Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Independence Day Weekend

Battle Creek again celebrated Independence Day weekend with another Balloon Fest, now a longstanding tradition. The USAF Thunderbirds made their traditional appearance, but I did not see the Blue Angels (Navy) or the Canadian Snowbirds as in some other years.

It is a colorful spectacle--an inspiring sight--to stand in my driveway sometime after a 6:30 launch, coffee in hand, and watch dozens of gaudily-decorated balloons pass overhead. On occasion, they pass low enough to clearly observe the people riding in the balloon baskets and give them a friendly wave.

I stand in an upstairs window and watch the T-birds performing their intricate maneuvers over Kellogg Airport a couple miles to the west. Frequently, one or more planes will scream past directly over our house at speeds approaching the speed of sound.

There is a degree of pride and patriotism in all of this. And yes, I am proud to be an American, and deeply humbled. For several years running, my wife had occasions to feed the young pilots--learning to know them as the fine young men they are.

I am thankful to God that he privileged me to be birthed in America--not Zimbabwe, or Tibet, or elsewhere. I find inspiration in reading early American history, and especially that of our founding fathers.

One of my favorite historical writers is Joseph Ellis, author of numerous volumes on that brotherhood of our founders. Ellis describes our American creation--by our founding fathers. He suggests they achieved some success. They won colonial independence, and they established a nation-sized republic, a place on the globe where popular consent prevails by rule of law.

They established a state some insist is secular and others claim is Christian. The truth may be somewhere in between. Stephen Carter, a consummate legal scholar, and a devout Christian, insists that America should have no official religion. He does state, “it also should not be officially secular.” He reasons that if we as a nation commit ourselves to the proposition that we owe no moral obligation to anything higher than ourselves, we will certainly make the moral slide that much faster.

If we are neither secular (as Carter suggests), nor a theocracy (Iran, for example), at least we are neutral in matters of religion, or should be. We allow our citizenry to be any one of numerous Protestant or Catholic denominations, or an atheist for that matter.

While founding America within a Judaio-Christian framework, our founders also established separation of church and state. In following this, we protect the personal rights of both religious and non-religious citizens, as well as those non-traditional faith values of others, such as Muslims and Jews.

Our founding fathers established sovereignty in multiple, with overlapping authorities, as opposed to the single sovereignty of England’s King George. This gives a role to the President, certain functions to Congress, and other functions to the Courts.

Although they failed to settle the slavery issue, or to resolve and implement an appropriate Indian settlement, Ellis recognizes that our founders did in fact institutionalize channels for dissent, guaranteeing certain individual civil and human rights.

We can say America’s founders failed because of slavery, Indians, women, equal economics, et al, writes Ellis, but he says that is not necessarily so. Rather, he insists, they established a context for resolving those issues and the rest is up to us.

It took the nation 80 years, and the Civil War, to make slavery illegal. It remains up to us to continue to take seriously our share in such resolutions and protect the basic human rights appropriated in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

America’s founders developed in an age when they would have been otherwise confined because they lacked aristocracy. Ellis concludes slavery, women’s rights, and voting qualifications became the dogs that did not bark--in deference to the more compelling need to rally around “the cause” - separation from the British Empire.

He calls America’s founding a group portrait. The success of the individual (Bill of Rights) came in protection of the whole (Constitution). It was not simply Washington or Jefferson, it was Clay, Lincoln et al. Our citizenship incorporates us into the process as part of that group responsible for protecting what our founders set into motion.

The past 8 years have challenged my pride in America. The current administration’s international diplomacy left much to be desired. I have observed faulty public policy and the proliferation of special interest groups, and much more. I watch the T-birds fly overhead and mostly see fuel being guzzled at an all-time record cost, and that troubles me.

On the other hand, I am proud to have a share in an America that offers political freedom, social equality with justice for everyone coming to our shores--regardless of class, color, and creed.
America‘s diversity is more lovely and inspiring than the colorful balloons that compete in our annual Balloon Fest. As an American, I take pride in being part of something many people in other parts of the world only dream about.

I am indebted to that group who dared to come together as our founding fathers. That was audacity, filled with hope and faith. I am cautiously filled with the audacity of that hope, although we face many problems.

Moreover, I am responsible to those who follow in my footprints--to leave them a place where there is “liberty and justice for all.” God bless America, and may I not hinder his blessings.

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