every year, for as long as i can remember, my dad's neighborhood has thrown an epic Independence Day party! The views on patriotism range in our neighborhood and no one seems to have a particularly strong attachment to the idea of the holiday. What we all do have an attachment to is a) potlucks, b) community and c) danger/exploding things. Every Friday, the neighbors have a block party and July 4th is just an extended, more chaotic, and incredibly dangerous version of the usual block party.
It's also something that's very tied, in my mind, with my momma. I remember hanging out with her on the porch when we were little kids, how she'd help us decorate our bikes for the annual bike parade. She even insisted on going down to the Wall Party when she was incredibly pregnant with my brother. She left early because she went into labor - Colin was born on July 5th, but for the longest time, he really believed that people made a special flag and set off fireworks just because he was born. Which would be pretty cool, actually...
Anyways, this year was a little more conflicting - I expect to miss mom on her birthday or Mother's Day. I don't expect to miss her on otherwise-neutral days like the 4th of July. But I did, especially last night, since it was also the first time in 1 1/2 years that I've seen my ex-boyfriend. I don't really know what brought him to my neighborhood with his new girlfriend, and I probably won't ever really understand why he'd choose to come back to an area where we spent most every Independence Day. But the significance wasn't entirely lost on me - on this Independence Day, I wasn't really as independent as I'd thought I'd be by now. I still rely on a particular brand of advice regarding relationships that I'll never have again. My momma's ability to read me and offer pointed yet sensitive advice is totally missing. I didn't have anyone to lay it all out there for - why I was missing a person that I left, why I'd hoped we could be friends, what I want from any relationship I'll be in. Absolutely no one will ever give me advice like my momma. And absolutely no one will fit into my life in exactly the same way my ex did. And that's sad, and it's also good. I don't want anyone to replace my mom - if they could, it would negate the very real fact of her uniqueness. And I don't want a replica of my last relationship - I want something sort of similar but better-fitting.
And I started thinking about this notion of independence. It's a real American value and a huge part of our identity...weak people shrugging off the fetters of colonialism. But we know we didn't do it alone. Our ancestors "independence" came about because of a very real dependence, and eventual exploitation of American, African, Asian, and European "natives". But we still believe, somehow, that there will be a situation, or a person, or an age that will be truly free, truly independent. We still believe that dependence is in some way weak, and we judge everyone, even ourselves, for not being as free as we ought.
But today, July 5th, we had a different message from the Gospel readings. Stories about weak prophets who go into unfriendly lands and, betraying the American ideal of independence and freedom, fail. Or are not guaranteed success. Or are run out of their own towns. God's ways are truly not our ways. Because today we heard Paul speak of the "thorn in his side" which he prayed be taken away. And instead of being freed from it and able to speak strongly and masterfully, God told him " "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."
And then Paul sums up, in one line, the path I desire - the path that recognizes true independence as an impossibility for anyone but God, the path that holds up the downtrodden and frees the oppressed to live in community. Paul says "Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong."
So I will struggle to be independent of earthly things - jealousy, grief, anger, hostility. But I will never fool myself into thinking that I will be independent of the One Who Made Me or able to survive without human kindness, community, and a little bit of chaos. For when I am weak, I am indeed strong...