A few days ago, I walked by this tattered and battered US flag in my neighborhood. It somehow became stuck on its own pole and is being torn apart by the wind. It seems a very poignant and relevant image for these United States as we approach another Independence Day.

This nation is in the process of being torn apart by competing forces. Different perspectives on what it means to be American are battling it out on a multitude of platforms and across a dizzying array of individual interactions. Like this flag, America is being ripped to shreds as people debate the fundamental question of how much actual democracy we really need.

One of the many facts I learned in school was that a damaged US flag should not just be thrown in the garbage. It should be respectfully and ceremonially burned. Did you know that? I wonder if my neighbors do. I wonder if they will create a funeral pyre for that flag, or if they will seek out a local civic center that collects tattered flags for later burning.

I also wonder if it’s time for a funeral pyre for some other tattered and battered relics of US life. Some ideas and ideals that have driven this country to (supposed) greatness are now driving it to destruction. Concepts like Manifest Destiny were never great for those whose rights and lives were trampled upon in the process. Other elements I could see adding to a pyre include arrogance, self-righteousness, and individualism. What ideas would you like to consign to such a fire?

Three days after Juneteenth, I belatedly read an article that invited us to consider the power inherent in the liminal space between Juneteenth and Independence Day. In it, Robert P. Jones challenges us to consider a two-week stretch “anchored by the Juneteenth proclamation that all are free and the Independence Day declaration that all are equal.”

Even though that period is almost over, I invite you to spend some time the next few days pondering the state of our nation. Here are some questions to consider: What is democracy worth these days? What has it meant in your life? What does it mean to you that, at least theoretically, the US is a place where every citizen should be both “free” and “equal”? How can you speak up and work for such ideals?

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