This year’s celebration of the 4th of July Declaration of Independence, furnishes another opportunity for profound reflection on the tenets undergirding our still evolving union–The United States of America. As we know, the July 4, 1776 Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” As most of us are also aware, as a nation, we are still moving towards a more perfect union which insures the aforementioned rights and opportunities for all people.
Moreover, as we celebrate this 4th of July, it is hard to ignore the disturbing spring and summer 2015 events of American-against-American violence–exposing prominent rips in our national social fabric.
Sometimes in summer, the extreme temperatures seem to correlate with intensified human emotions and lack of tolerance for dissonance. This year, with the early spring violence in Baltimore and public reactions in other American cities, it is painfully obvious that many American citizens perceive an unevenness in quality of life and truncated opportunities in their pursuits of the American Dream. It seems also obvious that many citizens are growing impatient, as they seek relief in their lives from economic downturns, diminishing hope, housing foreclosures, stagnant wages, and limited future options.
And, though it was hard to anticipate, in June of 2015, a tenuous national climate deteriorated further with the killing of nine human beings attending a Bible study class at the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Lesser acts of violence and hatred have thrown communities across the nation into deepening divides.
In fact, I originally thought about writing a blog about the ramifications of distrust and hopelessness–as illustrated in the Baltimore riots. That blog would have been about how our fears and prejudices destroy lives and curtail economic development.
However, President Obama’s June 26, 2015 eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney left me contemplating the concept of grace, and how we can earn and spread such grace to strengthen our nation.
If there was ever a time for a President of the United States to summon a higher and evolving vision of the future of our collective America that demands deeds similar to those of the Reverend and public servant Clementa Pinckney, this was it. President Obama, in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney empathized with the congregation before him, held the well-being of America close to his heart, and delivered a sermon of hope–a call for us to seek a collective salvation to turn an egregious violent act into “thoughtful introspection and self-examination.”
President Obama shared with the congregation of Mother Emanuel that he had been reflecting on the concept of grace the week before the eulogy. We, too, can note that the concept of grace appears sufficiently in writings and dialogue that predate the independence of America and coincide with our developing sense of an American union.
Greek Philosopher Aristotle stated that, “The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances,”
Father of Humanism Petrarch stated that “Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth….”
Saint Francis of Assisi stated, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives is that of overcoming self.”
Texas preacher Max Lucado states, “The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.’
In his eulogy, President Obama affirmed that “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace on us, for he has allowed us to see where we have been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other–but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway…But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of it.”
As the crowd, and probably millions of viewers, reflected on this much-needed eulogy, President Obama concluded his remarks by stating that the heinous act of the deaths has left us with a “reservoir of goodness–an open heart.” Moreover, if we Americans “can tap that grace, everything can change.” Such is our challenge this 4th of July.
President Obama concluded his eulogy by singing Amazing Grace published by John Newton in 1779, just a few years after the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The Mother Emanuel congregation joined President Obama in singing the song that many of us know well. Perhaps we will now sing it with somber and renewed awareness.
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
Before walking away from the podium, President Obama proclaimed, “May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.”
Amen! And thank you President Barack Obama! Happy 4th of July!