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Recently, thoughts about freedom have frequently popped into my mind.
I am unsure if they are impelled by reading various articles that highlight the so-called “me generation.” The arguments, pro and con, regarding our nation’s involvement in foreign warring might be the cause. Perhaps, it is primarily my personal sense, my individual need to be free to be the person I truly am while allowing others the same right. Whatever the case may be, I’ve begun serious pondering about the idea of freedom. I am trying to discern its definition, content, value, and distinction from liberty.
Obviously, my musing is also impelled by the imminent July 4th celebration of the freedom we enjoy as U.S. citizens. Interestingly, its formal title is Independence Day, a commemoration of our declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. My enthusiasm is rooted in an attempt to understand exactly what it means to be independent when we humans are innately social beings.
How can we entertain ideas of freedom if they are bound by a sense of liberty that excludes interdependence?
It seems that independence is more about being free to be—really be—not to be free from being. It is more about being free to be giving, sharing, loving, caring, compassionate human beings than being freed from those components of life. It is about being free to live and empower life than to be death-dealers, killers of the innate liveliness of humanity.
A May 23 Time Magazine article noted: “The contest between liberty and security has been with America since its founding...each generation, from those facing rebellion in the 1860s to those pushing back against government intrusion a century later, has debated where to strike a balance.”
The issue being faced, I propose, is exactly located in the core of our need to discern where freedom ends and liberty begins, or precisely where liberty begins and freedom ends!
The discussion is both age-old and will continue far into the future. It is eternal because we are temporal. It persists because we humans are both sinners and saints, flawed and faithful. We vacillate between living generously and charitably and existing in narrow narcissism. We walk a tightrope of love, trying to balance ourselves so that we can remain intact, continue the journey, stay high above the fray, and get to the end of life without falling onto the hard ground of selfishness.
We want to have the freedom of being who we are without limiting ourselves to the liberty of believing that we are so special that we are entitled to whatever it is we desire, whether it comes at another’s cost or not.
Maybe I’ve hit upon the central challenge. Maybe we need to think hard about freedom as a way of being who we are without insisting that we are entitled to it. Maybe we need to see freedom as a gift, given to us so that we can share it with everyone.
That freedom brings us liberty, a certain and true liberty. It empowers and is empowered by justice for all. Now, there is something that commands flag-waving. There is a parade everybody can join. This march of human freedom celebrates life and denies death. Marvelously, it’s a glorious display of the best we can be.
Our national anthem says it best. I wonder if we really pay heed to the words we sing, hand over heart, saluting the goodness of our nation. We sing proudly about a flag that waves over the land of the free and the home of the brave. I know tears come to my eyes whenever I sing that anthem. The emotion is real. The reality limps.
Do we pay attention to the verses that conclude the hymn? Do we believe our words, “O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand, between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation; blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!”
Are we aware of God’s goodness, not so much in making and preserving us as a nation, but in offering us the magnitude of divine freedom. Are we sufficiently aware that ours is a heaven rescued land, a rescue that is beyond our accomplishment and one for which we need to be forever grateful? Do we really believe what we sing, “This be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’”
Do we secure our hope in godly freedom? Do we trust it is ours to enjoy when the foul footsteps of liberty’s pollution are washed away by the blood of our commitment to each other? Are we committed to our trust in the transfusion of interdependence that transforms independence?
The questions won’t go away. They will continue to prick our consciousness regarding the freedom we both take for granted and easily erode.
I suspect that we shall continue to see dimly through the mists of the deep until we confront our understanding of freedom and liberty. We shall be enslaved by the havoc of war and the confusion of battling for our rights while ignoring the rights of others. No refuge will save us, because we will remain hirelings and slaves to our own self-centeredness. We’ll not be able to flee from the terror, from the gloom of the grave of our self-absorption.
These are ponderous thoughts on a day when we’d prefer to march in parades, have picnics, and generally enjoy the ease of free people. We’d more likely want to push them far into the background and live lightly this day. However, the light and delight is not dismissed by the pondering. It is enhanced by it. Our joy is intensified in proportion to the deepening of our consciousness. It is good to remember our flag was still there after an embattled night, a time of bursting bombs and flaring rockets.
Our freedom flag will not fade in tempestuous times. It will catch the gleam of every morning’s first beam. So will we, as people who bravely declare profound freedom as their home while opening the doors of our hearts to all who wish to live freely.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.