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Today, my family and I will attend the world’s most charming 4th of July parade, an 80-year tradition which happens less than a mile from our house. Handmade floats and local politicians and lots of candy being thrown from vintage cars and a brigade of streamer-clad bikes. It’s like a Norrman Rockwell painting that we all make come to life. 

I have mixed feelings about attending our local parade this year, given the audacity of the leaders of this country to concoct yet more creative ways to inflict pain and suffering on vulnerable people. I don’t know how to celebrate America today. I don’t know how to be in the presence of my Member of Congress when my kid is scrambling for one more thrown Jolly Rancher and a kid at the border is drinking water out of a toilet. 

It feels like complicity to wear red, white, and blue. And of course, it is.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a 95-year old man who served in World War II. A line of aging veterans took turns saluting the casket with white gloves. It was stunning: the precision and protocol that marks the military, ensuring uniformity. Our eyes were meant to focus on a collective, not on an individual. The military is not an organization that celebrates individuality. There’s a 257-page manual that I found on the Internet explaining all the protocols for these funerals — including the placement of your thumb when making a fist, and the requirement that each person who shoots a rifle have the same color and style of ear protection. 

It’s not about you, in other words: “you” are now “us.”

In that moment, we were all “us,” too. We put our hands on our hearts during Taps, collectively grateful for the selflessness that led a generation of young men to liberate camps packed full of suffering human beings in Europe no so long ago. Camps erected in the midst of a complicit community, carrying on with its daily life. 

Today, for me, is a day to reckon with the reality of my complicity. I cannot proclaim the benefits of being part of a collective “American” identity if I don’t also bear responsibility for our shared sins. (No matter what Mitch McConnell says.) 

It’s easy for me to think of ways to show my individual disgust with our country right now. I can wear black to the parade. I can not show up at all. I can shout at my Congressman, or hold a sign in protest, or I can post all my objections to the President’s tweets on Facebook. What’s harder is finding my place in the collective response — the “us” — that may actually fix this mess. 

I think I’ll wear my red, white, and blue today — not proudly, but because I think wiggling out of my identity as an American today won’t give a blanket or a toothbrush to a traumatized child. One midwestern lady’s outrage did not liberate the Japanese Internment Camps or end Jim Crow; it was a thousand people, choreographing their movements, that transported slaves to freedom, a hundred that traversed the Edmund Pettis Bridge, 13 thousand lemonade-drinkers who wanted to fix the border crisis.

My red, white, and blue is not in celebration of independence today. It’s my celebration, my reminder, my proclamation of interdependence. We are, none of us, alone.

It’s the greatest thing I can think of about being American.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Well, that’s right, and also, at least you’re going to the parade. So for you it’s not just another day off for pleasure.

  • Matt Huisman says:

    Here’s something great about America: Whatever faults we may have, everyone else in the world is fleeing TOWARDS our ‘oppression’.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Rev. Kooyman,

    I just drove past a parade today coming home. No one wore black. You made a good sartorial decision. Had you worn black, you would have stood out as mis-educated, resentful partisan. Not a very becoming look.

    Happy Fourth! Praise God for the natural rights He gave us and limited government to secure them.

    • Fran Siems says:

      Right on, Marty! Feeling sad for angry pastors on a day for which we have so much to be grateful.

      • James Brumm says:

        We aren’t angry pastors for the most part, but sad pastors: sad that we can see the polluting our nation does, the abuse of refugees, the political grandstanding and puffery, the number of people who cannot afford basic health care, the number of people who are treated with suspicion and fear because of the color of their skin, the children who live in fear for their lives going to school and the response of so many that we need to arm more people, and all the other ways in which the way we live is disconnected from the life we are called to live as Christians. We are saddened by the number of people who cannot talk about anything but how great we are, and who seem to insist that those of us who love our nation and yet think we can do far better, but who are seen as traitors for thinking that.

      • Matt Huisman says:

        Wanting our nation to be better is admirable, even if we disagree on how to do it. But some of you are being misled by the Left and joining them in their desire to tear it into pieces.

        The inability to celebrate Independence Day without a festivus style airing of grievances is ridiculous. Honoring your mother and father (and the country that they built) that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving to you is applicable here. It does not mean that you bless everything they have done – you’re not complicit. But OUR blessing is on the line if WE don’t do it.

  • William Harris says:

    Wearing black to the Hollyhock Lane parade would have you pass out from the heat — it was hot. But you missed the important part, where we gather in the actual “lane”, the alley between Calvin and Giddings. There we go through the patriotic liturgy of flag raising, pledge, national anthem, a patriotic address and God Bless America (also jazz and popsicles). It’s the same pattern every year, and its meaning is the same: that we belong to one another, that this is a land of promise, for it’s only by promise that we can take on the challenges before us. This year, you would have also heard Justin Amash, fresh off his Washington Post essay. He got one thing profoundly right: that it is the very difference of our opinions, our diversity that informs our polity; that crossing over the boundaries does not weaken us, but makes us stronger.

    Afterwards, many of us wen t off to brunches and the like, but we went also with a sense of hope that the truths we hold in this place, in this peculiar neighborhood and alley, are not merely private concerns but carry a moral, patriotic agenda. And we knew, that next year we’ll be back again to renew our commitment to each other, our city and our nation.

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