It is a time to celebrate our country’s independence- but is there more?  What is our focus as we gather around a BBQ grill with our families to enjoy a hamburger?  Why do we eat homemade ice cream while watching the fireworks explode in brilliant colors overhead?  What is the purpose of standing with 90,000 other people in downtown Gatlinburg to watch a parade at 12:01 AM on the morning of July 4th?

We challenge our staff to consider the motivations behind the July 4th celebrations.  Asking questions such as how do we bring God into country?  What is the difference in civil religion and true faith?  Do we have a ‘most favored nation’ status with God?

For the past several years SMRM has partnered with the City of Gatlinburg to entertain and distract the guests while they eagerly await the first independence day parade in the nation.  It has been our tradition to run giant American flags down the street inciting excitement among the crowds.  All the while, others on our staff would work their way through the crowds making balloon animals or leading the singing of patriotic songs.

This year we decided to have a change in focus.  Instead of balloon animals and crowd singing, we decided to move through the mass of people distributing little American flags- encouraging a sense of national pride, but more so allowing for intentional conversations with the crowds.  Our staff distributed more than 9,000 American flags and with each flag we were able to introduce conversations about our motivations for celebrations.  We hosted a mission team from Missouri who presented a dynamic program, consisting of songs, drama, and multimedia on the steps the convention center.

But our focus really hasn’t changed, it has always been to reveal the presence of God to those who live, work, and play in the resrot areas of Sevier County.  But it is our hope that we might be able to encourage those we visit with to consider their focus and motivations for this year’s celebrations- bringing light to God’s presence, even in the fun of a parade!