But Independence Day is one of my least favorite days of the year. I will celebrate because I am a citizen of a neighborhood that celebrates. But as a global citizen of God's radically inclusive kingdom of love and justice, this day is not my day. This celebration is not my celebration.
I think the term independence is problematic. Most of us in this country live with a shared delusion that independence is possible. On an international level, our cars are made and powered by other countries. Our railroads were built with underpaid work from our brothers in China. Almost everything we use throughout the day comes from China or other countries where brothers and sisters toil for low or no pay. The computer I'm typing on has essential parts from Africa in it - that were likely mined in a way that was unjust and uncaring for our African brothers and sisters or the African environment. Taking the issues of justice, labor, and caring for our ecosystem out of the equation (which we probably shouldn't do, but let's for just a moment) the bottom line is this: America is in no way independent of the other countries of this world. It never was. The Declaration of Independence was written as the men who wrote it lived violent lives made possible by the work and oppression of African brothers and sisters. The Declaration of Independence was signed on land that did not belong to its signers. It is physically impossible to live independent of other nations in America and it always has been.
But we take that word independence to another level in this place. We are independent of both our global and local neighbors. A neighbor came down to borrow a wine opener the other week. I was happy to be able to help! I even opened his wine for him because he wasn't sure how to use our opener. But my first thought was: Why don't you have one? We tend to have everything we need. We don't need our neighbors. And because we don't need them, they only sort of exist for us. We see them in passing. We wave hello. We chat at a block party. Our dogs smell each other and hopefully behave well. Our children might attend school together and we will hope they are kind to each other. But, again, we don't need each other. And so we only sort of exist for one another. And so we are isolated and alone. And so when our illusion that we are independent crashes, as it always does in some way (a car breaks down, we have a rough month and can't make ends meet etc) we are locked in that pretend word independence.
And the truth is: independence has become our great commandment. When we need something from a neighbor, we apologize because we failed at independence. When we cannot make ends meet, we feel shame for no longer being independent and would rather take high interest loans than face that we are interdependent. A neighbor who is battling addiction and living outside told me the other day that he tried to get help with his addiction but was turned away. Then he asked us for socks. The look on his face was heart breaking as he told us how shameful it is to ask for socks from other people. But he needs socks. And independently he can't get them. So he was visibly, painfully ashamed. Forsaking the God who created us for interdependence and commanded us to love God and neighbor, many of us in this country have been slowly wooed away to a lesser lover who's commandment is "Thou shalt be independent" and who heaps shame upon us when we inevitably are not.
And what is worse, when our country is faced with independent folks enacting terrorism, we are locked in our independent worlds wondering what we can do. A country obsessed with our shared delusion of independence can't understand that those lone wolves are us. They are the bi-product of all of our daily lives. The battles we pick and the ones we don't. The people we choose not to engage because their racist jokes make us uncomfortable. The privileges my skin tone affords me and the things that privilege takes from people with other skin tones. My life, the better part of a continent away from Charleston, is not independent of Dylann Roof or of seven arsonists in two weeks. So too, my life and my church is not independent of the nine bright lights that went out at Dylann's hands or of the seven churches that were burned. But, in my addiction to the lie of independence, I feel locked away from my brothers and sisters, incapacitated to act. Because I think I'm independent of them and they of me.
But as John 17 and the old Catholic Worker hymn tells us: We are one.
"We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord. And we pray that our unity may one day be restored. And they will know we are Christians by our love."
So Saturday, we will join with our neighbors as we have a big party (with really good music I'm already jonesing for) celebrating independence that will ironically demonstrate our interdependence. And, I will celebrate the America that upheld marriage for all, continued to provide health care for all, and who's daughter climbed a flag pole to fight oppression in the name of God. I will celebrate that. And may tear up at the fireworks for the first time in a long time for these beautiful and interdependent aspects of this country I live in.
But after Saturday and for the other 364 days of the year, I will declare my interdependence.