“Why does your church host a Fourth of July celebration?” I was asked in the midst of the joyous din that is our Fourth of July Jamboree. “Don’t you believe in the separation of church and state?”
I believe in it and give thanks for it daily. Our faith and beliefs cannot be dictated by any government. Our religious practices cannot be defined by outside forces. Separation can be a good thing. We are grateful for our country that allows us those freedoms. The Fourth of July offers the opportunity to give thanks for the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Life can rarely be neatly separated into “holy” and “secular” moments. God is bigger than particular dates on a calendar. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we can become aware of the holy, even adorned in red, white, and blue.
During our Fourth of July Jamboree, there were games for children, a parade, the firemen’s water polo, chicken barbeque, hay rides, and an eclectic mix of music from our bandstand. The day was quintessentially Norman Rockwell, an old-fashioned celebration that brought people together.
Yes, the Fourth of July is a secular celebration. Yet in the midst of it, I witnessed some holy moments.
- Hush. There was a blessed quietness that spread through the crowd as we prepared to sing the National Anthem reminded me of a sacred moment of worship. For just a moment, there was a lull in the chaotic cacophony of crying babies, exuberant children, and enthusiastic adults as together we paused to lift up our voices together.
- Respite. People took a break from their busy lives. The psalmist urges us to “be still” in order to experience God’s presence. “Still” is not the word that comes to mind while the Cornet Band plays and hundreds of people mill about the common. But the pace was slower. People went on hay rides, enjoying the beauty of farm fields with corn and cows. Families relaxed with picnics as they listened to the music.
- Fellowship. People took the time to talk and laugh while meeting old friends. One of the ironies of our modern media age is the experience of increased isolation. We communicate with computers on a daily basis yet often long for simple, human interactions.
- Real – not virtual – life. There was not a computer in sight. That in itself is a blessing. Children played games, colored pictures, and giggled in the bounce house while adults pitched horse shoes, and people of all ages lounged in the shade, content to gaze at puffy clouds dotting the deep blue sky.
- Encouragement. As our somewhat rag-tag parade wound around the common – twice – we cheered each other on. The parade offered an opportunity to admire beautifully restored antique cars, gratefully applaud the platoon of volunteer firefighters, and clap for children riding decorated bicycles, and little ones riding the homemade “hobby horses” they had created earlier. Wouldn’t life be better if we were always freer with our compliments and praise?
- Community. There was at least one woman there who joined our congregation because of the Jamboree. When her husband passed away, her only experience with a church was the joy she discovered at this secular celebration on the 4th of July. She reached out in her need and discovered a congregation glad to offer support and companionship.
God can’t be regulated out of existence. On secular days, holy days, good days and bad ones, God can be found where God is needed most – with God’s people.