• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Independence Day, 2011

You give the appearance of one widely traveled,
I’ll bet you’ve seen things in your time.
So sit down beside me and tell me your story,
If you think you’ll like yesterday’s wine.
Willie Nelson
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 300,000,000 of us in the United States, 235 years after  John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, William Ellery, Lewis Morris, William Hooper, Samuel Chase, Abraham Clark and 47 other founders mutually pledged to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
Three hundred million of us, each with our own story; the story of who we are and who we hope to be: our family background, our history, our culture, along with our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations and our prayers for our children and for the world.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
Three hundred million Americans, each with our own story, each of us self-evidently endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
July 4, 1776 … The birth of a new nation—our nation—conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
All of our stories intersect on that day, 235 years ago, on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the United States of America becomes the first and only nation in the world to profess this self-evident ideal, that all men are created equal.
Today, 235 years later, the world measures the morality of a nation by the extent to which its people are free to live their own story, the extent to which its government secures to its people life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Six and a half billion stories—the stories of our species’ march towards freedom—intersect in Philadelphia on that July day in 1776.
America’s story has served as a beacon to freedom-loving people everywhere. For most of us, our story, like my story, is the story of people who braved incredible hardships to come to America, to bring their family to America, because here they could be free to live their story, to pursue their own special brand of happiness, to partake of the Blessings of Liberty that is America.
My Grandfather Stahl smuggled himself out of Lithuania coming to America as a young man. My mom’s parents brought her to America as a baby, escaping the holocaust that was to consume so many in their family. They came to America to be free to live their story, linking their story — my story — to the story of freedom and that day in July, 1776.
America’s story is not just the story of freedom. It is, as well, the story of freedom’s denial, too often demonstrating the sometimes very wide gulf between our ideals and our realities.
The founders didn’t mean all men the way we mean it today. Many owned slaves. Most of them didn’t have Native Americans or African Americans in mind when they wrote all men. Their failure to write all men and women was not an oversight; they meant men, most specifically men like them.
Much of America’s story has been the story of our struggle to extend the self-evident truths of our creed to more of us: Our Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement. In today’s culture wars, the left and right argue whether our self-evident truths extend to the LGBT community or the developing fetus.
“We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.”
John Adams
July, 1776
The revolution lives on in today’s culture wars, the story of Americans arguing with each other over whose story is to be the story of America. In today’s 24×7 telecommunication bubble, ours has become the story  of everyone talking at once, all of us speaking ever-louder, trying to get our story to rise above the ever-loudening cacophony of everyone else’s story.
In this cacophony are the stories of our people, our hearts, our dreams, our fears and joys, our hopes and wishes, our sense of right and wrong, of liberty and justice. This is the voice of America that we hear in the messy discordant atonal arrhythmic dissonance that is our culture wars. It’s the voice of we the people, governing ourselves as best we can, like we’ve been doing for 235 years. Marvel at the cacophony, for it is the story of a free people. Rejoice in it. Celebrate it.
On this day of celebration, let us also remember that the story of America—the story of freedom— must be a story big enough and broad enough to encompass the stories of all who yearn to be free, for this is the meaning of our creed, our self evident truth that all of us are created equal. At the end of the day, this self-evident truth means weaving our stories together into one giant tapestry of freedom. Otherwise, our stories are not equal, our pursuit of freedom limited.
In his spirit of liberty speech at a rally in Central Park in May 1944, in the midst of World War II, Judge Learned Hand eloquently described the tapestry we weave with our stories:
“What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith.
The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.
And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.”
Let us have the conscience and the courage to listen to each other’s stories.
Let Freedom Ring.
Copyright © 2011. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.
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