Few things harden the soul, deaden the heart, close the ears, and chill the affections more. It serves as one of the greatest weapons of our adversary, though few recognize it. One would expect such a foe to be obvious, but it often chooses to operate subtly in the shadows of the mind and the private ruminations of the heart. It has the added deadliness of feigning holiness while encouraging pride with the false assumption we are more holy than others due to our greater “discernment.” Donning the robes of the critic maims and kills many would-be worshipers in churches every single Sunday morning.
It’s the day after a holiday weekend, and I check in on Facebook. I scroll through my newsfeed and see pictures of a gathering of some of my old friends at a beach house, baby pictures from a former coworker, blurry shots of smiling faces at a family reunion, and a few random selfies of people I barely know attending a concert. Journalist H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism as the suspicion that someone, somewhere is having a good time.
Neither Puritans nor the rest of us need wonder if good times are happening out there. My newsfeed confirms it. Everyone is having fun. So. much. fun.
Let’s face it, some people use social media to ensure we all know how desirable, beloved, and overall awesome their life is (and aren’t we #blessed to be in his or her orbit, even we’re the Pluto to his or her sun). When a “friend” writes, “You guys! It’s so hot today here on the beach at the French Riviera. We’ll just have to cool off in our private villa this afternoon before we eat at a Michelin three-star restaurant tonight!”, it is the emotional equivalent of click-bait. I’m supposed to feel jealous, darnit.
An interesting testimony considering where my church is located.
My background is liberal Judaism—Judaism without skullcaps, regular synagogue attendance, or even the food laws. (Yes, we ate bacon!) But despite our lack of observance, I knew that I was Jewish rather than anything else.
At the age of 13 I had my bar mitzvah service, a coming-of-age ceremony in which I recited a passage from the Torah in Hebrew. I was glad to take part in it because I wanted to align myself with my Jewish ancestors. I was very conscious of the suffering experienced by my family during the Holocaust: my great-grandmother was murdered at Auschwitz; my great-aunt survived Auschwitz; and my great-uncle survived Mauthausen. They suffered simply for being Jewish. I wanted to honor that by standing in the same line of Jewishness.
Newton’s life was dramatically worthy of an HBO miniseries like John Adams. Newton lived through massive shifts in historical and geopolitical power (including the American Revolution, but on the losing side). As a young man, his life was full of personal drama, heated rebellion, a lifelong romance, some naval fighting, and decades of seafaring. Eventually he sailed slave ships across the Atlantic, nearly died at sea in a storm, was saved from his sin, and converted to the Christ he hated for 20 years. If you fast-forward to the end of his life, he worked as an abolitionist along with his young friend William Wilberforce. Newton was on his deathbed when he learned that Britain abolished its Atlantic slave trade.
People on the left often have problems being patriotic on the 4th of July, since they consider the nation whose birthday is celebrated to have been built on slavery, imperialism, and a predatory capitalism. But now conservatives, usually the big flag wavers on Independence Day, might also feel disillusioned with the USA.
We live in a country that seems to stand for license without freedom. We are ruled by trends instead of by law. We are radical individualists and, at the same time, conformists. We have a good constitution, but no one follows it much anymore, and our Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches all seem out of whack. To be sure, America should not be confused with its government, but even worse than our government and the source of its errors is our culture. Oblivious to our history and traditions, today’s culture seems shallow, materialistic, irrational, and immoral. America may have been a good idea back in 1776, but the reality is not measuring up. Or so we might think in 2015.
I think even those who think that way–or the way the Left thinks–should celebrate on July 4.