A picture that yet unites us?
Have you made plans for which fireworks display you plan to see this year? As I remember growing up, we’d start to see commercials on the two stations we could get without having to turn the antennae, of kids who had firecrackers blow up in their hands. Various fingers seemingly hanging by a thread of skin. It must have been effective because I still have those pictures in my mind’s eye. O.k., effective in terms of me still being able to see the gruesomeness, but not so effective in terms of frightening me away from setting off firecrackers. Another advantage of living out in the country on a farm with dirt driveways, we could set off firecrackers anywhere and everywhere.
I liked to make a mound of dirt, put various holes in the sides and on the top where I would carefully place firecrackers, light them, and then watch the mound blow up. Sorry, but it’s the small things before social media, xbox and wii came along. I think our parents were always a bit nervous about me having any kind of explosives or fire, hmmm, not sure why that would be, snort, but we always went to the fireworks stand for a few explosive, sparkly, and celebratory accoutrements to enhance the holiday. My favorite when I was younger were the snakes. Those tiny little cylindrical black nuggets that we would set on the driveway and put our punk on top of it until it began to release a styroforamey kind of ash that wound its way until nothing was left but a black circle on the ground. I could do those for hours – don’t know if they even make them anymore. They made no sound, there was no light or explosion, but the snaky thing was a little mesmerizing somehow.
For a number of years Norton County had a large fireworks display on the campus of what we called “The Sand”. It sorta gives me shivers now to say, but that was short for “sanitorium” that was a campus for people with mental disabilities. It had originally been a Tuberculosis campus for isolation and quarantine during that, dare I say, pandemic. It’s a beautiful campus and when the TB threat receded, it became a state of Kansas residential facility for those mentally unable to be on their own. We sometimes did service projects for our Kansas Association for Youth school club and interacted and did art and played games with some of the residents. When the state decided that those types of residential facilities were not the best way to serve those with lesser mental capacity, it became and still is a prison. The campus still beautiful, now with high fences and razor wire.
55-60 years ago, on the fourth of July, simply from my recollection, the campus sponsored a huge annual fireworks display for any who wanted to come. There was food and activities through the evening until it became dark enough for the display to start. We sat on the hoods of our cars, in the backs of our pickups, on blankets or lawn chairs – a picture that yet unites us? – with our faces to the sky to oooh and aaah at the colors, sounds, and bursts of light. I “think” I remember a recording of Kate Smith singing, as only she really can, “God Bless America” toward the end or maybe to end the night.
My nostalgia has probably clouded a bit of the stark reality of celebrating freedom on that particular campus, and yet the heart of goodness and seeming simplicity of that time and that season of life settles me.
Today I find myself reflecting on the fragility of the freedom of this Republic we all know and love. Have we given up on the common good, that the only way this experiment in democracy can work is if we finally commit to what is best for everyone over and above and beyond our self-interests? I’m guessing no one questions the strength of my stance on the gifts, abilities, and power in leadership of women which absolutely does not mean I don’t see and cherish the same thing with men. I simply want there to be equality and reciprocity. I’m guessing no one questions my affirmation of women having the inalienable right to make decisions about their own bodies, I would fight for that same right for men. I’m guessing no one questions my eternal and passionate advocacy for every child in every place to be loved and cherished which, in concrete terms, means having food, clothing, shelter, access to education and the possibility of a future filled with years of life and struggle and heartache and joy. I will do my best to fight for every child of every color and every economic level in every place to live and thrive and continue the transformation that is God’s vision. Until every child has that, we have more work to do than any of us wants to admit. We too often would simply rather yell about our beliefs than live like Jesus and put our faith and our money and our energy and life work into caring for every child, not simply those in our bloodline, EVERY child. Every. Single. Child. I’m guessing no one questions the veracity of my faith, except me, in the face of a God whose goodness and blessing and grace moves so far beyond me I can only but catch a glimpse and in humility fall to my knees in a mixture of sorrow at my gross imperfections in the face of the sacred, and unbelievable joy that God does not give up on any of us. Not on any of us.
I’m not going anywhere for this year’s celebrations. I can catch some of the distant displays from my front porch. My melancholy for our shared Republic seems to weigh heavily in these days of threat, and demonization, and fracture in so many places and so many people. I believe God can and will finally gather up the shards of our brokenness and create a work of great beauty. I also believe God is handing us a broom with the softest bristles that no broken piece is lost, and is inviting us to tenderly hold one another and when asked, to hand our sisters and brothers into God’s hand in the recreation and resurrection of the beauty that God intends and will fulfill for each of us.