This is a re-creation of a public domain 19th Century patriotic song.
Sometimes people speak of the commercialization of Christmas—the sense that its spiritual values get lost in a commercial blur.
I speak instead of the jingo-ization of the Fourth of July—the need to keep and universalize what really matters in the American independence day. I think that this holiday gets lost in sloganeering and military marches (and I say this despite being a J.P. Sousa fan).
I respect deeply those who sacrifice for our country. I learned last night that an old friend just retired from the Marines after receiving major shrapnel wounds in Iraq. My heart is with he and his wife and son, and I appreciate his courage.
We don’t forget those who sacrifice. The Fourth of July is not a celebration of a battle or a paean to American supposed “superiority”. It is a time to celebrate a declaration by people who wrote that people have inalienable rights which should be respected. We celebrate the values worthy of these immense sacrifices.
The Fourth of July is a holiday to celebrate what is wonderful about the American experiment. I believe these core values should be freedom, a respect for the rights and dignity of others, a just and righteous rule of law, and the ability to spread peace, liberty, and universal friendship.
John Sullivan Dwight lived from 1813 to 1893. Although he trained and served for a time as a Unitarian minister, he joined the transcendentalist movement and discovered his true vocation as a music teacher and writer.
“Dwight’s Journal of Music” became the most influential music publication of his era. Mr. Dwight receives credit for first introducing an appreciation for Beethoven’s work in this country. He served on the teaching faculty for the school at Brook Farm, the high-minded but ultimately failed utopian community
He wrote the lyrics to “God Bless Our Land”, which is about the country I wish to see born and reborn:
“God bless our land, may Heaven’s protecting hand, still guard our shore;
may peace her power extend, foe be transformed to friend, and all our rights depend, on war no more.
May just and righteous laws uphold the public cause and bless our name; Home of the brave and free, stronghold of liberty, we pray that still on thee, may rest no stain
And not this land alone, but be thy mercies known, from shore to shore, Lord make the nations see that men should brothers be, and form one family, the wide world o’er”.
My hope is that the Fourth of July becomes a celebration less of the might of nations, and more of the possibility for freedom and friendship for which men and women who sacrifice their energy and sometimes their lives.
I’d like to tell you about Helena Hill Weed. She graduated from Vassar College and the Montana School of Mines. She was a geologist by trade. She was “from the right family”: the daughter of a congressman and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Yet as a woman she could not vote.
She had an Independence Day story. On July 4, 1917, she picketed in Washington, D.C. for women’s suffrage, carrying a sign that said “”Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”.
For her patriotism, she was arrested and served three days in jail. The source of her sign, of course, was the American Declaration of Independence. She and others like her continued their peaceful protests, and helped get the vote for women in her lifetime.
I’d like to tell you about Lou Gehrig, a great baseball player who contracted the fatal disease ALS, which is sometimes colloquially called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”.
on July 4, 1939, he gave his farewell speech in front of his fans marked with courage and humility. But he was not just a go-along guy, saying what pleased the crowds. He also said “”There is no room in baseball for discrimination. It is our national pastime and a game for all.”
Finally, I’d like to tell you about July 4, 1997. This is when the Mars Pathfinder probe landed on Mars, beaming back pictures from an alien world far from Earth.
We can achieve equality and progress. These are our Independence Day ideals.
I believe in Independence Day as a day to celebrate the universal hope for freedom, friendship and equality, and as a day for the re-commit of efforts to help fulfill that hope for all.
The tune here is “The Italian Hymn” by Felice Giardini. Felice Giardini was born in Turin in 1716 and died in Moscow in 1796. He was a child prodigy as a musician and a prolific and capable composer. Music did not earn him the living he hoped, despite his great skills and imagination. Yet his songs live on, and serve as the basis for this new version of JS Dwight’s hymn for peace.