In the United States, this July 4 is a day to celebrate 228 years of independence. Bands, speeches, and fireworks commemorate the national tradition, and have been part of the American landscape for a long time. It's a day for both patriotism and a lot of fun. This year, I'll be one of the thousands of people who celebrate it on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
In 1897, the day was celebrated in a different way for the 2,500 people who chose to gather at the Concord, New Hampshire home of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper. There were local politicians present, but no bands or fireworks. In her welcoming remarks, Mrs. Eddy characteristically turned almost immediately from the expected patriotic words to an unexpected visionary statement on the possibilities for humankind through spiritualized thinking. She said: "To-day we commemorate not only our nation's civil and religious freedom, but a greater even, the liberty of the sons of God, the inalienable rights and radiant reality of Christianity, whereof our Master said: 'The works that I do shall he do;' and 'The kingdom of God cometh not with observation' (with knowledge obtained from the senses), but 'the kingdom of God is within you,' - within the present possibilities of mankind.
"Think of this inheritance! Heaven right here..." ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 251).
The vision of "heaven right here" is breathtaking, because it transcends both patriotism and partisan politics. It goes beyond political, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic identity, and it presents a challenge to us today. It resonates not only for July 4, but for every day of the year.
This greater spiritual independence, the liberty of the sons and daughters of God, provides guidelines for me in this turbulent time of Iraq and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, American political campaigning, or the latest convulsions in Venezuela or Sudan. It helps me see God's protection for all, as my wife works on a complicated project in a distant city considered crime-ridden, as our older son faces a possible redeployment to Iraq as a military policeman, as our younger children cope with racism on the school bus, and as I pray about death threats in the foreign country in which I work. Heaven right here: to know that God's love surrounds me, my family, and all, gives me freedom from worry and paranoia. Over the years, this sense of "heaven right here" has helped me through all kinds of personal and professional challenges.
In her major work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy challenges me with this statement: "The history of our country, like all history, illustrates the might of Mind, and shows human power to be proportionate to its embodiment of right thinking" (page 225). As someone involved in public policy and international relations, I am accustomed to accept the conventional wisdom that history is a series of wars and treaties, atrocities and reparations. There's not much room for the "might of Mind," or God, in that worldview, nor for sustained idealism, either.
Her statement, "like all history," has forced me to reassess my view of history and politics. If true human power comes from right thinking, then good ideas do have a transnational effect, and greater reliance on spirituality must result in greater independence from the conventional wisdom of conflict and resolution, a better global society, "heaven right here." This is the independence celebration that embraces the whole world.
Stand fast therefore
in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,
and be not entangled again
with the yoke of bondage.