This week, millions of Americans across the length and breadth of this beautiful land, from shining sea to shining sea, if you may, will join together with family, friends, neighbors - some of whom may be strangers or acquaintances - and many others to celebrate a very important day in the life of our country. Countless will be the gatherings, and so will there be lots to eat and drink.
Beyond the many parades in communities - big or small - across this great land, some of us will gather at different parks or beaches, and if you happen to find yourself in Washington DC, you can join many others at the National Mall to watch a beautiful fireworks display. You may, alternatively, decide to watch the parade and fireworks on television. Whether you participate, or watch, any of these activities in real time or on TV, there’s one thing that draws all of us together - our belief in the idea of America, to which we each pledge our allegiance.
There’s also a part of the American fabric, the American ideal, which is the aspirational creed. This is the one creed that holds out hope for a more perfect union. For me, this aspiration falls within the purview of that sacred American text, the United States Constitution. It is incredibly telling that, within America’s sacred text, is the Three-Fifths Compromise. This idea was mooted by James Wilson in an effort to find a compromise between Northern and Southern states, to determine Congressional representation and the levying of taxes. I have no idea how they determined that metric of three-fifths. Why not two-fifths? Why not four-fifths?
Many are the reasons which have been advanced to help us understand the rationale for this compromise. We may agree or disagree with the rationale, but shrouded in it is the question of the value of Blacks - a majority of whom were slaves at the time. So although America’s sacred text holds some to be three-fifths, the remarkable part for me is the hope it carries within it, the aspiration it seeks for a more perfect union, where the truth we all hold to be self-evident will be made manifest.
The union wasn’t perfect then, and it isn’t perfect now. If, on the one hand, we understand perfection to be an illusion, and on the other we embrace the noble idea that our lives are works in progress, then we can, at the barest minimum, agree that we have made significant progress towards creating a more equitable society. A society where the rights and dignity of those who were considered to be three-fifths human are as sacred as the rights of those who considered them to be three-fifths human.
The most encouraging and transformative part of the American story has been one where generations of Americans have picked up one battle after another to get us ever closer to that perfect union. For me, every inch of progress towards achieving that perfect union can be characterized as a realization of the piece of the ever-present kingdom of God.
Indeed, this aspirational creed expresses a desire - the hope of a more perfect union. It doesn’t argue that the union is perfect, but that it aims towards perfection. The Book of Proverbs help us with these words: “Where there’s no vision, the people perish.” Thank heavens that, within the text itself, is a vision - our Aspirational Creed. And, for the life of this vision, we will not perish because our paths are guided by the sober words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “We must learn to live together as brothers (sisters) or perish together as fools.”
It is not enough to hold on to a vision, but it is sufficient enough to work towards the realization of that vision. And for two hundred and forty-three years that work hasn’t stopped; it continues to this day. I learned, many years ago, that dreams are the only currency that never depreciate in value. Our aspirational creed is our collective dream, and because it is a dream that has not depreciated in value, it is one dream worth dying for.
On this Fourth of July holiday, it is my prayer that you will enjoy the company of friends and family, strangers and acquaintances - immigrant and native-born - and enjoy the company of any American you come across, by sharing a dish, sharing a drink, and sharing stories of liberty.
While doing so, join in singing the songs of liberty, for within those songs are the longings of a generation gone before, and a generation yet unborn- the longings which tell of our aspirational creed; our march towards a more perfect union.
Happy Fourth of July.