Reflections on Freedom

“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
Living in the hopeless, hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he’s a victim of the times

I wear the black for those who’ve never read
Or listened to the words that Jesus said
About the road to happiness through love and charity
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me. “   

Johnny Cash – Man in Black

Reflecting on the Fourth of July, as an American, I consider all the men and women that have fought, bled, stood on walls, charged hills, and willingly laid down their lives, paid the ultimate cost for a country with freedoms and opportunity like no place on Earth. For this, I am so very humbly grateful.

Reflecting as an immigrant living in the UK for the past 16 years, I now see my homeland from a distance. When you live away from a place of origin for some time you begin to see it through a new lens. Whether that’s your family, religion, town, or even country. What I think I see now is that we, as Americans, have possibly elevated Freedom from a good thing to an ultimate thing. In years past, men and women willingly fought and died, at home and on foreign soil. for the sake of others. Laying down personal freedoms and rights so that others could live under the goodness of freedom. Now it feels we are no longer fighting for the freedom of others but for preference of individuality. Collectively replacing “We the people of the United States of America…” with “I the individual of my personal preference…”

When a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, it becomes an idol of our heart. Idols enslave us, hold us captive, and demand everything of us. When we are easily offended, become anxious, or live in fear it could be because the idols of our heart is under threat.

Reflecting as a follower of Jesus, I am reminded, the first word of the Lord’s Prayer is “Our.” That’s important. The prayer Jesus taught us is a prayer of community and reconciliation, belonging to a new kind of people who have left the land of “me.” This new humanity is an exodus people who have entered the promised land of “we,” to whom “I” and “mine” and “my” are things of the past. Here our God teaches us the interconnectedness of grace and liberation in a new social order. Here we are judged inasmuch as we judge, and forgiven as we forgive. 1

It is only in the light of the gospel that our freedom can be put in its rightful place.
Pastor Timothy Keller put it this way,

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

This reality begins to change the motivational structures of our being, what the Bible refers to as the “heart”. Therefore, our behaviours and works begin to change, not as a means to God but as a response to His grace. This is the unchangeable promise from God, in the New Covenant. At the cross Jesus laid down his rights and his freedom, paying the ultimate and final price so that our shackles could fall and we could be free. Therefore, like Jesus, we can live without offence and fear and freely lay down our rights, our privilege, and preferences for the sake of our neighbour. And when it’s appropriate, fight for the freedom and justice of others.

Be safe, love your neighbour.

Happy Fourth of July.

1 Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for
Ordinary Radicals, IVP 2008:18.