There’s a strong element of loss and disaffectedness in Aimee Mann’s song “4th of July” which begins:
Today’s the fourth of July.
Another June has gone by.
And when they light up our town I just think
What a waste of gunpowder and sky.
Independence Day is a celebration of our nation’s freedom from British rule, and of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Yet, as the song suggests, such open-ended liberty can leave you adrift.
If you can do anything you want, what should you do?
In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul talks about a different, deeper sort of freedom:
For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The irony is that, if freedom becomes selfishness, the result is an empty existence, untethered to meaning or purpose. Paul calls it submitting “to the yoke of slavery.”
By contrast, in being self-less, we find ourselves. In forgetting ourselves in the service of others, we find ourselves. We’ve all heard people who do volunteer work say that they get back more than they give.
The famous prayer, inspired by Francis of Assisi, concludes:
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Celebrating that sort of freedom with fireworks wouldn’t be a waste of gunpowder and sky.
Patrick T. Reardon