Independence Day - the one day newspapers are allowed to be blue, white and read all over.

And that's what I plan to be. Today's my chance to write about humanity's two grand passions: religion and patriotism.It's also my chance to burnish the reputation of one of my heroes: Joyce Kilmer, the Christian poet who died on the battlefields of France.

In most people's minds, Kilmer will always be "the guy with the girl's name" who said "Trees" had "nests of robins in their hair."

And he was all of that.

But "Trees" was never his finest poem, just as writing poems was never his finest hour.

In fact, when you dig into Kilmer's life and writing, you can't help but admire him. And you can't help but feel America has lost the passion he brought to both.

Oh, we do have our commitments. Most of us, I think, would be willing to die for the people in our lives. It's just fewer and fewer of us would be willing to die for the principles in our lives.

The idea of American soldiers being killed on foreign soil is almost unthinkable now. And the notion of taking a bullet for your religious beliefs has become the lot of half-wits.

We're a gentrified nation, quick to show understanding, slow to show ridicule.

And there is virtue in that.

But there is also a danger.

As I watch Third World nations on television displaying their passion for God and country, I wonder how much zeal we could muster in a true national crisis.

Yes, religion and patriotism do feed a flame in us - if not a fire. Those two themes are the reason we love musicals like "Les Miz." They are the reasons we keep ourselves glued to movie screens and all those "blessed by the light" books.

Sadly, however, literature and the arts are about the only places fervent patriotism and religion can be. That's why we queue up for "Deep Impact," why we'll be queuing up for "Saving Private Ryan."

It's also why I find myself constantly dipping into the writings of Joyce Kilmer.

We want to feed on the chivalry and passion we find there.

Born in New Jersey in 1886, Kilmer got a journalism degree from Columbia University, then went to work penning copy for Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedias. But the fire inside him was too hot for desk work. By 1917 he'd enlisted in the Army, even though he had a wife and two kids.

That same burning within him drove him to the front, just as it drove him to pen fiery religious verse.

When one of his poet friends committed suicide - leaving behind a flowery suicide note - Kilmer didn't write a lamentation, he wrote a fierce rebuke:

But hark to what the earthworms say

Who share with you your muddy haven:

"The fight was on - you ran away."

You were a coward and a craven.

Few poets today would dare display so much fury the face of tragedy; but Kilmer was as brave on the page as he was on the battlefield.

Yet of all his poems, the one I return to most is not about war but about salvation. It's called "The Peacemaker."

After naming several paradoxes in the life of Jesus - how Christ's blood wipes away stain and his pain cures pain, for instance, Kilmer declares Christ a "slave to Liberty," then turns his attention to our own day:

What matters Death

if Freedom be not dead?

No flags are fair,

if Freedom's flag be furled.

Who fights for Freedom

goes with joyful tread

To meet the fires of Hell

against him hurled

When Joyce Kilmer died, his good friend Father Duffy wrote of him: "God rest his dear and gallant soul."

On this Fourth of July, I echo that sentiment. And I add another:

May God re-kindle the religous and patriotic flames in ours.