America is a place but it is just as importantly an idea. A really noble idea.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
When I was a kid, we said the pledge to the flag before school every day. I still remember it:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
Still like it!
As a child in the early 70’s, America meant but one thing; freedom. We were free. Communist countries were not free. Communists wanted to take our freedom. We were not going to let them. Things were really simple in the early 70’s.
Freedom was not an abstraction for me. In fact, I wore it on my wrist. Until it snapped in two in 1977 or so, I wore an aluminum arm band with the name of a man named “Georgi Vins” on it. Had no idea who Georgi Vinns was other than he was in a Russian concentration camp because of his faith. Come to find out, Vins was a Baptist Pastor who organized underground churches and protested government control of churches in Russia in the 60’s and 70’s. Arrested and convicted for the second time in 1974, an international group formed to protest his arrest and call attention to the plight of persecuted Christians (i.e. my wrist band).
Vins was eventually exchanged under the Carter Administration in 1979 with a small group of other Russian Christian leaders for two convicted Soviet Spies. He moved to the US, wrote some books, went on the speaking tour and advocated for Christians in Russia until he died in 1988 in Elkhart, Indiana. But when I put that aluminum bracelet on my wrist in my Jr. High days, it was certainly more about an idea I knew well than a man I didn’t know at all!
That America has not perfectly put the noble idea of freedom into practice is not even debatable but that does not tarnish the idea itself, nor its grandness. It is perhaps the very grandness that frustrates so many today when we fall short of it.
I think the American challenge circa 2018 is to turn the “idea” of freedom (which can be abstract and without context) into an “ideal” of freedom (contextualized in time and space). An “idea” is something that can just sit and spin (think fidget spinners) but an “ideal” requires something of us all and reminds us that none of us are free until all of us are free.
And it is with this “grown up” understanding I wish this great nation a very happy birthday!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.