By Fady Hanna, Duke Divinity School Intern
One dark night in September of 1814, a captured amateur poet gazed into the glowing evening sky as he beheld the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry by his British captors. In response to the sight of the starry-striped banner raised high in the sky signifying the success of the American forces, the young Francis Scott Key wrote the words of the Defense of Fort McHenry, which would later become the U.S. national anthem. And last week during July 4th weekend, we once again turned our gaze to the deep blue summer horizon to behold the dazzling display of stars and stripes erupting in the heavens to the tune of that same beloved national anthem.
This seems to be a fitting time, therefore, to reflect on our success as a nation in preserving the humanity that our ancestors fought so bravely to attain. Have we, as Americans, lived up to our rally cry for liberty, justice, and equality for all? Do we continue to fight to protect and maintain access to the bare necessities of life – water, food, shelter, education, and safety? From the Christian perspective, we are called by our Divine Creator to care for one another, a task that almost always requires the giving of ourselves and of our time and energy for the common welfare and wellbeing of all of humanity. This is also the message of the Gospel in a nutshell: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Have we, as Christians enjoying the blessings of this land, lived up to our calling to be ambassadors of love to the world through gratitude and reciprocal generosity to friends and neighbors?
Last week the Council’s Program Associate for Finance and Development, Ashley Yohman, returned from her annual mission trip to Haiti volunteering with Haiti Outreach Ministries, an organization that works alongside Haitians to share the Gospel through evangelism, education, and medical care. The day she first arrived, Ashley and her fellow volunteers were given a ride in a “tap-tap” to the guest house where they would be staying. As Ashley looked out the window on the way to the guesthouse, she saw a man approaching a dark muddied puddle by the side of the road. He bent down with an empty bottle in his left hand, filled the bottle, and picked it up for a drink. Though Ashley had visited Haiti many times before, she recalls this memory as a striking reminder of why she goes on these mission trips: “This is why we’re here.” The memory of that man drinking mud from the road remained with her as she flew out of Haiti and back into Raleigh. During the flight Ashley looked out the window again, making a mental note of the stark contrast in terrain between the two worlds from high up in the sky.
Our country’s creeds and anthems proclaim a vision of who we aspire to be. Our work on the 4th of July is not only to remember our history, but also be a reminder of our responsibility to the world. In celebrating our independence, we ought to make a concerted effort to remind ourselves of the reasons for our ancestors’ struggle. The forefathers demanded justice because they were unfairly taxed, forced to house British soldiers in their own bedrooms, and deprived of equal representation. But the forefathers cried from the comfort of their office desks and dinner tables; who will cry for our neighbors, who may not have enough food to eat or feel safe in their own homes?
All too quickly we forget the blessings that we have been freely given. Instead we continue to claim more for ourselves, hoard more for ourselves, and consume more for ourselves. I am reminded of a passage in the Gospel of Luke, where the rich man looks at his bountiful harvest and says to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry,” and to whom God replies, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:13-21)