Over the course of the last few weeks, I have really been contemplating the concept of freedom. What does freedom really mean? What is freedom? It seems that today, the 4th of July, that there is no better day to take this internal debate and hash it out before the universe.
We hear a lot about freedom in our American culture. It usually follows a discussion about personal liberty and the rugged individualism that so permeates the American mystique. Is that really what the founding fathers had intended? Is that really what they were fighting for? Since leaving his beloved Virginia a couple of years ago, Kevin and I have become students of those fathers. We watch every history channel documentary, listen to historians analysis in books on cd/podcast, and talk for hours about the courage and conviction these men seemed to possess yet find a realism about them in their flaws. While "all men are created equal" was the words they would write, it was not a belief most of them held. When Abagail Adams implored her husband to "remember the Ladies" he scoffed at her ideas, yet she was his most trusted advisor and surely was both husband and wife while he was away contemplating what this new experiment would look like. Most could not reconcile the issue of the slave with their concepts of freedom and concocted convoluted notions of person hood to justify the evil they could not admit to themselves was present in their midst.
We have a mystique in America about the "rugged individualist" and we call this freedom. Yet, often what we lack is the need to have interdependence to serve right along side our Independence. Even the founders understood this. While they fought for liberty from tyranny, they could not go it alone. Had the colonies not come together, the outcome could have been very different. They had to work out their differences which often led to compromise in order to plot out what was to become the United States of America. United is a key word there. Individualism and unity strike me as being in contrast to one another. Yet, united is what we needed to become in order to accomplish our Independence. Ironic, isn't it?
It was the Union which Lincoln sought to preserve. While the sin of slavery was ripping the nation apart, in order to truly deal with it, the union was necessary. It was a messy, bloody and flawed process that we often still see scars of, but United we emerged as the house divided against itself could not stand.
As a Christian, I can only reconcile what freedom actually is by looking at the freedom I am given in Christ. Yet, does that freedom mean that I can now live my life as I choose? Am I free to be and do whatever my heart sees fit? Over and over, the answer to that is no. In order to live out my freedom I am accountable to both God and my fellow man. I will be judged on my actions and how I treat those God has brought into my life. I need a community in order to be challenged, corrected and to promote growth. I am free, yet I am not independent, but rather dependant.
It seems that to have freedom, we must not "go it alone," but we must see our need for one another. Isn't that what God decided from day one in the garden? Maybe he meant, it is not good for mankind to be an individual, but I will make another with which they can be interdependent so that real freedom can be found.
I saw this posted on a friends Facebook page this morning: "It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom." Paul the Apostle.
To truly be free we must be willing to give up ourselves and to serve one another. To love others as ourselves which is a denying of self. Is this the freedom that the founders desired? While they may not have articulated it in the evangelical manner some would ascribe to them, I think it is a universal truth and transcends. We must care for one another, serve one another, put others before ourselves and give up our independence in order that we might truly be free.
As we embark upon our 234th year as citizens of the United States of America, I want to commit myself to serving more, loving more and giving up more of myself in order to see that the greatest experiment in history can live on, but live on in a new way where my focus is not so much on me and what is right and best for me, but what is right and best for those God has brought into my life and those I have yet to encounter. May we learn to be more interdependent and know that freedom comes at an enormous price, a personal price, but the God of the Universe stands before us already having paid the price so that we can be truly, honestly free.