I’m told that nearby Washington – the seat of George Washington’s ancestors, whose crest provides the origin of the Stars and Stripes flag – is the only place in England that celebrates Independence Day.
As any indigenous people group knows, Independence is merely the other side of the same coin as Colonialism.
But to recognise this is to have to acknowledge that Colonialism is not entirely without merit, and Independence is not self-evidently better. Each presents us with a paradox: utterly corrupted, self-serving; and yet – by the grace of God – still capable of being utilised for good, for beauty. Sin – in the sense of falling short of or away from our best intended trajectory, let alone those good goals of which we are unaware – is inevitable and unavoidable; and indeed, is the very thing that is transformed by grace – God’s giving of himself to us, and along with that self-giving, every good gift.
We hold land not as owners, and by right, but as stewards, and by gift; and then, not merely as stewards holding land in trust for our own descendants, but in trust for the whole world. And so National Days – whether Independence Days, or taking some other form – ought not to be a day to celebrate our freedom from others so much as to reflect on what we have done for others with our freedom.
Any sober judgement would recognise that we (whatever our nationality) have done good – intended, and by happy accident – and evil – again, by wilful intention, and unintentionally. And that the good we have done has most often been possible only with the help of other nations, while the evil we have perpetrated has also been in complicity with other nations. At the end of the day, we are more interdependent than we like to admit. And rightly so.
Empires rise and fall, and political borders ebb and flow like the tides. We stand in our time, a time allocated us not by our own decision, with a past not of our choosing, and a future beyond our control. All we have is the present, the inevitability of our sin, and the promise of God’s grace. That is enough, to use our freedom to serve others, with humility and confidence. Which might truly be worth celebrating.