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Dangerous memories

 Many see Independence Day as one of the three significant holidays of the summer. It brings with it the dangers of injuries from fireworks. These injuries can be quite serious. But there is an unrecognized danger. Independence Day falls in the category of a “dangerous memory”.

Johann Metz offers insights. “Dangerous memories are not nostalgia or visions of the past, but “memories which make demands on us” in the present. Such memories are ones “that we have to take into account, memories, as it were, with a future content.

The most dangerous memory of all time – the Exodus.

Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?

Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?  – Deuteronomy 4:33-34

The Exodus story is not only foundational to the rest of the Bible. Throughout history, it has inspired and shaped cultural and political freedom movements including our own.

On July fourth, Americans celebrate their independence as a nation and the freedom that was won by a long struggle filled with sacrifices. What inspired the struggle? Some may be surprised to learn that a major source was the biblical Exodus.

America’s founders often compared Britain’s King George to the oppressive Pharaoh in their struggle for independence.

The quotation on the face of our Liberty Bell reads:

“Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof.” This was a command given to Moses while at Mount Sinai. Leviticus 25:10

Benjamin Franklin submitted a design for our national emblem.  It featured the Red Sea crossing from the Book of Exodus. He notes,

“Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.”

The Bible was part of the cultural air breathed in the colonies at the time, and gave definition and content to the aspirations of the founders.

Exodus and the civil rights movement

No freedom struggles invoked more parallels and clues to the Exodus account than the abolitionist and subsequent civil rights movements in the United States. Harriet Tubman adopted the alias Moses on the Underground Railroad. Abraham Lincoln was eulogized as a modern Moses for freeing the slaves. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked Moses on the night before he was killed.

In a frightening irony, the Bibles used by some to preach to these slaves early in the 19th century conveniently removed those portions of the text that gave hope for freedom and equality. These sections were deemed too dangerous to introduce to the minds of slaves – they might dream of freedom and revolt. Therefore, the first 19 chapters of the Book of Exodus were removed.

Fast forward to the Preface of Mass on Independence Day

“(Christ’s) message took form in the vision of our founding fathers as they fashioned a nation where we might live as one. His message lives on in our midst as our task for today and a promise for tomorrow.”

Remembering our history

  • What is our task for today and promise for tomorrow?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

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