It’s the 4th of July weekend here in the United States, and I was thinking about the first time I truly fell in love with America.
It was during my first trip overseas on my own, at the ripe old age of 21, after a year of grad school at Westminster Theological Seminary. I was sitting in Trafalgar Square in London on Independence Day, after more than a month of backpacking through the British Isles. It had been a grand trip of personal discovery as I hitchhiked from town to town, ate my meals in open air markets, slept on church steps, and occasionally visited youth hostels to take a shower. During my stay in Scotland, someone had given me the book “When Free Men Shall Stand,” and I had been reading it off and on during my travels.
As my trip was coming to a close and I was hanging out in London waiting for a stand-by airline seat home, I finished the book while sitting in that park. For the first time, I started looking back at America through the filter of another culture and began thinking about what made America unique. Many, like me that day, never really discover America until they’ve had the opportunity to leave her.
At that time in the United Kingdom, Thatcher had not yet been elected Prime Minister and the Liberal Party was wrecking that nation with policies that destroyed personal responsibility and initiative. Even as a twenty-one year old, the culture and the people, by and large, struck me as bland, crass and dominated by attitudes of entitlement. As money was being sucked out of the economy to feed that sense of personal entitlement at the hand of big brother, hope and opportunity were dying.
As a result, the Brits had lost their spark and zest for life. It finally was dawning on me that those qualities are vital for any people. I also was beginning to realize that those qualities had persevered in America because of the ideals that sparked the revolution of 1776 and then the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Those ideals, in turn, were gleaned by our Founding Fathers from Biblical principles that gave birth to the first Constitutional Republic to grace the earth in nearly 3000 years (since dying out when Israel foolishly chose a King rather than continuing as a constitutional republic under the Decalogue through locally chosen representative leaders).
I very much had been a liberal activist until then, but started weeping that day as I suddenly realized how I had taken for granted – and been ignorant about – the principles in our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I also began to appreciate how truly revolutionary the core value of our Founding Fathers had been: Mainly, that the liberty to pursue virtue requires limited civil government, and that the greatest danger to virtue and liberty is a government which assumes the prerogatives of individual responsibility under the guise of benevolence.
I came back a changed man.
Are there any other 4th of July stories out there, or tales about your own political and cultural epiphanies, as we celebrate Independence Day?
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