~ Jone Johnson Lewis

As we move into full-tilt summer, please note that we’ll remain open on Sundays.  I encourage you to attend when you can, help create a welcoming atmosphere to the visitors we continue to get most Sundays, and also connect to your Ethical Culture community.  It’s a time for many to enjoy vacations, picnics, fun family time.  So one of our two Ethical Culture values we’re highlighting this month is … delight.

If you know families who are looking for more community, let them know of our family activities this summer, from Earth Avengers (social service and social justice work for children) to Movie Nights and more.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

We’re also highlighting another value this month, freedom.  The Fourth of July holiday is at the start of the month, and that’s a time to consider not only the values of democracy and freedom which this country espoused at the beginning but also the long struggle, which continues, to actualize those values for everyone.  When Frederick Douglass said in 1852, “This Fourth July is yours not mine,” he called for new commitment to the central values of freedom and respect for all.

I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

Women were not yet considered full citizens, Native Americans were still being pushed westward and killed as public policy, and immigrants were not welcomed. The enslavement of people from Africa not only continued but that practice was also about to get even worse as the Dred Scot decision removed all human rights from all whose skin was dark, enslaved or in freedom:

It is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration. (Chief Justice Roger Taney)

I think it’s worth reading the whole Frederick Douglass speech at this time of year, and reflecting on what we still need to do today, to bring justice and human rights to everyone. Don’t miss the less-known latter part of the speech, where he also has a strong critique of the churches of his day for collaborating with human rights abuses.  While Douglass powerfully expresses the exclusion of many people from the dreams of the founders of this country, he also expresses hope that we can still work to extend who is included in those dreams.

That means including black lives in the lives that matter, and it also means working to reverse climate change, not only for our own comfort and that of our descendants but also because climate change’s effects are felt disproportionately by those who already have less power and fewer rights.  Thoreau once wrote, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”  And what use is freedom if the planet is less and less tolerable to those who need most the basics of shelter, food, and water?

Link to Douglass’ speech:

“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

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Jone Johnson Lewis

Jone is a third generation humanist and has been an Ethical Culture Leader since 1991.  More
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