Today's Memorial Day holiday should be both fun and a special day of remembrance.
So be sure to have fun.
But more important, let's take time to remember all those who came before us, and especially those who gave their lives so we could remain free, and have made the U.S. the greatest nation on earth.
Memorial Day and the American Bible, subtitled 'Americans disagree, but we share a collection of core texts that 'we the people' regard as authoritative,' has this to say about the U.S. and US--aka We the People:
"At the beginning of the American experiment, foreign visitors noted
a key difference between the United States and its European kin. The
United States was not held together by blood or custom. Its citizens
spoke different languages and worshipped in different ways.
"If there is a country in the world
where concord, according to common calculation, would be least
expected, it is America," wrote Thomas Paine. "Made up as it is of
people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits
of government, speaking different languages, and more different in
their modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people
Today many U.S. citizens imagine that our unity is creedal, resting
on some political analog to Christianity's Nicene Creed. "America is an
idea," Bill Clinton told a Georgetown audience in 1995. "To be an
American is not to be someone, but to believe in something," adds
colonial historian Gordon Wood in his new book "The American Idea."
But there is no one American idea. To be sure, Americans have long
championed "liberty" and "equality." But they disagree fiercely about
what each of these words means and how to weigh their competing claims.
Americans do share, however, a collection of core texts that "we the
people" regard as authoritative and a long-standing tradition of
debating what these texts have to tell us about the meaning of
"America." To be an American is to debate whether the business of
America really is business. It is to ask about budget deficits or
public Christmas displays, "What would Jefferson do?" Whereas Catholics
come together to participate in the Mass, Americans come together to
argue about the speeches, songs and sayings that compose the "American
This unofficial canon includes founding documents such as the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as well as songs such
as "God Bless America" and speeches by Washington, Lincoln, FDR and
Reagan. It also includes novels from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to "Atlas
What makes these texts American scripture is not so much that
Americans call them sacred or treat them like sacred objects (though in
many cases we do both). What makes them scripture is the fact that
Americans use these texts like Christians use the Bible. These are the
speeches and songs, novels and letters we invest with authority. These
are the voices that generate criticism and controversy.
Like the Jewish scriptures, the books in the "American Bible" live
through commentaries, which are as much a part of our national
conversation as the primary texts themselves. Whenever we call
something "un-American" or say "That's what America's all about," we
are declaring allegiance to our republic. And whenever our fellow
citizens disagree with us, they are doing the same.
Scholars of religion have long
distinguished between orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right
practice), observing that certain religious traditions (Christianity,
for example) unite around shared beliefs while others (such as Judaism)
unite more around shared practices. The United States is a Jewish
nation in this regard, knit together not so much by a common creed as
by a common practice—the practice of arguing about our not-so-common
This practice only works to bind our nation together if it is civil
and informed. And nowadays these desiderata are in short supply. But
what ails us is not just a matter of the words we choose or the tone we
adopt. There is also the matter of our collective amnesia. The chain of
memory linking us to the great voices of our past has been broken. So
when we think of political debate we do not think of Lincoln and
Douglas. We think Limbaugh and Maher.
Memorial Day is a day to remember our fallen soldiers. It is also a
day to work to repair the chain of memory that links us to our shared
past—a day to revisit both Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" and the great
tradition of conciliation he exemplified. "We are not enemies, but
friends," he said in his First Inaugural Address. "We must not be
That doesn't mean we must agree. There is nothing un-American about
criticizing a book in the "American Bible." Look Lincoln in the eye and
tell him that liberty, not equality, is America's founding proposition.
Tell King you have a different dream. But as you criticize these men,
know what you are doing. You are not opting out of America; you are
So today let's pledge ourselves to do right by future Americans. To pass it on, in other words.
To me, being an American means to be given an exceptional gift---unlimited opportunity and the freedom to say and do what I choose to say and do. We live in a wonderful country.
And by coming together as We the People, we will fix what's broken, repair what needs repairing and strengthen what needs to become stronger. And make an even better America by so doing.
And because of the selfless actions of those generations of Americans who came before us, we're free and capable of doing just that.
So in "Nikespeak," let's do it.