an unhappy july 4th

Today is July 4th, celebrated as Independence Day in the United States, a symbol of our independent spirit, breaking free from the British empire, and that start of our democracy and life as a nation.

“Happy 4th”  is not rolling off many of our lips very easily this year (or maybe ever).

Kids in cages.

Immigration round-ups.

War-mongering and power-posturing.

Perpetual gun violence with zero solutions.

Constant bullying by the “leader” of the free world each and every day on social media.

Becoming the laughingstock of the world, where everyone’s wondering, “What in the %*#&!&!(!, America? It’s 2019, how did it come to this?”  

Yeah, it’s not a Happy 4th.

For me, this holiday has taken new meaning. I used to be blind to the realities of our nation’s history, buying into the Christian narrative of a Protestant work ethic where everyone could get somewhere if they worked hard enough, of the USA being a leader in the world and the place that everyone longed to live, and that we truly were better than everyone else.

Over the years, thankfully, that illusion has shattered.

Our country was founded on the violent taking of other people’s home lands. In doing so we attempted to destroy their culture, wiping out men, women and children in the name of our freedom. It was founded on an entire race of people being enslaved; we deemed them less than human and dehumanized them into ‘property’ for the exploitation and profit of the colonizers. It was founded on white male hierarchy and privilege. It was founded on stealing land, Christianizing the un-Christian, keeping women without a voice, church and state being tangled up together, and the lie of white supremacy—primarily fostered by people proclaiming the name of Jesus.

Our country was founded on everything we want to believe isn’t true about us.

When I hear people despair about our current culture and the never-ending news cycle that is taking us for a brutal ride each and every day and how “this isn’t America” and “we need to get back to our true values”, I want to scream.

This is America.

This is America.

Yes, some steps (at very high cost) have been made to move us from some of the overt cruelty we started with. That is also America.

But these times remind us that we’re still a long way off from realizing the humanitarian ideals we were taught America had–ideals that have yet to be made real. We have not yet confessed the sins of our founding.

While our core values might proclaim freedom and peace, many of our practices have been—and remain—just the opposite.

For many of us, especially those of us who have benefited from our white middle class Christian socioeconomic privilege, our America is radically different from a whole lot of other people’s America.

It’s time to center on a truer narrative about who we really are so we can hopefully transform into what could be.

This doesn’t come through comfort.

It comes through disruption.

Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who has been shunned from the NFL for taking a knee during the National Anthem in protest of our racist practices in policing, exhibited a practice that is worth examining this July 4th.

Taking a knee for 2019 July 4th.

Taking a knee looks different for everyone—it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to hang out with friends, enjoy your day off work, or somehow engage in July 4th.

But it does mean doing what we can to say—America, this isn’t a day to celebrate.

We refuse to celebrate the inhumane treatment of human beings, especially young children.

We refuse to celebrate the deep grooves of racism, slavery, and subjugation of human beings.

We refuse to celebrate the US’s penchant for war.

We refuse to let patriotism and nationalism become tangled up in our Christian faith—the most important place it should never reside.  

We refuse to celebrate a lie.

Yes, America has incredible potential. We are innovative, resilient, and have so many possibilities to create a better future together. I am so inspired by the ways that people across ages, experiences, faith traditions, demographics are engaging in civic issues in a really impactful way. Real change will only come from changed policies, changed hearts, changed practices, and I love seeing so many people work for these things in tangible, creative ways this season.

This is why this July 4th it’s okay to take a knee, to do whatever we can to lament, repent, and humble ourselves in concrete ways that remind us—our history is not something to hoist upon our shoulders and celebrate.

It’s something to look at, examine, acknowledge, and begin to see with new, humble, honest, and realistic eyes.

It’s something to take a knee over—to do something today that says, “This is not right.”

It’s something to inspire us to being part of shifting in the months and years to come.

I want to live in a country that treats people with equal dignity and doesn’t put economic and social power above basic human decency.

I want to live in a country that I can be proud of, not “again”, but maybe for the first time in a new way.

I want to live among people of faith who embody breaking down walls, building bigger tables, and advocating against unjust laws that harm our neighbors.

We’ve got a lot of work to do this year in the run to 2020 elections.

Rest up, my friends.

Let’s use this day not as one to deplete us but to energize us.

Not to defeat us but to remind us.

Not to stall us but to ignite us.

Not to shame ourselves but to bring the truth to light.

Not to destroy our faith but to strengthen it.

Yeah, unhappy 4th to you from Colorado today.

Our freedom is all tangled up together. In the words of civil rights leader and voting and women’s rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”


ps: If you haven’t already, read Frederick Douglass’ What to the Slave is the Fourth of July from July 5, 1852.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • This post may not help you get many votes for “Prom Queen”, but the truth must be told, taught and repeated so we can live up to our very progressive sounding “values.” Thanks for your bravery and true love for what we can be!

  • You seem a bit depressed, sweetie. It sounds like it’s time to take your meds. Cheer up…and Happy 4th!!

  • Wow! This is one of the post powerful pieces I’ve read as a commentary on this 4th of July. I am feeling the same way but could not put it into words. It’s like you crawled into my mind, spirit and heart and yanked it out of me. Because of the current political climate I have felt great sadness and fear regarding the fate of our country. You pointed out our troubled past regarding the same issues. It’s been said throughout modern history that if we don’t examine our past, we are bound to repeat the atrocities of said past. Our leaders are not examining the past to learn from the past instead they are praising and worshiping the past and we are doomed to a repeat or, better said, a continuation. It is indeed an unhappy 4th. Thank you for writing and posting this.

    • Well said, Phyllis! I have been feeling the same way.
      And no matter how hard I tried to avoid all the holiday rhetoric which rang so false, it could not be ignored. I felt as though I was under attack, & that I was trapped in a nightmare with no foreseeable end. Going forward, the best way to combat the nightmare that has become Life in America, is to support whichever Dem candidate gets the nomination, doing whatever it takes to win: knocking on doors, phone banking, stuffing envelopes, giving people rides to the polls, helping ex-felons exercise their right to vote, & calling out the lies & misinformation whenever I see it.
      Take care, Phyllis & Please give our dear friend Kathy a big hug for me.

  • I want to live among people of faith who embody breaking down walls, building bigger tables, and advocating against unjust laws that harm our neighbors. Thanks Kathy for the great word I want this as well, we need a faith shift fast.

  • Thank you so much Kathy! My friend Hope Rooher sent this to me today. Indeed a echo to other comments and you put into words what so many of us We’re struggling for the words to express this horror of human rights.


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