07/05/20 Yesterday was the 244th celebration of Independence Day, the first being on July 8th, 1776 in Philadelphia. Fourth of July celebrations these days are filled with fireworks, clothes and ornaments covered in red, white and blue. Such colors weren’t widely available for decoration in the shadow of the nation’s birth, especially in the heat of battle during the Revolutionary War. But primarily, the first Independence Day celebrations used greenery as decorations instead. Congress chose the use of fireworks to celebrate the first anniversary on July 4th 1777. They were ignited over Philadelphia and the celebration also included bonfires and bells, a parade, and a thirteen-shot cannon salute. But Congress didn’t make it official until 1870, when it was part of a bill passed to recognize major state holidays at a federal level -- like Independence Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The publication of the Declaration of Independence may have accidentally made July 4th the official day of independence for America, but the deaths of two of its founders cemented its creation of the date’s designation. US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away on July 4th. The even more amazing coincidence is that both died on the same day in the same year of 1826, the 50th anniversary, by a difference of five hours; Jefferson passed first at age 82 and Adams at age 90. James Monroe also died five years later on July 4, 1831. In the Southeast Asian nation of the Philippines, July 4, known as "Republic Day," marks the date when the United States officially recognized that country as an independent state in 1946. (However, though the day is still significant to Filipino history, June 12 has been the country's official Independence Day since 1962.) Rwandans, on the other hand, celebrate "Liberation Day" on July 4. According to one source July 4, 1994 the date marks the “end of the Rwandan Genocide, and the birth of the new government that rose from the ashes.” If you celebrate the Fourth of July outside the U.S., you still might see fireworks in Denmark, England, Norway, Portugal and Sweden. This is because thousands of people emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s. Some European celebrations on the Fourth take place near tourist destinations -- to attract U.S. travelers -- or near American military bases. Calvin Coolidge, the country's 30th president, was born on Independence Day. Others celebrating birthdays on July Fourth include, Nobel laureate and economist Gerard Debreu, Olympic gold medalist and tennis Hall of Famer Pam Shriver, "Ugly Betty" actress Becki Newton and current first daughter Malia Obama. My grandmother, Orma Wentz, was born on the fourth, and of course, our very own CJ Johnson. We are going to be singing a medley of patriotic songs in just a few more minutes. I found it interesting that Irving Berlin did not think his song ‘God Bless America’ was worthy of being sung and it stayed in his rejection pile for 20 years. It wasn’t until singer Kate Smith wanted a patriotic song to sing on the radio as war broke out across Europe that the song was presented. The song became one of the most requested patriotic ditties almost overnight and a staple in American songbooks. Another United States patriotic song, “Yankee Doodle” was originally sung by British military officers prior to the Revolution as a means to mock the disorganized American colonists who fought alongside them during the French and Indian Wars. In the midst of the terrible Civil War between the Northern and Southern states, a remarkable woman named Julia Ward Howe proclaimed her confidence in God's triumphant power in the inspiring text of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Anguished by the growing conflict between the divided sections of the country, Mrs. Howe watched troops marching off to war singing "John Brown's Body," a song about a man who had been hanged in his efforts to free the slaves. Julia felt that the catchy camp meeting tune should have better words. In a desire to phrase her own feelings about the dreadful events of the time, she "scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper." The national hymn first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine in 1862, as a battle song for the republic. Soon, the entire nation became inspired by her text and united in singing the new words with the old tune. Mrs. Howe's hymn has been acclaimed through the years as one of our finest patriotic songs. At one time it was sung as a solo at a large rally attended by President Abraham Lincoln. After the audience had responded with loud applause, the President, with tears in his eyes, cried out, "Sing it again!" It was sung again. And more than a hundred and fifty years later, Americans still join often in proclaiming, "Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on!" So we celebrate our nation’s birthday the same as we do our own birthdays, with singing, celebration, parades, and games. We express our joy, and love, and gratitude for our nation. We are blessed to live in this country, and my prayer is that through our God-inspired and wisdom-based patriotism we can continue to keep America the land of the free and the home of the brave. We know that some of our founders held a strong belief in God, and they established a free nation so that we could worship and believe the way we wanted, and not dictated by a government or dominating society. Although America began as a predominantly pluralistic Christian nation, I believe the Founders are smiling upon us as we make a home for all thoughts and all beliefs. That was their intention, goal, and desire. We have come a long way as a nation as we have tried to absorb, understand, and apply the principles espoused by our Founding Fathers – "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” Although we are still working on that, I pray that we can open our hearts to God, respect each other, and accept the diversity that we are as Americans. I pray that we can keep America vibrant and enriched through our acknowledgement, acceptance, and appreciation of our multifarious ethnicities and cultures. It is our diversity that can make a more perfect union through the multitude of cultural tendrils and strands of assorted thoughts and ideas. And so here lies the grand responsibility before every American: above all else, we, the people, must want a more perfect union. We alone, are responsible for embracing our differences while simultaneously striving for a harmonious merger of minds, hearts, and souls. This responsibility, as important and solemn as it is, is still secondary to our responsibility as a Child of God, which is to put God first; above every human and earthly desire and vow, we are to put our Creator before all other intentions. That is how we make a more perfect union with Christ. I pray that our individual and nationalistic awareness of God continues to expand so that our country can maintain the shining example of how to treat each other, how to allow people to be who and what they are, and how to appreciate all people for their unique gifts, while at the same time building the solidarity of our country and planet, and ultimately making it a more perfect ‘union’. So, Happy Birthday America, and happy Independence Day to all!