Two hundred thirty-three years ago, fifty-three guys got together and decided that some truths were simply self evident. All men are created equal. These men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, these rights being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They declared that the purpose of government was to ensure these rights, and when government failed to perform its duty, the people had the right to alter or abolish that government.
These men went on to list the ways in which King George had violated these rights and submitted this indictment to a candid world. Then, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” they pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
Of course, I am writing of the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate on this day. The men whose names are affixed to this document which announced to the world:
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.
Their names are burned into our minds and history books: John Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton. Yet, none of these men acted alone. Why? Because, in order to succeed, this undertaking would need MUTUAL effort. One colony, or even a group of colonies, could challenge the British empire effectively. It would require a united effort.
It has never failed that, upon the occasion off viewing a film based in the time of war in the 18th or 19th century, that my uninformed companions mention the idiocy of the tactics of battle during that time. Well, that was a time of major transition in battlefield tactics, but this rank and file system of the battle line was highly effective at the time of its inception. While it may seem foolish to stand in neat lines (ranks in one direction, files in the other, thus rank-and-file) and fire weapons at each other at close range.
But, go back another couple thousand years, when these tactics began. A lone combatant was the strength of one. When combined into a group of 8 men (a Contubernium), and those groups were combined into a Centura (10 contuberniums or 80 men), they were a highly powerful and effective fighting force. Some they locked their shields together and provided defense not only for themselves, but also for their comrades.
The principle of mutually facing life with comrades is also found in scripture.
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” ~ Hebrews 10:25
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” ~ Matthew 18:20
So then, not only do we gain strength from each other, the Lord also promises to be in the midst of those who fear him.
Over the course of the last three days, I have celebrated our nation’s independence in three very different ways, in three very different places. On Thursday, I was in Warner Robins. Independence Day is a very big deal there. It is a military town and home of Robins Air Force Base. Just about everyone in the town is somehow related to public service. And boy, when it’s time to celebrate, they go all out. Somewhere between twenty to thirty thousand people pack into the local high school football stadium. There are overflights by military aircraft. The Band of the Air Force Reserve performs along with nationally known guest artists. The fireworks display is something to behold. The show goes into the night, the stalemate in the parking lot much later. It is typically well after midnight before I am able to return home and get to bed. But, it is well worth it.
Friday saw another celebration. This one was what was once the middle of nowhere (in my lifetime) between Eatonton and Greensboro. Then, Lake Oconee became THE place to be in this section of the state. The per capita income has $9.365 in 1985 (when I was born) to $31,331 in 2007. Even adjusting for inflation, that’s more than double. Put frankly, the population, and the wealth, of the county has exploded. Where the Warner Robins was patriotic and enthusiastic, this was regal and elegant. As well it should have been. Instead of a band, the artist here at Reynolds Plantation was trumpeter and vocalist Phil Driscoll (who lives nearby) backed up by the Atlanta Pops. The setting was a far cry from the battleground of a high school football field. Instead, it was on the lake, between the beach and a swimming pool on the back lawn of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge. Instead of taking swallows of coke, here the spectators sipped wine. Instead of wheeling in an ice chest, there were caterers onsite. While I am certain that those in attendance loved their country as much as those I had I had seen the previous evening, they expressed their patriotism in a very different manner.
Finally, today, I went to the Independence Day Celebration in Wrightsville, Georgia. Wrightsville is not really known for anything. Most of the plants which were there have closed. Its main claim to fame is now this one day a year when they go all out to celebrate this country and a guy who was pretty good with a football about 30 years ago. Wrightsville is rural Georgia. VERY rural. It would have done well as the set of Sweet Home Alabama (the actual location of the filming would require a drive of about 60 miles north to Crawfordville). The people here, while not ignorant by any means, are faced with more important concerns than contemplating the deep meanings of life in the United States. But, they love this country. I saw more red, white, and blue today than I did in the last two days combined, never mind the that there was as many people at the Ritz as live in the entire county, and at least three times as many in Warner Robins. The air was full of patriotism. From the parade, to the booths on the town square, to the runners in the road race.
Why do I mention all of these three very different places? Because if this nation is going to continue into the next 233 years, the people at Reynolds Plantation are going to have to join forces with the people in Warner Robins, who in turn are going to have to link arms with the people in Wrightsville. Though many, we ARE one. We are one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage–and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge–and more.
America is at a crossroads. We have become so divided that idiocies are accepted as proposals simply because they are different than the status quo. My friends, please join with me. Once again, this nation needs to, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, to mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. Let not history judge this generation as the one who destroyed the greatest nation in the annals of time.
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