This week I experienced my first Fourth of July in the greater Philadelphia area. I went to a cookout in Glenside. Everybody knows the right foods for the Fourth: hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, lots of fresh fruit and luscious vine-ripened tomatoes, not to mention chilled beverages. Well-fortified, we made our way down to the parade. Glenside has a hoppin’ parade; the streets and lawns were lined with people, old and young in a dazzling array of reds, whites, and blues. I saw one girl with a star shape braided into the hair on the back of her head. I don’t know how you do that, but I was impressed. For one afternoon, we all seemed proud to wear our country on our sleeves, our backs and even woven into the very fibers on our head.
The parade was its own astonishing cornucopia of humankind, humans of the USA variety, many displaying an ethnic flair, bringing their own cultural contributions to our party – all glad to be there celebrating the principles of liberty and justice for all. OK, some of them were pretty hot and converting fat to sweat at an astonishing rate. I was sitting under a tree sipping my cold drink.
Even so, the African-American dance troupe whirled with fierce energy. The pipers piped, drummers drummed and the Celtic group sang ballads. There was a dance and song group, decked out in dazzling outfits, that came here from Virginia and before that, presumably, Bolivia. Who knew?! The praise bands praised, and the Shriners played patriotic music. There were even Belgian draft horses whose ancestors settled in our country years ago. I saw my first Mummers. I even posted them on Facebook, and I rarely post anything on Facebook. Most everyone stood for the veterans, and we were even polite when floats for the respective political parties passed by.
What did I like best? I think it was the goodwill. It was the atmosphere of support and encouragement and appreciation. We knew how hard those dancers and musicians had worked to be as good as they are. We knew how much effort and expense and sweat it takes to join a parade. We knew that you make yourself vulnerable anytime you offer your gifts for a greater good, and these people were out their strutting their stuff for us. We cheered!
There under the sunny skies, the same ones into which North Korea had just launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), it was as though we all understood that the American experience, poised against the sweeping backdrop of history, is still just that – an experiment. It was as though we all understood the threats to our country – the ones rising up from within us and the one soaring in the skies above us.
On the Fourth of July, we wanted to be kind. We wanted to be encouraging. We cheered each other on. That’s what I remember most. It was sweet, and gathering together was precious. Being a minister, of course, I thought of the Kingdom of God. This felt like a taste. Maybe in our best moments, America points toward the Kingdom of God – the one in which people come from the ends of the earth to live together in peace, the vision of a land committed to both justice and mercy. One nation under God. My kind of party. Maybe yours.