Sunday, July 5, 2009

We Shall Be Free…

My Fourth of July plans this year will be different than usual. No backyard barbeques. No fireworks and sparklers. I intend to sing a patriotic song or two, but under my breath, so as not to disturb the other passengers. You see, I’ll be flying back into the country this July Fourth (or to be more precise, since this letter won’t be printed until the Fifth- I’ll have flown…), having just completed what I’m sure will be an incredible honeymoon in Panama, as many of you already know.

What an adventure! And I’m speaking about the trip, the experience of celebrating American Independence abroad, and, oh yeah, my marriage. If you take the stereotypes of men and marriage to be valid, then there’s a considerable irony that my Independence Day 2009 happens eight days after ‘putting on the ball and chain.’ I do not, however, think those stereotypes are either true or respectful. Our church, on Sunday afternoon July 5th, will host a surprise fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration for Kimberly’s parents (I’m sorry I can’t make it; my new wife and I will be driving home. But many congratulations!). Their longevity testifies to a different understanding of the possibilities of marriage..

Family details aside for the moment, I’m feeling more drawn to this upcoming Independence Day than usual. As I write this letter, I’m frequently checking internet sites for continued updates about the protests in Iran. From what I’m seeing and reading, there’s been unfathomable chaos throughout that country, conflict between people with very different visions of what their future together should be. My heart is heavy. I’ve seen images that make me shiver, and watched grainy video footage that made me weep. I’m very aware that, when you do read this letter, those circumstances could be very different than they are today. I pray they become more peaceful, less violent and repressive. But in the midst of this moment, the stories of that people’s struggles create new and poignant images for my understanding of Independence Day, and of our country’s revolutionary events. From what I’ve read, the earliest Americans, during those momentous days, were never quite sure where their sacrificial efforts would lead. But they took to the streets anyway.

All this has made me reflect again about ‘freedom,’ a word that for Americans has deep meaning. As a minister of the Gospel, I understand ‘freedom’ as related to, but still distinct from civil society and government. I find my ultimate guide in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” That sentiment weaves its way through Paul’s letters, and shows up in different forms throughout the New Testament. Take from it what you will, but for me it’s a claim that ‘freedom’ is the gift given to all God’s beloved children, paid for and secured, for Christians at least, in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Thus, it is God’s power and creative love for each of us that make ultimate freedom possible. The snares of death and sin and anxiety can’t prevail, for the Creator of all that is breaks their chains on us and our neighbors, and showed us another way. We can experience that now, with God’s help. We will know that in full, as Paul puts it, on that great getting up morning. And, again to quote Paul, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is Christian freedom. Amen.

I’m reminded of the powerful witness of African-American slave tunes, that many Christians still sing. “Nobody knows, the trouble I’ve seen.” “I gotta shoes, you gotta shoes, all God’s children gotts shoes.” “The Jordan River is chilly and cold. God’s a gonna trouble the waters. It chills my body but not my soul…Wade in the water.” The freedom I hear in this powerful music, untouched by the lashes their composers endured, challenges the core of my soul to always seek a faith that is bigger than today’s version. It calls me to celebrate and accept freedom every day, not just Independence Day. By this, I in no way want to diminish the sacrifices made for earthly freedom that many, the world over, made and are still making. Their testimony fills me with gratitude and respect. But my most secure hope is that God is greater than all violence and oppression, this God whose love that makes life happen. And that love can liberate even the most desperate of circumstances. Psalm 65 says, “Let the peoples praise you, O God. Let all the people praise you.” In all things,

Grace and Peace,