Sunday, July 04, 2004


Happy 4th of July

Today is a special day in the history of our nation. I am grateful to be here as a member of our society. As much as I hate traffic, I love traffic lights. They remind me of how precious our country is, and what an amazing thing it is. The only reason traffic lights fulfill their purpose is because we let them. We all accept the rules of the traffic light. That’s why we all laughed when Jeff Bridges said “Red means stop. Green means go. Yellow means go very fast.” I can’t remember the movie, but I know you will. Maybe Starman. But none of the traffic lights have tractor beams or immobilizing rays. Still, we stop. Why?

For me, the answer is faith, again. Each of us has faith that everyone else will follow the same rules we do. Now would be the time when my bipolar cynicism kicks in and reminds me of the video cameras being installed at various big intersections in town. They come with nice signs that warn of red light violations. So much for agreed upon codes of conduct. Which is a good point. But that’s why I called it faith. It’s not a law like gravity, but the vast majority of us do follow it. It works so well so much of the time that most of us rarely consider running a red light. Ever given someone a piece of paper with ink on it in exchange for something you value? You have if you use money. That’s a strong bit of faith. Have you ever flicked a light switch during a power outage? That’s really faith. What does this have to do with the 4th of July?

Not much. Just that the Founders were acting on a leap of faith unsurpassed by anything in the world before or since. Except among Red Sox fans, who are in a class by themselves. The Founders acted from faith, and it was a faith in each other, and their fellow countrymen. People like you and me. "We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." That's faith. And we celebrate this faith all the time. I can even tell you where we worship.

Churches foster a sense of community. In times past, one of the few things everyone did was go to church. Some people were bakers. Some milked cows. Others chopped down trees. But everyone went to church. Not quite so true today. I’ve already given you one clue above. Think about it. What are the places in our society today where the most people gather at one time in one place? Give yourself a gold star if you said your own local equivalent of the Rose Bowl or Yankees Stadium. And what happens before the game begins? Our National Anthem. People in church might speak in tongues. If I’m at an event, and I hear that song, I get a little misty-eyed. Seeing people standing, many with hands over their hearts, and that huge cheer as the last notes fade away. If you don’t feel that power, that sense that you’re not alone, that communion with others, can you really be alive? You can’t beat that. My personal favorite? Whitney at the Super Bowl.

When does the National Anthem happen? At the end of the game, as you walk to your car? No. At the beginning. We proudly and joyfully acknowledge this symbol of our nation, and then the game happens. It’s as if the latter flows from the benevolence of the former. Our nation makes the game possible. Before the game begins is the best time for another reason.

I’ve said before that we need a great depression again in this country. Ask me later, but I will give you a little now. It’s easy to think about our nation during some crisis, but during the good times, it’s easy to forget. If your car is a lemon, you’ll be letting the dealership know. How many letters, calls, or personal visits do you make to your dealership when you like the car? Probably none. Sporting events are community recreations. They literally symbolize free and easy times. If you have the time and money to go to a professional sporting event, you’re not likely to be going to bed hungry, or wishing you had a bed and a roof over your head. The National Anthem is the call, and our cheer is our response, our acceptance of national communion. Attend a black church and you’ll see what I mean. Or rent the Blues Brothers, and maybe you’ll see the light. Maybe you’ll see the light? Nah. Not maybe. You will. I have faith in you.
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