Genesis 25:29‑34 from NKJV. Jacob cooked pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage…. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
Eighteen years ago, my wife Barbara, our youngest daughter, and I found ourselves on July 4 in Ely, Nevada. If you’ve been to Ely, you know it is a hard‑scrabble place, set amidst an awesomely desolate landscape, hours from the next real town. That night we found ourselves at the country fairgrounds, sitting on the hood of our car, parked there with hundreds of others to watch the fireworks light up the desert sky. On one side of us was parked a young Hispanic American mother and her three small children. As the fireworks burst over our heads, those children with excitement and glee waved the tiny American flags they had clutched in their hands and shouted ¡”Mira! ¡Mira!” “Look! Look!” Parked on the other side of us was a family of Hmong refugees who were sharing a meal of hotdogs and French fries and who also were captivated with the incandescent tribute to freedom bursting over our heads. In front of us was a family of Japanese‑American folks, whose grandparents, we learned had been interned by their country not that far from where we all sat that night, and they too shouted with excitement at each enormous explosion. A couple of cars over, two young men stood watching the aerial splendor while sly holding hands and smiling at one another. And parked behind us was a Muslim American family, outfitted in beautiful robes and whose children had little American flag stickers on their chests.
And we – Scots‑Irish and German descendants, one of us raised in Texas and the other in Zimbabwe – got lumps in our throats, and I remembered why I care so much for this country: because when we are at our best, we do indeed say “no” to the pottage of hatred that gets placed before us and we do instead seek to make even more real, even more true, our commitment to welcome everyone, “with malice toward none, with charity towards all,” in Lincoln’s words, seeking to live out the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty about welcoming all those who yearn to be free.
Have we always lived up to that ideal? Far from it. From the slave auction blocks to the Trail of Tears to the decimation of the native Hawai`ian people to internment camps for loyal American issei and nisei to blood-stained lunch counters and bus stations – too often we as a people have allowed (or even encouraged, to our shame) our government to rule from fear and hatred instead of from the ideals of Lincoln and the words of welcome etched on the Statue of Liberty, thereby trading, as did Esau, the best of our birthright for a mess of pottage.
But today, on this 4th of July, we have the opportunity to re-commit ourselves to the best of who we have wanted to be, the best of the ideals that can continue to shape us and prod us if we let them, the best of a country whose borders can once again be a sign and beacon of hope instead of a symbol of fearfulness, xenophobia, and the sundering of families one from another. Today we have the opportunity to re-commit ourselves to a flag that really and truly stands – despite the depredations and mendacities of those who would befoul it with hatred – for liberty and justice for all.
All. Whatever color, whatever faith, whatever orientation or gender identity.
All. Including those whose conscience demands that they take a knee in honor of those deprived of liberty and justice.
All. Including those whose “crime” is wanting to keep their children from brutality and violence, who expected to be met with kindness instead of cages.
And isn’t that so much better than a mess of pottage?
I am grateful to the Rev. Barbara Blaisdell for her most-helpful suggestions.