The birthday of our country is upon us once again. Fireworks, grilled meats and hot weather. Not a bad way to celebrate. Of course, it does make you wonder what we would do if our nation’s birth occurred during a cold winter month. I suppose we would find a summer day that is as arbitrary as July 4th to celebrate. (How about June 21st, the day that The Constitution became official when the 9th of the original 13 colonies had ratified it? Thanks New Hampshire! And Happy Constitution Day to everyone!)
The fascinating thing about the birth of our country is the people who instigated it. Usually when you think about revolutions, you think about poor, oppressed or otherwise downtrodden people who have become so enraged or upset at the government that they attempt to overthrow it. Usually, this is an act of desperation.
Case in point, here at home there are plenty of people who are generally unhappy with the President and Congress and all sorts of other governmental institutions. There were probably an equal number of dissatisfied people during the last presidential administration. And yet, none of us have taken to arms and stormed Washington D.C. or even the Capitol Building in Indianapolis. Why? Because the threat of being charged with treason or losing life and limb in battle and basically ruining the rest of your life kind of outweigh your outrage.
Contrast that to the situations in various nations in the Middle East this Spring, where there were multiple revolts. These were invariably led by young people who had come of age and had come to the painful realization that they had no chance in life. Despite working hard and going to school, the prospect of getting a good paying job and living a somewhat comfortable life was nil. It wasn’t because they believed in the principles of Freedom and Democracy and they wanted to overthrow a dictator. Maybe that was a minor consideration, but the main consideration was their empty stomachs, empty wallets and empty dreams. For the most part you didn’t see any “established” people participating in the demonstrations, at least at the onset. Is it because they liked the current head of government? Maybe, maybe not. What they definitely liked was their current place in society and they didn’t see any overlying value in risking that.
French Revolution? Same thing. Desperate peasants focus their rage and anger at the antiquated monarchy and revolution ensues. Eventually, higher station people like Robespierre and Napoleon get involved at various times in the course of the revolution, but that was once the peasant uprising had created a very chaotic situation and these men saw ways that they could take advantage for their own benefit.
Why were the gladiators so popular in the times of the Roman Empire? Panum et Circensus. It was a way to distract the populace from how grim and bad off their lives actually were. (Anybody think the government wants the NFL, our modern-day gladiators, to come back from the lockout soon?)
Now let’s go back to the American Revolution. Certainly there were a great number of unidentified patriots who fought and supported the revolution with all that they had. But there was also the involvement of a significant number of high-profile individuals who had a significant amount to lose if the revolution failed. Paul Revere, acclaimed silversmith. John Hancock, a very wealthy merchant. Thomas Jefferson, lawyer and planter. George Washington, prominent landowner and decorated British war hero. Benjamin Franklin, prominent businessman, printer and scientist. John Adams, prominent lawyer. The list could go on and on of the high profile people involved in the Revolution from the beginning. These were not men who waited for others to take the big risks to get things started, then jumped in when things were somewhat established so they could capitalize. They believed in the causes of Freedom and Liberty for the colonies and they put their lives and livelihoods on the line.
With the perspective of 235 years, the results of the American Revolution appear inevitable. If we were living back in Colonial times, we definitely would have joined in too. Or would we have? Would we have risked everything we had to fight against the behemoth of the British Empire? Things sure didn’t seem inevitable at Valley Forge in the Winter of 1777. Or when Washington’s army luckily slipped away from the British at the Battle of Long Island?
I often consider about this concept when I am in church or thinking about stories from the Bible. In retrospect, it seems easy to be Abraham and start sacrificing your only son Isaac, because God says so. Or to be Moses and to stand up for the entire enslaved nation of Israelites versus the mighty Pharaoh, because God says so. Or to be one of the Apostles, dropping everything to follow Jesus, because he asked you to. I think about what I would do if God literally asked me to do something, especially if it was something life-altering or publicly problematic. Would I believe it was really God? Would I actually go through with whatever I was asked to do? On the surface it seems like an easy question, because, well, it’s God. It’s a good idea to do what He asks of you. And yet usually when we hear about God and angels directly talking to people in this day and age, it is usually in the context of people who are mentally unstable. Would I be afraid of being labeled the same way? What would you do if some of your trusted friends started talking tomorrow about revolting against the government? Would you join in? Risking everything? If they had pure principles in mind? Maybe they take Thomas Jefferson literally when he said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”?
Neither of the above situations is probably going to happen to any of us, at least not tomorrow. But we all have important moments that occur in our lives. Life-altering moments, cross-roads moments. Only these moments are usually only marked as such in retrospect. At the time, it is just another day, just another decision. What are you going to when that moment comes? Are you going to be ready? Are you going to recognize the moment? Are you going to make the right decision? That is the true price of freedom.