On a noontime walk, I visited the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, an Episcopal Cathedral built in the 1880s. Massive stone interior chancel and nave, smaller chapels in the side corridors, perpendicular to the main sanctuary. A plaque is mounted on the side wall of the eastern chapel with the words of George Ashton Oldham, the 3d Bishop of Albany (b1877 – d1963). Entitled "America First", the words on this plaque were from a sermon delivered in Washington, DC in 1924.
I know nothing of Mr. Oldham. The "America First" movement was a rabid isolationist initiative, a social and political belief that we should stay away from all foreign encounters. I do not believe Oldham espoused those same views. His message was a more compassionate one, a call to transform ourselves into a nation that is first in 'things of spirit', rather than 'treading again the old, worn, bloody pathway which ends inevitably in chaos and disaster.'
We celebrate the Fourth of July as a day to mark our country’s independence, to celebrate the freedom that our country supposedly represents. Oldham puts this freedom, and our role as its beacon, in a Christian context – a message that runs counter to our current actions in Iraq. Oldham's words ring just as true now as they did in 1924. But we have much to learn as a country and as a mentor for human behavior in the world.