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Taking Back the 4th

My favorite summer tradition is celebrating the 4th of July at camp. I deck myself out in red, white, and blue, and make some truly hideous fashion choices. It is a day tailor-made for cookouts and lawn games, fireworks and time at the pool. I love how camp and celebration go so beautifully together.

This year, though, I’ve spent most of the holiday weekend at home. And the patriotism that is inherent to Independence Day is not feeling so celebratory. We live in a country that spent the week prior making the Land of the Free a little less so. We have been fighting nearly constantly for half a decade against the divisions that rend this country apart. When I see an American flag in public, I am torn between the pride in a country founded on values and ideals and the awareness that so many use that symbol as a sign of their own xenophobia, small-mindedness, and cruelty.

As I got dressed this morning, I pulled out my knee-high mismatched socks, and my wife asked me if I was going to come across wrong to those who are angry with the way this country is going. I rejected that idea. Because the simple truth is that I am unwilling to allow the worst version of my homeland to be used as a weapon against the values we hold so dear.

Most nations were created because of geography. France is where it is because that is where it has always been. America is a revolutionary idea; what would it look like if we created a nation with the values of liberty and justice for all at our center? What would it mean to create a place in the world where our symbols are the Light of Liberty, the Bell of Freedom? How can we do more than just exist in a place, but rather think about how we can make that place just a little bit better by the way we live our lives?

We all know that we have done a shockingly bad job of living out that mission lately. For most of the world, America is a bastion of division, strife, and corruption. We are not the moral compass of the world today; far too often, we’re the social experiment gone wrong. But that is not the reason to step away from the project that is our democracy. Instead, this is the moment where we must decide if we are going to abdicate responsibility to the worst characters in our land, or if we are going to take ownership of what it means to be an American.

To me, being an American means looking to my left and right to ensure that everyone has something to eat and somewhere to sleep. We haven’t finished that work yet, but to be an American means caring deeply that we continue the work.

To be an American is to look back on our history and to see the times when we lived up to our mission, and the times where we missed the mark. To be an American is to hold accountable those who haven’t lived out our ideals in the way befitting of this country.

To be an American is to look at this country and decide that the values are right, even if their execution is wrong. And today, I’m celebrating living in a country that is never done in the process of formation, that is always looking to better itself, because of the incredible people that refuse to walk away from a fight.

Happy 4th of July. Happy Independence Day. And a happy reminder that this is not the end of freedom, but rather the time when we double down on the cause of this nation, great in potential and in need of our attention.


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