On Friday morning, I drove back to Richmond after spending a few days with our summer camp staff at Shrine Mont. Route 81 can be a challenge on any day in any season; on a rainy Friday morning of a long Fourth of July weekend, the trip could be painfully slow. So, I decided to avoid highways. I took back roads to Harrisonburg, then followed Route 33 the rest of the way. Over the mountain. Through small towns. Passing one Episcopal Church after another, waving and praying for you as I went. And passing one sign and symbol after another:
Temporary side-of-the-road stalls selling fireworks
A few local produce stands
Red, white and blue bunting on porch railings
Signs announcing picnics and firework displays
American flags waving proudly
more than a few of them Betsy Ross flags
with a circle of 13 stars on a field of blue
and with their hint of controversy
A handful of Confederate flags
fewer than on my last pre-COVID drive to Shrine Mont
A series of hand-painted Tea Party signs
with incendiary declarations about our government
Signs proclaiming that Black Lives Matter and calling for racial justice
As I drove, I was reminded of journalist George Packer’s suggestion that America is not divided in half, but fractured into four different experiences or narratives about our country: “Free America,” “Smart America,” “Real America,” and “Just America.” (Google Packer to understand his categories and to see what you think.)
On my 152-mile trek from rural Shenandoah Valley to urban downtown Richmond, I saw pride and celebration. I saw accusation and division. I saw hope and promise. I caught glimpses of at least four Americas. Those glimpses led me to reflect that as we celebrate the independence for which revolutionaries fought 245 years ago, we are hardly “one nation under God, indivisible” anymore, if we ever were.
We as the Church have a voice and a narrative to bring to these divisions in our nation. When we celebrate our cherished independence as a nation, we also celebrate our utter dependence on God and our interdependence with all people. Even when the divisions in our wider cultures sometimes threaten to divide us, we hold fast to the truth that “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6). This faith is a powerful antidote to fear, a fierce antidote to separation and division. It gives us strength to work for unity (not sameness but unity), to honor differences and to fulfill our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being.
God, grant us grace to give thanks for our independence while holding firmly to our dependence on you. Give us clarity to see our interdependence as we navigate these divisive times. Continue to show us how to be one while not being the same. Above all, empower us to love all Americas so that your goodness may be revealed and your will may be done in this land. Amen.