One thing that has become so obvious again in these last few months is that there is no “Singular American Story.” Yes, we are “one nation,” and yes, I afﬁrm with all my being that we are still “under God.” But the truth and reality is that we are a melting pot of people, who have had many different experiences with our “great American experiment.”
We all admit that the story of African-Americans brought here as slaves is by far the worst “American Story.” And the injustices that followed even emancipation and the prejudices that persist still today are parts of this people’s story that still haunt our nation. Thank God that strides have been made in bringing “liberty and justice for all” closer to the truth. And we pray to God that He will lead us to a way forward so that we can all have what we claim we want for all, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Acknowledging that there is no “Singular American Story,” I want to celebrate Independence Day with you by sharing One American Story. In a skeleton sketch I’d like to share just a little of what I know about my family’s American Story, and give thanks for the opportunity afforded my ancestors and my family here in our great land.
On my family tree I have four sets of great-grandparents, as everyone would. Maybe its not so unusual for those times, but they were all of the same descent, heritage, nationality, and religious afﬁliation. They were all German Lutherans.
Due to economic hard times and the decline of the strength and stance of the German Lutheran Church, they and their families all eventually came to America to take advantage of the promise for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and to hold onto their traditional “orthodox” Lutheran beliefs. This was all after the Civil War here, 1870 – 1890, as I remember it being told.
Both sets of my great-grandparents on my father’s side settled in Illinois and eventually Missouri. On my mother’s side they settled in Iowa and eventually Oklahoma. These were hard-working people, who attained American citizenship through proper channels and began to “become Americans,” even though they still spoke their native language, as was the case with many immigrants of the time.
Some were blacksmiths, but mostly they were farmers, eventually buying farmland or getting land grants of farmland. Their families were large because many hands were needed to work the farm. The women were exceptionally strong as they gave birth many times, raised their children, kept their house, worked their gardens, gathered the eggs, canned their fruits and vegetables, and the list goes on. But this was America, and they were free to pursue their dreams and carve out the life they wanted for themselves and their families.
The men were strong and farm work was always a sun-up to sun-down way of life. They worked the land, planted their crops, much of it wheat, prayed for rain, prayed against hail, razed the barns, milked the cows, slaughtered the hogs, mended the fences, and the list goes on. But this was America, and they were free to pursue their dreams and carve out the life they wanted for themselves and their families.
My mother’s parents married very young and started out very poor. They, too, both worked very hard at the same farm life in which they grew up. My grandfather lost a brother in World War I, in an effort to keep the freedom and liberties we so enjoy and want for others.
Eventually, my grandmother’s family owned land which yielded tremendous blessing from below the surface. In the American freedom of owning their own land, they beneﬁtted from this “windfall” blessing. But they always remained humble and thankful to God for the privilege of living in “the land of the free.”
My mom and her brother and sisters all were highly educated and raised their own families to thankful for and loyal to “God and Country.”
My father’s parents were hard-working people, as well. My grandfather was a railroad man. He travelled across Missouri and the surrounding states, installing and repairing the switches of the railroad tracks. He was able to buy a farm for his family. So, Grandpa was away from home all week from Sunday night until Saturday evening, leaving Grandma to raise the kids, run the farm’s endless work, and do everything as basically a single parent. Amazing.
One of the blessings my dad’s family always recounts is that Grandpa had a job the entire time of The Great Depression, which was wonderful and highly unusual. And, of course, the farm and the garden and the orchard kept them all very well fed.
Dad had three brothers serve in the army during World War II, again to secure our freedom and stop the terrible tyranny of our enemies. This whole family knew the great blessings of “God and Country.” They, too, became highly educated.
Naturally, then, my brother and sister and I were raised with the proper need to be thankful for our nation, thankful for our ideals of self-governing, respectful of our ﬂag and the symbols of freedom, and to support and be involved in the ongoing “Great Experiment” of our democratic republic.
My sister and brother and I, along with all of our family in our generation and now the generations rising, acknowledge the tremendous blessings we have received within the vision of those forming our government and establishing our nation. We celebrate America and the opportunity we have had to experience “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I say again, all my family recognizes that not every American Story has been our American Story. We pray for wrongs to be righted. Wounds to heal. Checks and balances to lead to “liberty and justice for all.”
We all believe that, though certainly not perfect, our nation, The United States of America, remains the greatest country ever established and the best and brightest hope for a better tomorrow for all of us citizens and those citizens yet to come.
I pray, “God, You have blessed America. And we ask You to keep blessing America. Use us to bring Your blessings to America. Thank You for America. Be with us now more than ever. In Jesus’ Name. Amen”
Happy 4th of July. Read the Declaration of Independence. Apply it to yourself and every citizen. Celebrate America. I believe that’s possible for us all.
God bless America! And certainly, Amen!
[Kollmeyer is Pastor Emeritus at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. Find our more about this open-armed church and Pastor Scott Ness at www.princeofpeacefayette.org.]