July 4th – A Day to Lament

JUSTembrace loves to host our neighbors for big ol celebrations as often as we can! They are a ton of work, but every moment is loaded with the new Kingdom Jesus established for us to live into on earth! These parties provide glimpse upon glimpse of God’s desire to restore all things. Our entire community looks forward to these days!

Due to rain in May, we had to reschedule our Spring Carnival to coincide with our annual July 4th cook-out – mixing games and prizes with Chicago style hot dogs and homemade banana pudding! Thankfully the weather felt more like spring than summer and the delay seemed to provide the perfect day for a memorable event.

We usually gather to pray and dole out jobs to the host team before we open the gates and welcome people – but this year, I felt compelled to say a little more. My “pep-talk” might have some encouragement to offer you if you struggle to reconcile your patriotic traditions with your current relationship status with our homeland:

Two things this day represents:

Today is the anniversary of the independence of the American colonies from the British.

We often celebrate with cook outs, fire works and parades. We honor the men and women who have served in our armed forces and we enjoy a day off of work.

But for JUSTembrace, and many of you who have come here today, this is not an easy day to celebrate.  We know that the establishment and independence of America was forged through the genocide of the First Nations people and succeeded through the kidnapping and forced enslavement of Africans.

This day, as with every holiday that celebrates a version of American history that ignores these shameful truths, should be a day of mourning if also a day of celebration.

Scripture has given us a language for days like this – it is called lament. Lamenting is a way of grieving our losses, and expressing our sorrow.

I want to suggest that we have a chance today not to lean into the American tradition of celebrating this holiday while choosing to be blissfully unaware of it’s meaning – but to use this celebration as an act of lamenting – as an act of protest – as an act of repentance.

Today, we will celebrate a holiday that marks our history as oppressors and conquerors by tearing down the walls that that legacy has led us to build in our society. We will welcome our neighbors – of all backgrounds – to celebrate the gift of life and the shared image we all bare – the image of our creator.

The second thing that this day represents is an anniversary for JUSTembrace!

7 years ago today we hosted our very first neighborhood celebration in this yard!

At that time I had been eating dinner on Monday nights at a local soup kitchen. They had chosen to cancel their meal on July 4th that year because it fell on a Monday.

With their blessing, I invited the soup kitchen crowd to celebrate our new move into this house with a cookout on July 4th!

We had NO idea what this house and yard would come to mean to us or the neighborhood, but that first BBQ turned out to be the BEST thing we could have possibly done to establish our presence in this community as welcoming to EVERYONE!

Yesterday, Ryan and I went to that same soup kitchen to catch those waiting outside before it started to invite them today. We stood there, passing out flyers, making new friends, and reconnecting with old friends. After awhile it became clear that no one was there to run the soup kitchen.

It was heartbreaking as we stood out on a busy corner with hungry people who depend on that meal as the reality sunk in that they would not eat last night.

To hear them articulate how disrespected they felt for not being told the meal would be canceled and to express how hurt they were that their basic dignity had been overlooked was a privilege that was hard to sit in.

These were desperate people dependant on the common courtesy of the church people who fed them each week could choose or not choose to show them.

As a Christian community – we seek not to serve our neighbors from a position of power and charity.  We are not trying to do a good deed today friends.

Today we welcome neighbors and strangers in and offer friendship. To offer friendship means that we position ourselves as equals.

So, as you run the games, serve the food, help people pick out prizes – I hope you will think on these things:

First – can your work today be a gift of lament – be an act of repentance for a legacy of oppression and slavery?

Second – can that repentance and lament be turned into an offer of friendship to men and women who you share little in common with?