When I worked in a regional role within the United Church of Christ, I used to help local churches develop vision and plan for their futures. In these sessions, I would often sound like an annoyingly curious three-year-old or deranged parrot. I would ask variations on “Why?” questions over and over again:

  • Why do you do worship/Sunday School/potlucks the way you do?
  • Why do you want to grow?
  • Why do you want to be part of this community?
  • Why do you exist?

Often, these long-time church members would look at me with blank stares and furrowed brows. It wasn’t that they didn’t understand the questions. They were intelligent people. Their challenge was that they knew the church was important to them — often to generations in their families — but they couldn’t articulate the church’s deeper why anymore. They wanted to continue to exist primarily so that the church could hold their funerals, baptisms and weddings in that space for generations to come.

That isn’t the worst reason for existing. The holding of milestone rituals would have sufficed just a few generations ago. But we’ve entered into a time that demands that faith communities, and any organizations, must be clearer about why they exist than ever before.

The past year of racial justice protests and pandemic restrictions has caused many of us to question everything we do and ask ourselves, “Why?” My relentless question-asking skills are at your service.

The Fourth of July holiday begs the question, “Why?” Why do we celebrate with BBQs, fireworks, parades and speeches? On July 4,  we celebrate the official Declaration of Independence signed by the original 13 colonies. That much you know from your elementary school history books. The day celebrates this country’s fight for independence from British colonial rule.

Past celebrations of Juneteenth, and the very recent declaration of it as a federal holiday, points out the more complicated and painful history. Only landholding men of European descent were free on that first July 4th. African slaves were considered property of their white owners, not as full citizens or even humans. The last of them wouldn’t learn of their freedom until June 19, 1866, which created the reason for the Juneteenth holiday. Women were not allowed the vote or any real independence from their husbands or fathers. Native peoples, descendents of slaves and people of Asian descent didn’t get full voting rights until recently. And those rights are ever under attack.

If we are going to acknowledge both the freedom-seeking declaration on Independence Day and our struggle to fully realize that freedom for all people, it’s time to celebrate these holidays with new rituals that not only celebrate the past, but help us form a freer future.

Celebrating with a BBQ with family and friends might be fun, but does it do anything to heal the damage of war or racial injustice? Do fireworks really help us honor the occasion when so many veterans, victims of gun violence, children and pets are terrorized and triggered by what seems like months-long explosions of fireworks?

How might we really celebrate freedom-making through some new traditions and rituals that will do more to strengthen our sense of community across racial and social divisions?If we are really going to celebrate freedom, we will also have to acknowledge that we are not there yet. Why not create some new rituals that help us to foster more freedom? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Partner with a local veterans group to support veterans with PTSD and other challenges stemming from service in war.
  • Offer a ritual at your backyard BBQ in which you remember everyone who has given their lives for freedom – U.S. veterans, participants in slave revolts and the Underground Railroad, suffragettes, and civil rights protestors up to and including modern Black Lives Matter protestors.
  • Pause and read something about history and how it relates to civil freedoms and rights. This might become a larger July 4th educational event in the future.
  • Have a Black-owned business cater your backyard BBQ or party.
  • Invite a new neighbor to a backyard BBQ, especially if they are of a different race than you.
  • Hold block parties or community festivals (once safe) in gentrifying neighborhoods in order to create a sense of community between newcomers and those who have lived there a long time. Create intentional opportunities to build relationships across class and race lines.
  • Sponsor a Fourth of July community service project (once safe) to build relationships and shape up your neighborhood.

If you try any of these things, let me know in the comments! 

Need help coming up with a new ritual? I’m happy to help. Comment below, or schedule a free consultation.

Another New July 4th Ritual: This July 4th, I wanted to be of service to those who might be triggered by the noise of the holiday – or anyone else who wants more rest rather than more parties. Freedom from Stress: July 4th Yoga/Meditation Practice, 2-4 PM ET, will take place online and will include gentle movement, restorative yoga (the laying around kind) and guided, trauma-sensitive meditation. Discount tickets for veterans, BIPOC, un- and under-employed and students are available. See you there!