By Douglas Yeo
Today is Independence Day in the United States of America. It’s a holiday; banks, the post office, and the stock market are closed. Friends of ours are coming over to our house later today and we’ll have dinner together. Grills across the country are firing up and families are having cookouts and picnics. There will be patriotic concerts, and fireworks will light up the night sky.
Of course, July 4 is more than all of that. This holiday isn’t just a day off. It’s a day to remember July 4, 1776, when a group of of representatives from the Thirteen Colonies gathered to sign a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. The cause was justice and freedom, and these brave individuals signed their names under the Declaration’s final sentence:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor
They were serious. Very, very, serious. They put everything on the line for justice and freedom.
The first monument to the Revolutionary War erected in the United States, 1799. Lexington (Massachusetts) Battle Green.
My wife and I lived in Lexington, Massachusetts, for over 27 years during the time I was bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was in Lexington where “the shot heard ’round the world” was fired on April 19, 1775, the first battle of what came to be called the American Revolution. Lexington’s Battle Green is full of monuments, including the first Revolutionary War monument in the United States (photo above), erected on July 4, 1799, and around which are buried the bodies of the eight Colonial militiamen who died on that April morning. Take a moment to read the inscription. And think of the eight men who died, whose names are inscribed on the tablet. They had families, friends, occupations. And they sacrificed everything for the cause of justice and freedom. If you live in the United States, they died for your freedom. And my freedom, too.
Our country is facing great challenges right now. I can’t fix all of them. Neither can you. But like anyone who is reading these words, I can do something. I can start—you can, too—by emulating the fruits of the Holy Spirit, as outlined in the Bible, in Galatians 5:22-23:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
That’s a good place to start. Then, in the words of the old gospel song by Ina Duley Ogdon:
Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar;
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.
I look to the promise of the Declaration of Independence. We have imperfectly implemented its aspirational goals that so many have died to defend. But my father often said, “The United States has the worst system of government in the world. Except for all the others.” I have been around the world; I have visited 30 countries. I love many things about all of them. But the United States is home to me, and our system of government and governing, and our country—though full of imperfect, sinful people, and creaking under great stress right now—is still worth fighting for. Just because we haven’t fixed it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to fix it. I hold on to the promise of the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, and I work to implement it with my thoughts, words, and deeds:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Douglas Yeo at home in Valley Stream, New York. Memorial Day, 1960.
When I was a boy, I lived in Valley Stream, New York. We moved there in spring, 1960, from Queens, New York, and I began kindergarten that fall. That’s me, above, on Memorial Day, 1960. I don’t have that flag anymore (a good eye will notice that flag I’m holding has only 48 stars—Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, and Hawaii became the 50th state on August 21, 1959), and the Volkswagen Beetle parked in our neighbor’s driveway long ago went to a junkyard. But the American flag still waves. It is a beacon of hope, a symbol of the promise that we citizens of the United States of America should work every day to fulfill.
Dr. Howard Clark was my pastor for several years in the 1980s. He closed Sunday morning worship services with this benediction, below. It is based on some of the words of the Apostle Paul, his First Letter to the Thessalonians, 5:12–15. I call it to mind every day because it reminds me of how I should think and act as one who has one foot in the Kingdom of God, and one foot in that place I call home here on earth, the United States of America:
Now go into the world in peace.
Have courage; hold on to that which is good.
Honor all men and women; strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak.
Help the suffering, and share the Gospel.
Love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
If you live in the United States, take a few minutes today to read the Declaration of Independence. Today is about more than cookouts, parades, and fireworks. It’s about gratitude and hope, and our duty to work to fulfill the promise of that day in 1776.
Promotional photo from a brochure produced by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for concerts by the Boston Pops Orchestra, early 1990s. The brochure tapped into the fact that the encore for every Boston Pops concert was John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever. Photo of Douglas Yeo by Michael J. Lutch.