Fourth of July
I did not celebrate Independence Day this past weekend.
The truth is the United States has never been an independent nation. Built on stolen land by stolen labor, sacrificing Natives and Africans and their descendants to the mythology of “manifest destiny,” greed, oppression, and white supremacy, this has never been a nation of liberty and justice for all.
The ignoble myth of white supremacy that permeates the foundation of this country and underlies the policies and institutions that form the context of our lives has been rearing its ugly head so much lately that it cannot be as easily ignored or denied as it has been in the past. The recent massacre in Charleston and the burning of African-American churches add even more reasons to the hundreds of thousands to awaken to the reality of racism that undermines best ideals of this nation. Our country has failed to atone for, or even critically examine, its history of racial oppression.
Let’s talk about we.
You know: The first word in the constitution. The one that puts everything that follows it inside a framework of a collective effort and combined responsibility. "We the people." All of us. Together. Part of something bigger than any one of us individually. Yeah, that word.
Have you noticed that we don’t discuss that idea very much? I wonder why. A lot of Fourth of July posts this year went on lavishly about individual rights and personal freedom. And yes, those are important. But they’re only part of the equation, and they’re not even the starting point. It starts not with me, but with we — a pronoun that is radical and revolutionary.
Sufjan Stevens’ newest album, Carrie & Lowell (out now), is a heartbreaking meditation on personal grief. It’s also joyful, baffling, and delicately mundane.
In the spirit of a listening party, a few of us sat down to play through the album, sharing liner notes and meditations on the songs that grabbed each of us. Conclusion: it's really, really good. Stream Carrie & Lowell here, and listen along with us below.
Tripp: I love the first song of an album. I think of it as the introduction to a possible new friend. “Where The Streets Have No Name” on U2’s Joshua Tree or “Signs of Life” on Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason, that first track can be the thesis statement to a sonic essay.
So, when I get a new album — even in this day of digital albums or collections of singles — a first track can make or break an album for me. I sat down and listened attentively to “Death With Dignity.” It does not disappoint. With it Stevens introduces the subject of the album — his grief around troubled relationship with his mother and her death — as well as the sonic palate he will use throughout the album.
Simple guitar work, layered voicing, and a little synth, the album is musically sparse. The tempo reminds me of movies from the nineteen sixties or seventies where the action takes place over a long road trip.
Catherine Woodiwiss: I was thinking road trip, too. There’s real motion musically, which, given a claustrophobic theme and circular lyrics, is a thankful point of release. It’s a generous act, or maybe an avoidant one — he could have made us sit tight and watch, and he doesn’t quite do it.
Julie Polter: This isn’t a road movie, but the reference to that era of films just made me think of Cat Stevens’ soundtrack for Harold and Maude, especially “Trouble.” (This album is one-by-one bringing back to me other gentle songs of death and duress and all the songs I listen to when I want to cry).
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I love the 4th of July! It’s coming around again quickly, and I’m seriously deciding where I’m going to be based on which city has the best fireworks. I know. It’s a little crazy for someone who preaches about peace to yearn for a celebration attached to a war. But there’s something about the 4th that reminds me of the sacrifice that freedom requires in our fallen world.
Growing up our family would pack up the van (or minivan as we got older) and make the pilgrimage to the beach in Cape May, N.J. They knew how to do fireworks. Spectacular! Later, in college, while on summer mission project in New York City, I watched the Macy’s celebration from a rooftop on Roosevelt Island — choreographed fireworks as they played the Star Spangled Banner on the radio! I wept. To this day, I shed a tear when I imagine the moment when the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. It gets me every time.
But, recently I stopped and thought for a minute: “Why is it that, when I think of the founding of our nation, the faces I see in my mind’s eye are all men (with the exception of Betsy Ross)?”
My friends and I can be stupid. Add explosives to the equation and the idiocy quotient increases exponentially. Such was the case every 4th of July during high school. A group of about 20 of my friends and I would get together to barbecue and play with illegal fireworks. At any unsuspected moment while taking a bite out of a burger, an M-80 could be lit under your seat, a sparkler thrown at your chest like a dart, or a mortar could be shot like a bazooka, catching bushes on fire. These chaotically stupid memories simultaneously serve as some of the most fun I can recall experiencing. So for me, Independence Day equals fun.
However, there's a deeper reality to this holiday. Only about three years ago did I realize that in celebrating Independence Day, I'm also glorifying the roots on which this nation was founded: an unjust war. The "rockets red glare" and "the bombs bursting in air" remind us not of the day God liberated the colonies, but of the moment in history when our forefathers stole the rhetoric of God from authentic Christianity to justify killing fellow Christians. There's two reasons I'm convinced that celebrating Independence Day celebrates an unjust war.
The Fourth of July is always a weird holiday for me. It's not that I don't enjoy the nostalgia, picnics, barbeque, fireworks, and romanticizing of history--I do--yet as a student of history I can't help but be reminded of the July 5, 1852, speech of Frederick Douglass, given at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, NY. If you haven't, you should read it: "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn." This was a [...]