Don't have any firecrackers today, no sparklers, no bottle rockets. I could have. Last night, in the rain, I passed on by the state line shack where I've bought them in the past (they're legal in South Dakota). Maybe I'm just getting old.
But the truth is, what I'm doing right now is a far better way to celebrate "the Fourth." That I can sit down here in the semi-darkness this morning, punch keys, create sentences, and send them forth hither and yon is a striking act of independence. It can't be done these days as easily in Iran, or in China or certainly that most bizarre of places, North Korea. But here, in my basement, I can say just about anything I want, including blashphemy, vulgarity, and outright, deliberate, character-maiming falsehood.
That I can do what I'm doing is a blessing attributable, of course, to Jefferson and Franklin and the 54 other signers of the Declaration of Independence, who did so today, many years ago (you do the math). The fact is, this piece of technology in front of me has made us all more independent, more free, less restrained by corporate or media will. Today, we choose almost everything we do. And that's an absolutely beautiful thing. [Note to self: a little John Phillip Sousa would do well right here.]
I'm an avid listener of American Public Radio's Speaking of Faith, which is itself a terrific, free course in ethics, morality, faith, and world religion. Yesterday, via podcast, I heard an wonderful interview Krista Tippett did with Xavier Le Pichon, a French geo-physicist, who happens to be among those rarest of birds, a devout Christian and a world-class scientist, a man who lives in an intentionally-Christian community that puts those members of the community with mental and emotional illnesses at the heart of all their lives.
Le Pichon claims that God creates us with the potential to evolve. He is himself an evolutionist--and a devout Catholic; his argument is that we can and do learn to be better human beings by taking care of those who are not as blessed. Somewhere late in the interview he said something to this effect--what all of us require as human beings in this evolution is "an education of the heart."
An education of the heart. What a great thought. It begins at a place most Christians understand, the biblical thou-shalt of loving God with heart, soul, and mind--and the gent or lady next door just as much as we do ourselves. Le Pichon says it's actually an ethic hard-wired into us because only humans don't leave their weak somewhere behind them to die. Animals do. We don't--many of us anyway. But even though our care for the less fortunate is remarkably unusual in the animal world, it's still an attribute we've got to practice to learn, to get right.
There's some shady paradox beneath all of us this, of course, as there is beneath most truth. Today is a day to celebrate our independence, which I'm doing right now, as these odd little squiggles march up and out of nowhere across my computer screen, but it may well be that our greatest joy in life itself arises from exercising that independence by being dependent on others.
Or something like that.
Listen yourself to Le Pichon. Interesting ideas for Independence Day. [Okay, turn up "Stars and Stripes Forever."]
You can hear the Speaking of Faith interview at http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2009/fragility/