Earlier this week I listened to Studio Tulsa, a local NPR long-form interview program hosted by Rich Fisher. I try to catch it daily because Mr. Fisher is a fine interviewer. His thoughtful questions put his guests both at ease and in a positive light - a lighter version of Charlie Rose, so to speak.
On Wednesday - presumably in preparation for the upcoming Independence Day weekend - Fisher re-broadcasted an interview he did with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis. In 2014 Ellis published Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence, a book chronicling two seminal events during the summer of 1776. Most of learned about the Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4. At roughly the same time however, Washington’s forces suffered an enormous defeat and lost New York City to the British.
In his Studio Tulsa interview, Ellis drew a sharp contrast between the wealthy elites gathered in Philadelphia and the soldiers serving in Washington’s army. Most of the volunteer military were poor, young immigrant men who had no other real options in life. Of the 28,000 soldiers Washington started with, only 6,000 escaped in the retreat after the loss at New York. Many were killed. Others were captured and sent to serve as slave oarsmen in the British navy. Most simply deserted. To put that in perspective, the BoK Center in downtown Tulsa seats 19,199.
Interesting how we celebrate the bold stroke of a pen and forget a staggering numeric loss. And they happened at the same time. If history played out differently, I suspect that we would remember it in reverse. As I reflect on my own life, I recognize that I often fall into “polarized” thinking - meaning, I think in terms of events or circumstances as negative or positive. How about you? Easy to emphasize one over the other, isn’t it?
But the truth is: both are almost always present at the same time. If I do well in something, I can always find some improvement. If events don't move in the direction I had hoped, I can still identify a lesson learned from the experience. Light/Dark. Yin/Yang. Pros/Cons. You get the idea.
Independence Day is upon us, which means summer is almost over - yikes! When I was younger, I always agreed to work on Memorial Day & Labor Day so I could get July 4th off. Next to Christmas & Easter, I believe it is my favorite holiday. But this year I confess that I am, well… less than enthusiastic.
-Congress failed to pass healthcare reform before the Independence Day holiday, and there is no real indication that it is any better than what’s on the books currently. And they get paid how much?
-Civility is virtually non-existent; so too reasonable discussion. When did we start equating disagreement with hate?
-It seems that both major political parties are struggling with identity issues. The lesser parties have never really had much traction & can’t gain any ground despite the vacuum.
You’ve likely got some reasons too. We are a fragmented and fractured, isolated and polarized people. Frankly, I’m disgusted with the way Americans are behaving - from the top down. I find myself avoiding social media as dialogue in this country has gone from bad to worse, political or otherwise!
If I’m completely honest with myself, despite the ugly I live in an extraordinary place. We are each blessed to live in arguably the greatest country in history. While the nature of life in America is changing, there are still opportunities to live, grow, and prosper. We still value life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness - even if we don’t always fully appreciate those ideals or what they mean to different people. Change starts inside & I believe I need an attitude adjustment.
On this July 4th, would you join me in setting aside disillusion and apathy to simply be thankful?
Let’s start there. I am deeply grateful for the 6,000 or so impoverished-but-hopeful men that stuck it out with Washington and ultimately defeated the British or gave their lives trying. Franklin, Jefferson, and Hancock get all the press for the extraordinary step of declaring independence, but make no mistake. It was the courage and blood of the poor teen volunteers that won the war.
Perhaps in gratitude we can find common ground with those who believe differently. Maybe we can then move from gratitude to civility. Maybe civility to conversation. Maybe conversation to care. Oh and maybe, just maybe, from care to love.
That would be revolutionary.
DAVID TRELOAR | LEAD PASTOR