As July Fourth is upon us, it is hard not to have a sense of patriotism and to feel good about our country. Even in tough times, even in the midst of political debate, one thing that we can all rally around is that we are Americans.
I get a lump in my throat when I reread the Declaration of Independence and see that strong people were willing to say, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." They were willing to risk everything to establish a free republic of states and citizens.
As I think about their pledge and reflect on what Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation, I ask myself, what legacy will we leave behind us?
One thing seems clear to me: Every generation which has accomplished great things for our nation has had to sacrifice to do it. Great things have never come without great sacrifice; whether it was the establishment of the nation, the ridding ourselves of the evil of slavery, the struggle against tyranny and oppression, the battle for civil rights.
In Mathew 11, Jesus asked the question, "To what will I compare this generation?" He was asking it in the sense of whether those alive would accept his claims of divine authority. But the question has many applications.
There is a great Christian hymn that has these words, "Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide." The Christian faith is filled with challenges to make decisions. To decide about who Jesus is, to decide whether to forgive another, to decide for selfishness or for the blessing of others.
As a Christian and as a citizen, I have come to believe that there are a number of principles that should guide my patriotism. The first is well-stated in the Little League Pledge (I coach a Little League team and so say this pledge before each game), "I trust in God. I love my country and will respect its laws."
I appreciate the careful language. As a believer, I need to know in what I trust, but I also need to remember I am called to love and bless the country I am a part of.
When Israel was in exile, they were called by the prophet to bless the land in which they were in.
Another principle that I follow is that I need to be willing to sacrifice. The well-known words of President Kennedy, articulate it best, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Jesus said he came to serve, and as a Christian patriot, that should be my attitude towards my fellow citizens.
A final principle I want to offer up is that of humility. The Civil War-era patriotic song says it well, "You're a grand old flag, you're a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave. You're the emblem of the land I love. The home of the free and the brave. Ev'ry heart beats true 'neath the Red, White and Blue, where there's never a boast or brag."
The Christian principle of humility has permeated much of our public life, and for its betterment, I believe. Doing the right things in humility for and as a nation is a patriotic act.
In the Bible, the Old Testament instructs us that if a people humble themselves, and pray, God will hear their prayers and heal their land.
President Reagan used the biblical imagery of a city on a hill as an aspiration for our country - that we would seek to order our public life in such a way that others might look to us for inspiration. There are other important principles that a Christian should consider in relationship to his or her public life, but I offer these as food for thought, as we go to our picnics and fireworks displays.
On this Fourth of July, as we are thankful for the heritage we have been given, let us ask ourselves, what kind of generation will we be, what legacy will we leave behind?
The Rev. Albert Gillin is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.