This is the day.
We Americans by tradition keep our eye on the grand old flag on this day celebrating our Independence from colonial rule. No one, we vowed on that July 4th of 1776, was ever going to control us again. We stood proudly against colonial rule. Against imperialism.
And then what?
Throughout these last 247 years we have struggled to stay on task.
To stand against colonial rule? Yes. We’ve veered rather close to our own imperialism in the world at times, but we have by proud tradition avoided use of control over any other nation’s governance. We could have owned Japan by force in 1945, the year before I was born.
But we didn’t.
Where there’s never a boast nor brag.
Granted, Okinawa may beg to differ here. And America’s indigenous tribes must beg to differ. Our forces claimed a manifest destiny over our own native peoples and their lands that, in too many ways, typifies the very worst of western civilization and its colonial rule. Even worse, America’s African descendants from 1619 to 1865 were among the most colonized people in history, joining the ranks of the biblical Hebrews from 1600-1200 B.C.E. under Egyptian control.
Following the Revolutionary War for our Independence, Americans have also flirted with an anti-colonial opposite some still today call isolationism. There is an active strain of such even today among conservative populists, one in particular. Such a sentiment calls for us to thumb our proverbial nose at the rest of today’s world, no matter their plight. In perhaps the greatest of all ironies, some who hold to these beliefs in American isolationism will keep their eye on the grand old flag and use it to boast and brag, lyrics be damned (from George M. Cohan’s 1906 classic, “You’re a Grand Old Flag), all in the name of Christian nationalism…...a grand oxymoron.
So today I am thankful that America has by history won the struggle against both a progressive inerventionism and a conservative isolationism. We have, at least for the most part, struck a more moderate balance in world affairs by promoting engagement through influence as opposed to enslavement through control. We have with popular support stopped enslaving people and stealing their birthrights.
Yes to influence. No to control.
That, to me, is what it looks like when I keep an eye on our grand old flag, where there’s never a boast nor brag. Influence itself is born of love. Control is born of fear. Influence is born of freedom and independence. Control is born of tyranny and intimidation, and dare I say boasting and bragging.
America’s historical struggle between conservative isolationism and progressive interventionism is perhaps destined for perpetual tension. Our temptation to assume control, whether at home or abroad, seems to be our lasting and most human of fates. Our temptation to fear instead of love is the same as all peoples have faced throughout human history.
When I personally pray today for God’s blessing upon America, I do so with my eye on the grand old flag that represents liberty and justice for all. And that represents a special kind of courage and bravery. I pray God will help us be courageous enough to resist control and yet brave enough to assert our influence in helping the other peoples of this world in their own times of need. I pray we will continue our struggle for influence with love for our global neighbors as well as for ourselves. And influence for global peace with social justice that spells freedom for all, not just some.
This will take a special kind of bravery. May God bless us with the love that makes us both free and brave. That restrains us from bragging and boasting. That keeps our eye on the grand old 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!