America, Community

Fireworks about the Fireworks

I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July weekend and holiday. Unfortunately, that was not the case in Highland Park, Illinois, and Philadelphia, and at least eight other locations, as there have been at least ten mass shootings in the United States since July 1. Celebrating America with family and friends with favorite summertime foods and fireworks is a national tradition. It’s a tradition that many look forward to.

There’s no ignoring the partisan divisiveness that’s become de rigueur today. Last Friday, the City of Orlando distributed the following invitation to the city’s fireworks show via its emailed newsletter:

A lot of people probably don’t want to celebrate our nation right now, and we can’t blame them. When there’s so much division, hate and unrest, why on earth would you want to have a party celebrating any of it.

But in all seriousness, you know in your heart, Fourth of July fireworks are amazing, especially when you are standing in 90° heat, 100% humidity, next to 100,000 of your closest friends. In that moment, something takes over and we all become united in an inexplicable bond. Yes, America is in strife right now, but you know what … we already bought the fireworks.

Now there are calls for the Mayor to apologize, assertions that the post was inappropriate for city communications, it was sent out by a raging leftist, and more.

Is the wording cheeky? Yes, it is. It pokes fun at gathering outdoors with far more people than expected in subtropical Florida’s heat and humidity—an experience common to Central Floridians or anyone who’s spent time at any of our world-class theme parks during the summer.

But I don’t think that’s what people have an issue with.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that people are bristling because the communiqué acknowledges some people may not feel up to celebrating our nation. This is neither a partisan statement nor does it assign guilt. But it does identify, in very broad terms, issues we as a nation are dealing with; specifically division, hate, and unrest.

I don’t think anyone can deny that America is more deeply divided now or more topics than at any other point in our lives. The presence of Neo-Nazis marching proudly through the streets of America attests to emboldened hate should be enough to send chills down any veteran’s spine. Mind you, these guys hold the same anti-Semitic, white supremacist, and racist views America’s Greatest Generation fought and defeated in World War II. To deny there is societal unrest in the United States in 2022 is to deny the reality in which we live.

The truth of the matter is that these issues exist. And so do many others. This has always been the case as the United States is constantly growing and striving to become a more perfect union, sometimes in great strides forward, other times we take several steps back. To acknowledge that the United States of America is not perfect, does not negate love for her. It shows where we as a national collective have the opportunity and need to shore up our efforts for the betterment of all Americans and the nation as a whole.

To acknowledge that Orlando has a housing crisis evidenced by increasing numbers of homeless men, women, and children, does not negate a love for the city. To acknowledge that many in Orlando grieve over the loss of loved ones to Covid, natural causes, or are still raw about the sixth commemoration of a loved one’s death in the Pulse massacre does not call for acts of retribution against the city. To acknowledge that many in Orlando are still without jobs or are underemployed, does not mean Central Florida should burn to the ground. And to acknowledge that minority districts in the city have been stripped of historic Congressional representation does not cue to the disenfranchised to overthrow the government.

But to take umbrage that a cheeky city communiqué would stoop so low as to acknowledge the suffering of “others” is selfish and devoid of empathy. That a select number of people I know, love, respect, have broken bread with, mourned with, and prayed for in their time of need are now without the charity and grace Christ commands is immensely disappointing. If the phrase “a lot of people probably don’t want to celebrate” doesn’t apply to you, do yourself a favor and forego shoehorning your ego into the conversation. Because, simply put, it’s not always about you.

A foundational truth and strength of America is that it is, like it or not, a melting pot, a conglomerate of people from around the world seeking to better their station by pursuing the American dream. Whether one’s ancestors were brought here by force (as in the case of Black Americans) or by choice via immigration, all peoples have contributed mightily to advancing this nation where the promise of opportunity is the coin of the realm. But the other side of this coin is that all Americans do not experience America the same way. That is to say, not everyone has equal access to opportunity.

Do not be deceived. Racism, bigotry, misogyny, and a host of other –isms and –ies exist. And while they may not impact your life directly, they have a profound effect on the lives of others. Let’s have a coffee sometime and I’ll share anecdotes of my own experience with being denied opportunities due to my race (Black) or height (forty-eight inches). Again, pointing out that these inequities exist does not mean that I loathe America or you because you don’t face the same challenges I do. It does mean that the processes and means which support that discrimination should be dismantled.

If you’re still with me, it comes down to this. A statement acknowledging the suffering of others does not denigrate your love of law enforcement, your military service, your love of country, or you. Pull on your big boy/girl pants and understand that empathy and compassion are not radical leftist ideals nor are they uniquely Christian ideals, they are human ideals common to mankind for thousands of years.

None of us experience this country the same way. Because you haven’t experienced a particular injustice is no indication that it doesn’t exist. Be outraged that people suffer indignities at the hands of others, not that they cry out for justice. 

Love one another.

Photo by Rahul Pandit on Unsplash