The experience of a great people

The flags were flying proudly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, June 2015

The flags were flying proudly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, June 2015

“The flag of the United States has not been created by rhetorical sentences in declarations of independence and in bills of rights.  It has been created by the experience of a great people, and nothing is written upon it that has not been written by their life.  It is the embodiment, not of a sentiment, but of a history.”
— Woodrow Wilson

As the number of stars on the U. S. flag increased over the years, so have our population, our industry and our government.  While not all of the changes and phases have been good or happy ones, few citizens of this country would wish to go back to former times.  Nostalgic fondness for childhood notwithstanding, most of us have an easier life than our parents or grandparents could have imagined.

With our nation’s birthday celebration approaching, I’m mindful that today we are at the midpoint of a much more somber anniversary, that of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg fought on July 1-3, 1863.  Wilson’s words about the flag having been created by the experience of a great people are true of the painful crucibles of our freedom, as well as the joyous moments of glory and unity.

Detail of a monument to a fallen soldier at Gettysburg

Detail of a monument to a fallen soldier at Gettysburg

There’s a pall of sadness that lingers over the fields of Gettysburg, where so many American lives were spent in the taking of other American lives.  In the polarized climate of political argument that dominates so much of the media, it’s easy to wonder whether we could ever be brought to such a state of affairs again.

I hope not, and I trust not.  Our flag has survived trial after trial, none more devastating than the Civil War that threatened to destroy our national unity.  Such hard-earned lessons are not easily forgotten by those who take the time to examine them.  While we celebrate the 4th with picnics, ball games and other fun events, let’s take a few minutes to reflect on the sacrifices of previous generations who gave us the freedom to live unencumbered by the burdens they bore.

Happy Birthday, USA!



  1. In the UK we are nowhere near as attached to our flags and their symbolism, although the flying of flags does seem to be on the up in recent years.

    • That’s interesting! I wonder whether it is because your recorded history goes so much farther back than ours? Compared to many other nations, the USA is relatively new. Perhaps it’s also because we have no monarchy here, so some of the pomp and circumstance associated with royals in other countries is directed toward our flag and our elected offices. All of us who grew up in the USA remember when we said the pledge of allegiance to the flag each morning at school. I don’t know whether they still do that, but I’m sure it must be why the flag is significant to so many of us.

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    Coincidentally, I heard Rodger Martin speak last weekend on his book “The Battlefield Guide” and he showed slides and described Gettysburg and the Lost Avenue, among other things. It was quite interesting. I appreciate your unique focus on the trials of American unity at the coming of this Independence Day weekend. Thank you for the reminder – I think we need this awareness as we continue to struggle together through today’s issues that threaten to divide.

    • Thank you Susan, and you are right that we do need that awareness. It’s fascinating to wonder what our ancestors who survived (or did not survive) the Civil War might have to say to us in the face of today’s news stories, both here and abroad. As much as we long to think of ourselves as more progressive and enlightened than they were, I somehow doubt there would be as many today who are willing to offer “the last full measure of devotion” that Lincoln spoke of so eloquently. Hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend!

  3. Cherie

    Julia, so well put! Once again, you have touched me and gave me things to ponder. Happy 4th of July with your family. This will be a beautiful one for me and Ron because last year at this time he had just had back surgery and all the hard stuff was beginning. I am so glad to have had you be there with me. He is doing so much better because he hasn’t been to a doctor in awhile. Keep us both in your prayers. You are all in mine. Love and Light. Cherie

    • Cherie, I am so happy you are able to look back with joy and gratitude to what was a very traumatic time. Isn’t it a wonderful respite to be free of medical appointments for awhile? I can say without reservation that I DON’T miss sitting in waiting rooms, clinics and ICUs. I will keep praying that your family and ours enjoy many more years of the blessings of “normal” daily life. Happy Independence Day!

  4. You have so many historical reminders where you live as to the cost of what we call freedom. It would be a wonderful world if that was never necessary again. But man is man. Will they ever be enlightened enough or kind enough to stop this kind of behavior? Happy 4th to you as well. Long may she wave.

    • Marlene, you are right: people are remarkably unchanged despite all we should have learned by now. BUT I suppose we could look at the other side of the coin and consider that it’s amazing how much good continues to survive among us. I grew up in a great city that was literally burned to the ground during the Civil War, yet somehow managed to rise from the ashes of that destruction to become (again) a strong and vibrant place, where the “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners [are] able to sit together at the table of brotherhood” as the most famous resident of that city once dreamed. The struggles continue, but so do the dreams and the determination.

      • Lets hope that good always prevails. I’m counting on it.

        • So am I! ❤

  5. Carlyle

    Well said Julia

    • Thank you Daddy! Happy 4th to you and Mama!

  6. Carolyn

    Short note, surgery went well and pray I never have to have it again. I feel like a truck hit me. Very sore and my back is bothering me. Jeff probably knows how my body feels. How is he doing. Thank goodness for pain meds. Take care and hugs and love to all.

    • Carolyn, I am so happy to read this. We have been thinking of you this week and wondering how it went. I hope that post-op pain is lessening now — I’ve always heard the third day post-op is quite difficult, and watching Matt and Jeff, that seems to be the case. YES I am so glad we have analgesics and anesthetics available to us! Hard to imagine how people survived without them. Hope you have a restful holiday weekend despite the discomfort. Love to you and Terry. Thanks again for keeping us posted. ❤

  7. Julia, may our trials and burdens of today prove worthwhile, as we strive to maintain our dignity and our unity. I’m proud to follow Mr. Carlyle’s comment. 👏 🇺🇸

    • Thank you Sheila! I hope you and your family all have a wonderful holiday weekend! Thanks for being with us on this journey. 🙂 ❤

  8. raynard

    Julia as one who can remember saying the pledge in school as a child, then years over military service. When I lived in NJ, I was the only one on my block the beginning of it to have a flag flying.At my job in recent years, i was one of the few who put up and taken down the flag. There are some who I educated about the proper disposal of the flag when it is no long servicable. Just recently, our pastor in a sermon told us why the flag is no longer displayed in the pulpit.At first I never noticed and I didnt get offended why it was no more.It made me think ” and no Joe Friday” Big Speech” here. My freedoms are rights are no important than the next person. I guess you can say, my heart is being softened with sensitivity and humility towards all my fellow men and women. Everyday the world is changing faster and faster. Sometimes you want to ” borrow a line from that Old Jetson’s Cartoon, ‘Jane stop this crazy thing! Better than Stop this wold ,I wanna get off Nurse Ratchett lol I digres. Let me make this store run, so I can get this Orangesickle Cake in the over for a BBQ later this afternoon. Be blessed and you and your family have a safe 4th of July weekend

    • Raynard, I agree with your pastor. I don’t think the USA flag (or any other national flag) belongs in any church. Worship assemblies should be freely open to all without regard to nationality. The presence of a country’s flag (especially one whose practices were contrary to the teachings of the church) would be an unwanted distraction. Sometimes when I am in a church service and a patriotic song is being sung, I don’t sing along because I object to bringing any sort of national patriotism into a worship service. I realize there will be those who disagree, but it’s not because I don’t love my country. I simply think that worship is meant to transcend such borders and boundaries. The Christian college where Jeff and I got our undergraduate degrees was named for a preacher (David Lipscomb) who was so insistent on this separation that he believed Christians could not serve in the military or even vote. Being from the south, this caused some to view him as a traitor to the Confederate Army or later, to the United States itself, but as far as I know he never backed off that position. Obviously we don’t go that far with it — Jeff is about to retire after 30 years in the Air Force, and I am a strong believer in political activism — but I’m sure I have been somewhat influenced by that tradition. None of the churches I have ever attended regularly have allowed any kind of flag to be displayed.

      Hope you had a great holiday weekend! Ours was quiet and restful, which is what we need most right now.

  9. Michael

    We have two flags in our church – state and national I believe. Someone said that the Confederate flag over Charleston was first put up in 1964″ to commemorate 100th anniversary of civil war, and was supposed to be only up for a couple of weeks and come down. However… Flags have such an emotional context at times. But that explains a lot, Duke’s of Hazard not withstanding.
    Fosdick said the churches’ main enemy was nationalism. At Kennesaw they had an article on Malcolm Turner? first black-colored- governor general of Georgia. He was also against flag waving of any kind.

    • I think it’s just so dicey to start mixing religion with any kind of nationalism or other forms of sentimentality. That’s not to say there is no place for emotion in faith; far from it. BUT when the lines start to blur between devotion to God vs. our passionate attachment to other unrelated things, we can end up with misguided or even atrocious errors committed in the name of faith. We can start using faith to justify our doing whatever we want. Anne Lamott said it well: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that He hates all the same people that you hate.”

  10. Michael

    Anne is really right smart for a white lady with dread locks. I wish I had never seen that picture. That is a great quote and I think I will use it in my next sermon. I am filling in this weekend for our pastor who is on vacation. Doesn’t she have something new out?
    There is a wonderful interview of Elie Wiesel in a documentary by Bill Collins that speaks of the language of Naziism and how Hitler used religious language in his speeches- sacrifice, loyalty, faith in the motherland-etc.This is in a documentary called “Beyond Hate.” That religious language was perverted and became an instrument of hate.

    • Anne Lamott does have a fairly new book out. I can’t remember the title offhand, but I checked out the audio version from the library and I hope to get to it soon. I love to hear her reading her own stuff. Her voice is a perfect match for her writing. Sometimes she has me laughing out loud, and I don’t always agree with her, but she always, always makes me think. Which is her goal, I believe.

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