Declaration of Independence and the Ten Commandments

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with one another…” 

Thus begins the Declaration of Independence, issued on July 4, 1776, which we commemorate today with fireworks, parades, barbecues, national songs, displays of the American flag – and overall patriotic good wishes.   Two hundred forty-six years ago, the colonies declared their independence from England.  The foundational expression of American democracy is an incendiary document; claiming no end of “injuries and usurpations”.  As America nears its Sestercentennial (that’s 250 years), a not so glib question can be asked:  who are we declaring our independence from today?   Certainly not Great Britain.   Is it one another?   The political bands holding us together as a country are terribly frayed, if not torn.  Injuries and usurpations are daily proclaimed from each of the outer edges of the political spectrum.  Some people in some states are advocating secession.

Can we hold together?  How will we do that?

Nearly four thousand years ago, our spiritual ancestors were on a dramatic and dangerous journey to freedom.  About half-way through, Moses, their leader, climbed up a mountain and came down with ten commandments.  They were instructions for how God’s chosen people were to live in freedom, which they had long forgotten how to do, since they were slaves in Egypt for at least two hundred years.

The first three commandments are about God – that there is one God, that it is forbidden to fashion images of God, and don’t ever use God as a tool to advance your own agenda.  The last six provide guidance for how to live in  community:  don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t covet, don’t lie, keep the covenant of your commitments (especially marriage), honor your parents.  For several years I would ask a group of high school kids to come up with some rules for how people can best live together.  Invariably, they arrived at variations of the last six of the ten commandments.  The ten commandments have stood the test of time; we still honor them, although most of us have a hard time keeping them.

And then there is the fourth commandment, which many say is the hinge-point of the ten – and perhaps the most important:  Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.  Like many of us, I was taught that it meant you should go to church (or temple or masjid).  Once a week.  That is part of it, but it is much deeper and broader than that.  As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has pointed out,  sabbath was a day when we could be free of the production/consumption system.  Sabbath was a day when we should be free from having to do work, which meant it was a day we didn’t have to prove ourselves.  Sabbath was a day of equality – a day when everyone could share in their common humanness.

We live in a culture that has run roughshod over the maintaining of the sabbath.  Most of us feel compelled to prove or justify ourselves nearly every waking hour, seven days a week; or to aspire to a higher rung on society’s hierarchy – or complain that we have been moved down.  Equality then becomes hard to imagine.

Keeping sabbath can help enable us to envision equality. 

In recent years, and especially in recent weeks, there has been an expanding inventory of “injuries and usurpations” – from either the Supreme Court or political leaders or the media or our neighbors or family members or even from our religious communities.  So many people feel threatened.  Taking a sabbath from those perceived threats can feel, well, threatening.  So we hold on to our defenses and our arguments and carefully honed positions.

Remember the sabbath.  Take sabbath time.  Be freed from the work of justification and argumentation.  And perhaps, just perhaps, we can envision equality and help create a “more perfect union” as declared in the Preamble to the Constitution.  And live into the freedom that our spiritual and national ancestors have long sought to provide.

Recent Posts

Intellectual Scrutiny vs. Religious Expression

Intellectual Scrutiny vs. Religious Expression

“While in college, his Jesuit formation did not stand up to intellectual scrutiny.”  So said the introduction to my college’s new president in the Alumni magazine published several decades ago.  Intellectual rigor won out over religious expression.  Again. By the time...

Survival of the Fittest and Silicon Valley Bank

Survival of the Fittest and Silicon Valley Bank

Survival of the fittest is an adage that has long been planted in our psyches.  The phrase emerged as a terse summary of Charles Darwin's findings that the strongest and fittest of a species have the best chance of passing their genes on to the next generation.  The...

The World As it Is vs. the World As it Should Be

The World As it Is vs. the World As it Should Be

It is a tension that has confounded people for centuries:  ‘the world as it is’ vs. ‘the world as it should be’.   Most people make some commitment to doing something that will help bring about the world as it should be, but their commitment may falter, or may even be...

Pride:  a Refusal to Accept our Limitations

Pride: a Refusal to Accept our Limitations

I have not been one who has subscribed to the notion of original sin, which is the legacy Christians have inherited from Adam and Eve, whom the Judeo-Christian tradition have identified as the first man and first woman.  We meet them in the Garden of Eden, which is...

The Journey From the Ego to the Soul

The Journey From the Ego to the Soul

The fear mongers and the anger entrepreneurs are ubiquitous. Their messages — on air, screen or in print, are intended to arouse the ego and trigger a reaction. Fill us with resentment, indignation or fear. Concepts and issues that had once invited conversation are...

Intellectual Scrutiny vs. Religious Expression

“While in college, his Jesuit formation did not stand up to intellectual scrutiny.”  So said the introduction to my college’s new president in the Alumni magazine published several decades ago.  Intellectual rigor won out over religious expression.  Again. By the time...

Survival of the Fittest and Silicon Valley Bank

Survival of the fittest is an adage that has long been planted in our psyches.  The phrase emerged as a terse summary of Charles Darwin's findings that the strongest and fittest of a species have the best chance of passing their genes on to the next generation.  The...

The World As it Is vs. the World As it Should Be

It is a tension that has confounded people for centuries:  ‘the world as it is’ vs. ‘the world as it should be’.   Most people make some commitment to doing something that will help bring about the world as it should be, but their commitment may falter, or may even be...

Pride: a Refusal to Accept our Limitations

I have not been one who has subscribed to the notion of original sin, which is the legacy Christians have inherited from Adam and Eve, whom the Judeo-Christian tradition have identified as the first man and first woman.  We meet them in the Garden of Eden, which is...

The Journey From the Ego to the Soul

The fear mongers and the anger entrepreneurs are ubiquitous. Their messages — on air, screen or in print, are intended to arouse the ego and trigger a reaction. Fill us with resentment, indignation or fear. Concepts and issues that had once invited conversation are...

The Fault Line of Woke

There are some serious, if not dangerous, fault lines in American discourse these days.  Some have been around for decades – notably attitudes toward guns and abortion;  and we take care to avoid these issues or tread lightly around them in conversation with people...

The Disabling Debate on Freedom of Speech

Free speech, which most people in America recognize as a fundamental right, is undergoing endless and painful scrutiny these days.  What opinions should be allowed – or prohibited, on Facebook or Twitter?  When do stated certain political or religious convictions...

The Killing of Tyre Nichols: An Eruption of Violence

If you haven’t seen the video, you certainly have heard about the savage beating of Tyre Nichols, which led to his death,  murder charges brought against five Memphis police offers who carried out the atrocity, and their subsequent firing. Brutal, horrific, evil.  And...

The Confounding Paradox of the Gun Divide

In the wake of 40 mass shootings so far this January, I am struck by – and stuck on, some paradoxical statements that have echoes in different parts of the country.  The first, from Shannon Watts, who is the founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention...

Dr. Martin Luther King: Joining Holiness and Justice

Our country pauses today to honor the memory and challenge of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We remember him as a prophet for civil rights who, throughout his public ministry, dared to bend the arc of history toward justice. But it didn’t start out that way.  As...
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!