Watch over me for “your sea, O God, is so great, and my boat is so small.”
In the Will of God, we Find the Source of Our Independence
I first arrived in the United States in the summer of 1992. I flew into Kennedy airport, NY and from there to Dayton, Ohio. I have to tell you that looking down from the sky, as we passed over vast territories, I was shocked. You see, I had in my mind an impression of what Ohio looked like. To be honest, I thought Ohio would look like the Pacific Northwest – great forests, wide and fast rivers, vast lakes, mountains, and valleys. I expected a wilderness, with occasional settlements, some cities, few roads, and fewer people. Of course, my image of the land came from James Cooper’s 1826 novel, “Last of the Mohicans.” I figured Ohio was next to Kentucky so that made sense to me.
Several things struck me when I got here: how friendly and kind the people were and how polite; how welcoming and accepting people were; how appreciative the people were; and how generous and big-hearted people were.
I realized how vast the country was when I made a trip with my parents from Dayton to the Outer Banks by car, stopping in Washington, DC overnight. I can’t believe that my dad and I could be in a car together that long and both of us survived. To give you some scale, the country of Ireland would fit into the State of Ohio, and there would still be room. In the time it takes us to travel by car from Cincinnati to Cleveland we could drive from the top of Ireland to the bottom of Ireland – if you had decent roads that is.
Another thing that struck me was that the continent of North America, and the country of the United States, is so spacious and vast. It is so vast that one single time zone is not enough to account for the passing of time in this great land. It is surrounded by oceans and has lakes as big as some seas, it has some of the highest mountains on the planet, and valleys that are as deep as mountains are high. It is a country that is comprised of people from many nations, and gives a home to peoples of every nation, language, culture, and color. It is so vast at the one moment it experiences snow and desert, tremendous heat and sub-zero cold, forests and prairies, swamps, and crystal-clear springs. It is at once new and vibrant, and at the same time, makes the past and tradition a living presence and reality.
All of this is present, here, and now, in this one nation and in this one people.
As amazing as all this is it is not the most impressive things I have experienced in the United States.
I guess what has struck me most about the United States is the character of the people who give the nation of the United’s States, its character, its vision, and its attraction to the rest of the world.
Certainly, people are people, and there are good and bad, everywhere. It is true that many of the characteristics of the people here in the States are shared by people everywhere. Characteristics like generosity, kindness, hospitality, concern for others and for the world, a sense of pride in our culture.
Nevertheless, what I see as unique is the character of a people who absolutely and confidently believe in themselves, a people who see human value as something that is inherent and not handed down and definitely not bestowed from another as a privilege which is handed down and can be taken back. You are a people who don’t live by another’s gift, or good will, but a people who believe in your own right to freedom, self-determination, and independence. You are a people who believe that no man, or the state, or the government, no king, emperor, despot, or president, no congress or senate, has given you these rights. You are not “subjects,” rather, you are “citizens.”
You, as a people, believe that Almighty God has bestowed on your individual freedom, and that God, not man, nor king, nor government, is the source of that freedom and freedoms. You also believe that you as individual citizens, and as the people of this nation, are the source of human authority bestowed on another, on the government, on the elected not the chosen, for the good of all. This authority is not given away, not traded for the things of this world, the patronage of the political class, the generosity of the wealthy, the promises of the elite, or the will of the powerful. Your idea of government is one that represents not rules. You believe that all people are equal, and as the Rev. Martin Luther King said, the only aristocracy in the United States should be an aristocracy of character. Character is about who we are, what we do, and how we live.
Self-reliant, but working together, independent but willing to share everything with everyone, powerful but humble, determined, and compassionate, honest, and straightforward, lovers of peace but willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the weak and the vulnerable. This is what I have found in the character of the people I have encountered in my almost thirty years living among you in the United States.
Yet, because people are people, and not angels, we can always fall back into the old ways, and we can either hand our freedoms over, or have them taken from us, by new aristocracies. It seems to me that in 1776 a word was spoken on behalf of all freedom loving people, and all people who desired a new world and the freedom to live life as they wanted, and that word was liberty. Independence meant liberty. Liberty from the old world, the old ways, and liberty to build a new life and a new way. We have inherited that liberty and our future liberty depends on how we safeguard our liberty now, today, in this generation. I think that is what we celebrate on the 4th of July. It means independence from all those who would steal from us our liberty. Our liberty is not preserved by the government, it is defended, protected, and guarded, and preserved in and by “we the people.”
In the Gospel Jesus asks for complete commitment from His followers. Very often it is those closest to Him who fail to recognize who He is and who sent Him. Very often familiarity breeds contempt and we can overlook the benefits we have, the blessings we have received, and the fruits that are a gift. We can also overlook the source of those gifts. We, the people, can fall into the same failing. Having been blessed for so long with so much we can forget the source of our blessings and the purpose for which God has given them. Let’s not be like the crowd and fail to recognize who has given our nation such great blessings. Let’s not fail to have every one of our citizens, all our people, share in these blessings, and let’s not fail to know that God desires us to share with others the blessings he has bestowed on us. The freedoms we cherish as a people do not come from man but for them to survive, they depend on men and women if they are to be preserved.