple years, post-trip, I have slowly become a little more educated in the realms of race, immigration, refugees, incarceration, and our history. I still have so much to learn! But, for now, I am in the middle of the deconstruction of my version of America’s history and present. This is hard, but ever so needed. Through listening to and learning from voices different from my own, especially voices of color, I find myself engaged in multiple, layered narratives of the American experience.
Three Possible White Perspectives
Like mine, your pride in America might be teetering today. You might be much more in the mood for lament. And anger. You might see what is happening on our southern border and cry. You may have been watching scenes of injustice done because of race over the past few years. Maybe you have awakened to a truth about American history you didn’t know before. You may have an urgent, nagging desire to do something about it all. You may be trying to learn from people unlike yourself. You might want to build bridges across the things dividing us as Americans. You may be unsure of how to build and fight and stand up for justice.
Or maybe you don’t have any idea what the heck I am talking about. You might believe from the core of who you are: America is the best nation on earth. You might want to preserve America’s traditions and history of freedom. You may feel as though America is being threatened by other religions, ethnicities, beliefs, or lifestyles. You may want to preserve, what you believe are, our Christian foundations and Christian principles as a nation. It may feel like the America you know and love is crumbling before your eyes.
Or maybe you are in the middle somewhere, and you think we are always going to have problems. There are good people and there are bad people. We might not be perfect, but we live in a damn, good country. You may think the news makes the problems seem bigger than they are in actuality. It’s much to do about nothing. Maybe you believe we will get through this hard time in our history eventually and come out stronger on the other side.
One of the Ways Through
No matter where you would place yourself on this continuum, this Fourth of July I challenge you to listen. Listen to others. Be open to hearing another narrative. Especially be willing to sit across the table from someone who is different from you in some way. No matter what, we can listen to each other. Really listen to someone else’s story. Be ready for your own perspective to be challenged in some way. This is not to be feared. This is the kind of thing I LOVE to celebrate and enjoy!
For those of us, who have faith in Jesus, this process does not diminish our faith. The art of sitting at the table and interacting with someone who is different from us was modeled by Jesus himself. The example coming to mind is his interaction with the Samaritan women at the well, recorded in the book of John in the Bible. (John 4:1-26;39-42. Go read it if you never have!) Jesus was Jewish. The woman was a Samaritan. Right in scripture, we are told Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other. Jesus breaks through this division with a conversation and with a need. He, the one who was supposedly “better” asked the one who was in the “worse” condition, someone lower on the social status scale for something he needed: a drink of water. Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah to a SAMARITAN WOMAN! I just love Jesus, he is my favorite. Jesus crossed cultural, societal, economic, gender, and ethnic boundaries time and time again because he loves all of humanity. As Christ-followers, we are taught every single human on this earth bears the image of God. That is all we need folks. This is our call to see and be for the dignity and worth of every human. It will take intentionality and be messy but it’s who we are. Let’s do this.
Coming up soon on the blog-my first protest and what I am thinking about doing now.