The 4th of July brings up various memories as I tend to spend it in various places each year. I know that it is the day the USA celebrates independence with hot dogs and fireworks and concerts. Yet it makes me think more of journeying and how any true remembering provides opportunities for people to allow themselves to be transformed for the better by the past rather than just recalling the past and remaining in the status quo.
Let me try to explain further with bits of my own journey. I can recall that in 1998 I watched fireworks from the roof of Red Robin in Colorado; in 1999 I crossed the border from Macedonia into Kosovo to help with repatriation of nationals; in 2000 and 2001 staff dropped watermelons from the climbing tower at Frontier Ranch because we couldn’t have fireworks (also in 2001 my friend, Matt, introduced me to Shrek – a movie which has made an impact on me and my journey); in 2002 I was back in Kosovo; in 2003 the Voths took me to Branson, Missouri and we watched the fireworks over the water; in 2004 I had just returned to the US after spending a year in Israel; in 2005 I celebrated with youth in Pisa before heading to Newcastle, England and on to Paris for a year; in 2006 we had the day off at The American Church in Paris when the rest of Paris worked; in 2007 we had just moved out of our place in Durham, and we did not know where our next steps would lead; in 2008 and 2009 we had to wait until it got dark around 10.45pm at Wesley Camp in Latvia to launch fireworks during Wesley Days and Youth Camp; in 2010 we left our friends, the Whites, in Philadelphia and drove up to our new place in Maine while we waited for Caleb to enter this world; in 2011 we had a cookout with some neighbors thinking it would probably be our last 4th in Maine – for a while at least; and now, in 2012, we spent the day with members from Mt. Horeb UMC cleaning and painting our new place in New Jersey so we could move in on Friday the 6th.
Now I realize that it could have seemed monotonous to recall those dates and places, and if that was all I did while I typed, then yes it would have been. However, when I wrote those events I tried to remember each of them – the people, the conversations, the circumstances, and both my joys and my uncertainties. I remember how each time and place offered different opportunities for growth and transformation. I had to ask questions about my faith journey as I wondered:
What difference does Christianity make in this situation?
How is God present in this place?
What assumptions about God and Christianity do I need to release in order to see them in bigger ways?
What assumptions (maybe delusions is a better word) about myself do I need to release as the reality hits about how much I do not know and how biased I can be and how many decisions have selfish, rather than altruistic, motives?
I remember many situations in which the faithful decision did not always seem the logical, yet I knew that deep down I could do no other – and then to watch the amazing results of not relying on my own understanding.
How does this rambling combine with the traditional celebrations and commemorations of the 4th of July?
Well, the word that comes to mind is: Grace.
I am reminded that I am not where I am today because of my efforts, supposed brilliance, or my charming personality.
I am reminded that each of us, for good or ill, stands on the shoulders of people – and generations – who have gone before us. And while some of those people did some things well some of the time, they were where they were because of grace. Further, we live with and around others – whether we like it or not. When this living happens at its best we call it community. Community is a brilliant form of grace.
Somehow in this beautiful and, at times, tragic (although not tragic most of the time as the media tries to portray) world we can have opportunities to experience God’s grace.
In those moments when we act braver, speak wiser, sacrifice more, and love better than we could ever do on our own we experience Grace on a deeper level.
This past week I had the privilege to listen to some reflections from some young adults who have spent the last two and three years serving in underprivileged places across the US and around the globe. Each of them seeks to follow the teachings and practices of Jesus in more faithful ways, and this is one of the quotes from their sharing:
“As followers of Jesus we are called to love the least of these, and we are called to love the worst of these.”
We can only do this by grace.
Two songs that have been part of my journey highlight this point. I wish I had found them on my own, yet others had to point me to the music and the lyrics to embrace the joy and marvel that grace truly brings. I am thankful for those two people who pointed me to these songs.
The first is a song by Ben Harper, in which he has two lines that stick with me. The first says, “I am blessed… to be a witness.” The second: “Only by the grace of God go I.”
Here is a link to a YouTube clip of Ben performing this song live, if you would like to see and hear it.
blessed to be a witness performed live
The second song is by U2 and entitled “Grace.” The song speaks for itself, and it is with these words I will end this entry.
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace, she’s got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She’s got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
Synthesizers/programming: Brian Eno