Celebrating the Fourth

Posted on July 6, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

It happened again. The 4th of July came and went with us out of the country. That has happened more times than not throughout our adult life. That is not only due to being on the mission field for 23 years, but in the years since, summer always seemed to be the time for mission trips and overseas travel.

Occasionally we have been in capital cities where the American embassy sponsored a picnic for expatriate citizens, always with hot dogs and patriotic speeches. But most of the time it was just another day. Our most memorable 4th occurred at the conclusion of a trip home for stateside assignment. The children were old enough for exposure to some educational experiences so we hit the high spots of Europe on our way to the States. We planned our itinerary to include Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington upon arrival in the U.S. It was totally coincidental that we found ourselves in Philadelphia on the 4th of July witnessing several commemorative events, including an impressive fireworks display. We moved on to our nation’s capital to discover that the fireworks presentation at the Washington monument had been rained out the day before so we got to see that on the 5th!

I don’t know what it was about being away from the United States that stirred in me a more patriotic spirit. The first time I went to a baseball game I was totally blindsided emotionally and started crying when the flag was presented and the Star Spangled Banner was sung. It continues to happen at public events and when our men and women in the military are recognized or honored.

Living in other countries makes one aware of how blessed we are as Americans. There is a lot that is not right about our country. There is a diminished confidence in our government and justified lack of respect for public officials. The values upon which our country was founded have languished in a self-serving, humanistic environment. But when you travel to other countries that presume to practice democracy, and to the many which don’t, you cannot help but have an appreciation for the freedoms that are our heritage.

On the day of our departure from Thailand this week the country held national elections. Every few years there is a political coup in which the military overthrows the government. The last prime minister is still in exile, and the last two years have been characterized by riots and volatile demonstrations. India takes pride in being the largest democracy in the world, but with each election a new wave of partisan dominance results in sectarian violence.

Grassroots citizens in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria have tried to assert their rights and throw off oppressive governments at the cost of a massive loss of lives and continuing instability. The fragile infrastructure of African nations is reflected in bankruptcy, the frequent overthrow of governments and the inability to curb ethnic and tribal conflicts. China exploits its massive population and labor force to build a powerful economy while repressive policies restrict even the freedom of worship.

True freedom and government of the people does not happen without an educated and informed populace, and that just doesn’t exist in many parts of the world. Much of our foreign policy is based on the premise that governments are concerned about the welfare and prosperity of their people. To the contrary, corrupt, power-hungry leaders consolidate their power, seize the wealth and subject their people to hopeless oppression.

America is not especially popular around the world. I’m afraid we are seen as arrogant and self-serving. We have a narrow, provincial worldview that fails to appreciate cultural differences and ways of thinking. The ugly American abroad is still alive and well. Yet, it is amazing that people from all over the world are trying to get here. Learning English, manipulating visa agents, or slipping across our border, the peoples of the world long for a taste of prosperity and freedom they perceive to be found in our country.

We don’t have to agree with our government policies; public officials will continue to disappoint. But the heritage we enjoy is something to be proud of and worth preserving. I’m sorry I missed celebrating the Fourth this year, but I hope your family reunions, community picnics and public ceremonies renewed the pride we should feel in the United States of America.

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