Independence Day Calls Us to the Holy Work of Repair

Our flag symbolizes the beauty of American ideals and the brokenness of our history.

When I was a kid, we spent two weeks each year with my grandparents in their old summer cottage on Long Island Sound. Every night around sunset, my grandfather lowered the American flag, folded it gently, and put it away. He raised it again the next morning.

Even with his attentive care, the flag became tattered by the salt spray and the wind. After subsequent generations failed to handle it with such faithfulness, the flag became threadbare. We eventually stopped flying it. All that remained was an aluminum pole that rattled in the breeze. It finally snapped in a storm.

As we approach this Fourth of July, I am thinking about those tattered and threadbare flags that led to an empty flagpole. I am thinking of the reasons my grandfather, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, flew the flag with both humility and honor. I am thinking about what the flag represents, the ideals of liberty and justice for all, the idea of our common equality bestowed upon us not by our society but by our Creator. Those ideals have at times in our history become threadbare, putting us in the position of raising flags that no longer carry any meaning at all.

Around Memorial Day this year, another holiday with flags raised high, many Americans learned about the 100-year-old Tulsa Race Massacre, when an entire Black community was terrorized and destroyed. Many of us also reflected on the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and demonstrations that rippled across cities and towns last summer. The injustices of a century before lined up with the injustices of the recent past. Both stood as haunting representatives of so many other moments in American history that do not accord with the values our founding documents espouse.

Each act …

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