Certain topics wind there way into your brain and have a way of camping out there. I was able to preach this past Sunday at my church, and given that the Fourth is this week, our theme for the day was freedom. I sat down to study freedom in both a biblical and cultural context, and came away with a some new perspective on the idea.
I want to share those thoughts with you today. To some this will be a screed, a pointed opinion piece that skews one direction or another. That’s true. But I hope, as always, that those who read it will consider not just the presentation, but the points. Thus, to make the blog a manageable read, I’ve focused solely on my comments as they apply to our cultural context.
Just last Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 5-4 ruling affirming the PPACA, otherwise known as the Healthcare Reform act. Though the issued ruled ran 183 pages in length, the over-simplification is this: the Healthcare Reform that has caused no small amount of angst and discussion is legal.
Predictably, the ruling lead to immediate backlash. Posts on Facebook and Twitter were especially indignant, with many people comparing the ruling to a sudden shift towards communism. Or as one of my friends put it, “The U S of A is now the USSR.” Other folks were more pragmatic in their responses – “Let’s get out and vote and restore this country!” – while others were simply angry for anger’s sake.
Such is the state of the nation. But beneath all the rhetoric, beneath the hyperbole and anger and fear, lies something primeval. In fact, it’s so basic to human nature that it predates the rise of civilization. And it’s something that we have granted divine right here in the States, elevating it to the one thing we cherish above all others.
In a world where the mention of the word evokes images of a blue-faced Mel Gibson screaming in a Scottish accent, what does freedom really mean? Here in the US, we understand it to be an inalienable right, an ideal that is preserved and protected for every individual at all costs. We see it as the ability to live without restrictions, to achieve the unlimited potential of our imaginations. It gets expression in everything from the size of our bank account to the gender of the person we want to marry, and the current ethos of the culture says that no one, not God, not government, has the authority to curtail it.
That attitude is patently – and painfully – false.
Freedom has its limitations. There are boundaries that are not to be crossed in order for a free society to exist. Here in the United States we call it the Constitution, and while the intention and interpretation of that document may be the source of endless debate, what cannot be argued is that establishes a framework for the freedom we so cherish.
It establishes limits. To personal actions. To governmental actions. The Constitution of the United States of America says, in effect, these are the mutually agreed upon conditions of our society, intended to give the maximum number of people the maximum amount of freedom as a whole. It does not allow us carte blanche; it does not grant each individual the right to do as his or her heart may desire; it says that certain actions will be declared unlawful so the majority may be otherwise free.
Once upon a time, this was the ethos of our country. That we would willingly curtail the extent of our personal freedoms in order to secure freedom for the many. But that has changed. In a post-9/11 world, more and more people are resentful of the idea that any personal liberty should be sacrificed for the greater good. And our government has often stepped far beyond the historical boundaries of their power and done things that have been, at best, intrusive, all in the name of freedom.
But the cultural shift preceeded even that.
In fact, the shift away from acceptable limitations on freedom is reflected in a shift away from responsibility for freedom. The limits that our forefathers framed within the founding document were built upon the citizenry accepting their responsibility for maintaining those freedoms. Whether you read the Constitution narrow or wide, the language of mutual responsibility for the existence of our country is inescapable. And yet, we have a great many who would seek to shirk those responsibilities in the name of freedom.
Part of it comes back to the American dream; my entire life I was taught that the first third of my existence was intended for the accumulation of knowledge and experience; my second third was intended for applying that knowledge and experience in some sort of venture that would secure my financial future; and that the final third of my existence was intended for me to do whatever the heck I wanted to do.
No limits. No responsibilities. No one to tell me otherwise.
So if our life is meant to culminate with the ability to transcend rules or expectations or responsibilities, why wait? If the system is so broken, if politics and government and citizenship is so pointless, why participate? Why vote? Why care?
But the problem is that freedom requires someone to care, to work, to tend to the responsibilities that make the very notion of our country possible. Freedom requires that someone bear the cost; and we need to come face to face with the reality that while we are fighting for our right to do as we please, somewhere on this rock we call home a man or woman is standing guard in full-body armor and a 70-pound pack, carrying a AR-15 fighting for our right to exist as a nation.
Freedom has its consequences. It has its costs. Some are higher than others.
It’s a price that history has shown us is worth it.
I won’t make a grand pronouncement about our nation being at a crossroads, but we do find ourselves in a unique place where our understanding of what freedom really is will define how that freedom works. As we come to the 4th and celebrate our nation’s birth, let us reflect on its past and consider its future – and may we do so with all seriousness.