For the Fourth of July many congregations indulged in patriotic displays, others took pride in distancing themselves from national symbols. Somehow “the flag issue” is one of an up or down vote between right or wrong. It does not have to be that way. I wrote a piece for the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research & Development, and Data Blog, where we value nuanced conversations.
I work in healthcare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams I work with have been called heroes in so many ways. You have seen the images of nurses and doctors pulling extra shifts – exhausting themselves to the breaking point and beyond. They appear powerless at times because they can only respond to the needs of the patients. But the opposite is also true: Healthcare workers hold enormous power. You allow them to do things to your body that nobody else can. They have an expertise that is hard to question and most of the time you consent to a course of action that you only half understand. That is what healthcare ethics call a “power differential”.
It was a power differential that the 13 colonies of 1776 were no longer willing and able to accept. The Declaration of Independence lays out their lengthy list of grievances where the powerful British Empire took unfair advantage of the vulnerable colonists. In the closing paragraph they “solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved.” The path forward is to be one of separateness.
But the Declaration of Independence does not stop there. It closes, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” By creating this new country, by running away from that old abusive relationship, we come together as a community. This is not rugged individualism, this is not winner-takes-it-all. This is not us-versus-them. This is mutual respect and responsibility. This is unity. And yes, in 1776 those were only white men. We are still struggling to live up the the promise and pledge that we gave ourselves that the power differential shall not divide us. As Americans, we ought to treat one another with the respect that mutual healthcare models. We are all each other’s patient.
Over the past few years I have reflected on the Declaration of Independence in other contexts:
2018 When in the Course of Human Events
2017 Brexit 1776? – Happy Independence Day!
2016 A decent respect to the opinions of mankind
2015 Obergefell v. Hodges
2014 Don’t Mess With Texas
2012 Declaration of Independence pushing for immigration
Psalm 121:8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
Worship is a great workout to practice skills needed in liminal spaces.
Here you can listen to a selection of my sermons:
We attended the George Floyd Peace March in Houston yesterday as a white family of five in a sea of 60,000 #blacklivesmatter activists. As we approached the scene of the march, I tensed up. Groups were handing out surgical masks as COVID-19 precautions – very safety-minded. They were handing out water as well which was really nice because it was a 90 degree humid Texas afternoon. But one activist advised, “Everybody take two water bottles, one to drink and one to wash the tear gas out of your eyes.” Wow, things could potentially go South this afternoon. Then I looked around at my fellow protesters. Every hundred yard or so I would spot what I would have to call combat medics. They were part of the protest as you could tell from their clothing, but they also had military-style first aid kits strapped to their belts including tourniquet and all. We are prepared to get gassed and stop bleeding from our limbs. This is serious.
We marched for racial justice. We marched for the memory of George Floyd and all those who were killed before him. The most powerful chant went back and forth: “Say his name! – George Floyd! Say his name! – George Floyd! Say his name! – George Floyd!” He must not be forgotten as a person with a name. But then he also turned into a symbol because he is one out of so many black lives whose worth and dignity have been denied. The anger, frustration and fear on the streets these days is both, one week and four hundred years old. The systemic racism that stems from American slavery continues to turn a blind eye on police who forget their mission to protect and serve. Another powerful chant summed that up: “No justice, no peace! Prosecute the police!” A system that allows killers to go free needs to be called out until finally #blacklivesmatter.
I’m glad we went. Marching on the right side of history is always important. I’m also glad the relationship between protesters and police was appropriate yesterday. Everybody got to drink both water bottles.