Uncommon God, Common Good
I enjoyed watching The Avengers recently at the movie theater. I loved how the Marvel Studios’ superheroes avenged the forces of evil from beyond this world, and how the globe was delivered from harm. Captain America was certainly one of the more subdued characters in the film. He’s a selfless superhero, quite a contrast to Iron Man’s Tony Stark. Steve Rogers as Captain America is a throwback to an earlier time in America’s history, a veteran of WWII. It’s hard to find such throwbacks today. But they are around us. I meet military people, for example, whose commitment to their country’s ideals far outweighs their sense of self-importance. So refreshing. On the Fourth of July, those of us who are Americans celebrate this country’s independence, and remember the courage of those whose ideals of freedom for the people and emerging society whom they served led them to put themselves in harm’s way.
I hate to recall on such a hallowed occasion that we have not always championed our country’s ideals of freedom. Thomas Jefferson and others were known for keeping slaves. Some people were and are certainly more free than others. As a Native American friend of mine said, “The reason why they call it the land of the free is because they never paid us for it.” The reservation system still exists, and it causes me to be rather reserved as I celebrate our country’s freedom today.
So often, we put our own personal community’s and individual comforts ahead of others. As long as we’re free, as long as we’re safe, that’s all that matters. It seems to me that Captain America’s selflessness and sleepless watch for the cause of freedom on behalf of all needs to be awakened in all of us anew this day. I love the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song, “None of Us Are Free.” If one of us is in chains, none of the rest of us are free. I love even more the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” which is engraved on a tablet at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. I will celebrate the following lines that call us back to transcendent ideals and call us forward to live them out today. The Statue of Liberty, to whom Lazarus refers as “a mighty woman,” is Lady America. She is the “Mother of Exiles,” who beckons to “the ancient lands” from New York’s Harbor:
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Like Captain America, Lady America beckons to those of us who are Americans to make sure that the freedoms we so cherish and celebrate this day not be self-serving, but opportunities to become truly free and servants of all.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths. This volume and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.