O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lord—how long?
Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back and in a moment be put to shame. (New Revised Standard Version)
Methinks we Americans, especially on this our national Independence Day, must remember that this has not always been, nor currently is, a day of celebration for a sizable chunk of people in the United States.
Now before you begin offering some mental pushback that I am pouring cold water on a time-honored holiday, or begin believing I’m not a true patriot, I will simply point out that not only is today’s psalm lesson in the Revised Common Lectionary a lament, but also that I’m a guy with two academic degrees in American history.
If we only look at Independence Day from the perspective of white Northern European heritage persons, then it will seem that, speaking like this, I am not grateful for the blessings of being in this incredible country of my birth and the place I’ve lived my entire life.
But I am not looking from that angle today. I choose to acknowledge that on this day, every year for the past 246 years, today’s psalm has been the lived experience and expression of others who looked to the heavens and asked, “How long, O Lord!?”
A true people of compassion are able to suffer with those who suffer. The people of God really ought to be at the forefront of exhibiting empathy and standing in solidarity with suffering folk.
A patriot is one who acknowledges and affirms all it’s citizens, and not only the ones who look like me, talk like me, and act like me. After all, the original documents of the United States made room for this to be so. Empathy, compassion, and solidarity are intentionally built into our nation’s grand experiment of democracy and government.
The very fact that the previous quotation is true for some, and not for everyone, is a telling testament to the reality that we need to keep striving to live into our heritage as Americans and ensure that welfare for the common good of all citizens is continually sought, even if done so imperfectly.
Grieving, tears, and lament was the response of the former slave Frederick Douglass.
“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your [white] fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me [a black man]. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” (An oration on July 4, 1852)
Mourning and weeping was and continues to be the experience of many Native American peoples.
“While the United States and its settlers claimed its independence from Great Britain, this came at a cost of others, including this land’s Indigenous Peoples that were stolen from their own homelands. This patriotic holiday is nothing to celebrate because freedom cannot come at the cost of another’s freedom. America’s Independence Day is a celebration of imperialism, genocide, and American exceptionalism, and there is no pride in genocide.”Daisee Francour (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin)
We cannot change history, but we can work towards a better future where all of our rights are respected and we all experience freedom and independence equally. Those with non-European ancestry who today in our nation experience racism and anti-ethnic aggression need to be acknowledged and affirmed as Americans with equal standing and an equal voice alongside the white population.
So, I would argue that both celebration and weeping ought to occur on this day. We should weep for the dreams and lives of indigenous peoples who were destroyed through westward expansion, and even today experience the ongoing effects of cultural genocide.
We ought to acknowledge not only our nation’s blessings, but also our curses which are still seen in exploiting others through envy, greed, sloth, pride, lust, and gluttony.
We, the people of the United States of America, ought to actively seek to live in more simple and less harmful ways. We should offer our voices, not in violent speech and language, but with creative and healing words.
On this American Independence Day, the Church should reaffirm her allegiance and citizenship to Christ and God’s Kingdom and renounce any nationalistic, economic, ethnic, and political divisions which are contrary to the words and ways of Jesus.
All of the citizens of the earth should seek to embrace non-violent, self-sacrificial love on behalf of everyone. Today is an opportunity to affirm that Christ is the Friend of all people, not just some.
No one ought to be wasting away in their grief and languishing in their tears when we have the means to acknowledge their suffering and to do something about it.
Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,
just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13, CEB)