Out of many, one
I was a very patriotic kid. For my 9th birthday, I received a flagpole for our front yard. It was exactly what I wanted. My grandfather assembled it out of some old pipe, painted it, and set it up in our yard. It even had a beautiful gold-painted eagle on top. My grandfather was a veteran of World War II. He taught me all about flag etiquette, including how to fold the flag properly. Every summer, when my sister and I would spend a week with my grandparents, I would go out with him each day at sunrise to raise the flag and at sunset to lower it. Once I had my own flag to raise and lower each day, I never left it up past dark or in the rain if I could help it. In 4th grade, I was selected to be one of two students who raised and lowered the flag at my school every day.
I guess I came by my love of country quite naturally. Having a birthday just a few days after Independence Day meant that family gatherings in early July were often dual-purpose events. We’d celebrate me, my twin sister, my older brother (whose birthday is just two days after ours), and America all at once. Most years we went to a local lake, where hundreds and hundreds of people covered the hillside with picnics for a giant party honoring the good old U. S. of A. and three-fourths of the Bailey kids.
Today, I couldn’t resist the urge to listen to some patriotic tunes from the Boston Pops while putting these thoughts down. I still love celebrating America, even as I’ve grown up and learned about the darker parts of our nation’s past and present. There’s much we could say about what it means to celebrate the Fourth of July in the midst of such contentious times. The things we love most about America are reasons, not only to celebrate, but to stay engaged with our neighbors of all different stripes who live near and far, even when it’s hard to do so. This “e pluribus unum” business, the 241-year-old effort to make one out of many has never been easy, and I don’t think it ever could be.
As much as I love it, I don’t think my country is more special to God than any other. We certainly haven’t gotten everything right, but I believe the hope of uniting a diverse people for the sake of the common good has a lot in common with what God wants for the world. So we should keep working for it – here, and all over the earth. May God’s grace be shed everywhere. Happy Fourth of July!
–Ryan Bailey, director of faith formation