Monday, July 04, 2011

Four Ways to Spend July 4th

Happy birthday, America! From sea to shining sea today, millions of Americans will be celebrating our independence by grilling assorted meats, swimming and spending hundreds of dollars so that they can potentially light the neighbor’s house on fire with a rogue Roman Candle. It’s a great holiday and one that needs to be seized with great enthusiasm and joy.

But July 4th comes only once a year so we all need to make it count! How you ask? Well, I give you four must-dos for your Fourth of July celebration. Warning: this list is not exhaustive, should not be lit indoors and should not be read less than 45 minutes after eating. You might get a cramp.

Thank a soldier. This seems like a good place to start, and I have already seen so many well-wishes on facebook today. I have a few soldiers in my family and have the opportunity to see their struggles on a regular basis. They move frequently, watch their kids grow up via skype and put their lives on the line daily for a cause they believe in. It’s an honorable way of life and whether you agree with every war we wage or not, you owe a lot to the men and women in uniform.

If you are traveling through an airport today and see a soldier in uniform, walk up and shake his hand. If your cousin is currently overseas, send a sincere facebook message, or better yet, a box of cookies. Make it personal. Make it authentic. I’ll probably never understand the sacrifice they endure. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand how much it means to the rest of us.

Think globally. What? A little strange, I know. July 4th is supposed to be about wearing American flag t-shirts and openly hating soccer! It’s the only day of the entire year we can freely say to the rest of the world, “USA! USA! USA!” and not feel bad about it! Right? Right? Well, maybe not.

You see, I can’t help but think of my American friends in Asia, some with young kids who have never stepped foot on American soil, who are living out an oddly-normal July 4th today. The reason? They simply caught the vision that, while it is a nice place to live, America is not the center of the universe. Life actually goes on beyond the purple mountain majesties.

My point? Chill out on how we treat those who are figuring out a new life in this country. Your way of life is comfortable but that doesn’t make it imperative. Recognize the complexities of the world we live in and next time you interact with someone who is new to this country, someone who’s story is more tangled than you can imagine, don’t bitch about the fact that his English is poor. July 4th celebrates the very thing he is working hard to achieve. Remember the poem written by Emma Lazarus? The one you learned in middle school civics class? It’s etched inside the Statue of Liberty and reminds us that America began as a country by offering freedom to the, “tired… poor… huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” I tend to believe all that stuff is still true about this country. The only difference between you and the guy you can't understand is that your ancestors did the hard work for you. So, no, he doesn’t have to learn English if he wants to live here. Get over it.

Do something Fourth of July-ish. I’m a sucker for traditions. July 4th is more than a national holiday, it is the apex of everything summer. Dive head first into the celebration today. Fire up the grill. Spit watermelon seeds. Play lawn games. Go to a baseball game. Stay in the pool until your fingertips get wrinkly. Light an entire pack of Blackcats at once. Spell your name with a sparkler. Watch a Will Smith movie. Drink cheap, American-made light beer. And through all of these nostalgia-rich activities, give thanks that we live in a place that celebrates hotdog eating contests and democracy at the same time.

Lobby for freedom. Even as I celebrate the luxuries I’ve come to take for granted, I can’t help but be reminded of those around the world who will not be playing with smoke bombs today. They live in a harsh reality that is suffocated by actual bombs and the ever-present tension of war. The very principles that our country was founded upon are absent in their world.

This isn’t a ploy to make you feel bad about celebrating today. In fact, it is anything but a guilt trip. But you’re not off the hook completely. I ask that you take a moment today and be a voice for freedom around the world, specifically religious freedom. While we wave little American flags as Shriners drive by in little cars in little town parades across the country today, many Christians around the world will face severe persecution because of their beliefs. But you can help.

A new bill (HR 1856) has been recently introduced in Congress that will go a long way in ensuring that governments that oppose religious freedom will be held accountable. Essentially, this bill will reauthorize the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which monitors religious freedom issues around the world. The bill was originally passed over ten years ago and reshaped the way American foreign policy dealt with religious freedom issues. It is imperative that it is renewed before it expires this fall.

Please take a minute today and send your representative a message and encourage him/her to support HR 1856 when it comes to vote. This is your duty as an American. There is no better way to celebrate freedom today than helping spread freedom to places where hope runs dry.

That should be more than enough to get you started today. July 4th is a big holiday. Make it count. Celebrate freedom by doing something bigger. I can’t think of anything our founding fathers would have wanted more.

Other than a cure for syphilis, of course.

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