Philadelphia City Hall. Photo by Wade T. Jones
This past summer Wade decided he would like to see Philadelphia, so we just returned from a five-day visit to one of my favorite cities. We each used our airline mileage and his hotel points, so it was not a costly trip. We walked virtually everywhere, despite the cold, visiting historic sites (which of course are plentiful there) as well as two art museums.
My fondness for this walkable city began when I served as a campus ministry intern at the Christian Association, at the time a progressive enclave in a handsome old brick building (still there, but serving a different purpose) at the heart of the University of Pennsylvania campus, a four level structure that housed the offices of multiple chaplains and three interns, a feminist bookstore, an auditorium in which we showed thought-provoking films on weekends, and an eatery run by a commune that provided low cost meals. We also hosted two craft fairs featuring local artisans every year. At the time, it was the only campus facility that welcomed Gays at Penn, and it became home to a Gay & Lesbian Peer Counseling Program that I initiated, a first of its kind in the area.
I rented a room here.
No historical marker yet!
I rented a room in a narrow row house across the Schuylkill River on South Street, and walked daily across a bridge to the campus. The first night I was there, late in August of 1975, I met someone who would become a lifelong friend, one who graciously hosted Wade and me for dinner this past Saturday at the White Dog Café near the campus.
I was in Philadelphia during the U.S. bicentennial, and on that Sunday, July 4, 1976, a couple of friends and I ate breakfast at a Mexican restaurant, worshiped at Tabernacle, a federated Presbyterian/UCC congregation, attended the bicentennial symbolic ringing of the Liberty Bell, and ate dinner at a Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown—all of which seemed the American thing to do!
For the celebration, the city had painted many intersections red, white and blue, save for an intersection in Chinatown, which it painted (as I recall) green, red, and gold, to the dismay of the residents, who declared themselves “as American as any citizen,” demanding red, white and blue like everyone else!
Wade with the Liberty Bell.
What brought all these things to mind was holding back tears as I saw people of many nations and ethnicities as well as Americans of many national and ethnic origins visiting the Liberty Bell last Thursday, often proudly posing for photos beside it.
At a time in the American psyche when we may not feel so proud of our attitudes and behaviors regarding racial and religious diversity and the welcoming of immigrants, it is good, even holy, to be reminded of our highest ideals as a nation “with liberty and justice for all”—not just for those who look like us and think and believe as we do, and, I would say, not just for Americans.
The recent flap about athletes “taking the knee” during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice has been called disrespectful of our armed services. I realize the anthem’s imagery is of a battle, but our national anthem is about ALL Americans who have contributed to our nation’s character, from the seamstress who made the first stars and stripes to the seamstress who refused to give up her seat on a bus. The “land of the free and the home of the brave” values protest and the courage of activists. We actually have benefited from both. Important battles have been fought with picket signs, resistance, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and votes.
In these challenging times, I am grateful to be reminded of my country’s better self.
A demonstration we happened onto at the base of
the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
My favorite Philadelphia Story:
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Philadelphia City Hall photo Copyright © 2017 by Wade T. Jones.
Text and other photos Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author, photographer, and blogsite. Other rights reserved.