I suppose I ought to save this for July 4th or some other patriotic holiday, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I wanted to share it with you now. As a first for this column I’m going to make this the first of two parts since I have a lot to say on this subject.
I’ve been thinking about the relationship between freedom and meaning and purpose in our lives. As Americans we have a long cultural history of cherishing and celebrating our freedom. North America was first colonized by Europeans who were looking for freedom (one of our great failures was that in pursuit of this freedom we somehow managed to take much of that away from the Native Americans who were here long before us). Not just religious freedom either, though that was their primary concern.
Later the descendants of those folk rebelled against Great Britain to become their own country. The founders of this country spent a lot of time defining what freedom is and isn’t and that shows in our two primary foundational documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
One of the reasons we Americans love freedom is because we have traditionally believed that to find real meaning in life you need the freedom to be or do what you think you ought to do, or just plain old want to do. Our view of freedom has always been that freedom comes from God. Thus these immortal words of Thomas Jefferson; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
Or, to put it in a nutshell: “Live Free or Die,” as they say in New Hampshire.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that I’ll be in the nation of Myanmar for two weeks this month. I’ve been going there since 2002 and have seen many radical changes take place during that time.
Up until a few years ago it wasn’t an easy place to visit. The people are wonderful and I’ve got many dear and wonderful friends there who I love to visit and support when I can. But being there was stressful. There was a long list of things you couldn’t discuss, there were government spies everywhere and while you were in country you were being tracked by more than five different government agencies.
There was an oppressive feeling in the very air you breathed. People didn’t trust each other easily because you never knew who was spying on who. The press was controlled and every word carefully monitored.
I remember how I felt every time I left there. I was sad to leave my friends, but each time the plane I was on went wheels up, I breathed a sigh of relief. And once in Bangkok, or wherever I was going on my way home, I relaxed in a way I never did while in country.
As a free citizen of a free country, dealing with that type of government control was strange indeed. It made me feel very bad for those who had to live under it, and grateful that I got to come home to a place where I could speak my mind freely if I wanted to.
Freedom is a wonderful thing. It’s also a rare and fleeting thing in this world. I’m a bit uneasy about our own freedoms as there are trends and technology in this country that deeply concern me. I’m also grateful for our nation’s history of securing freedom for others all around the world.
Political freedom and freedom of speech is hard to secure and easy to lose. As our founders told us, we need to be ever vigilant that we maintain our freedoms. One way to secure our freedom is to use it. To live a life of real freedom, a life that takes others’ thoughts and feelings into consideration while at the same time focusing on using the gifts and talents you’ve been given. In my mind that’s what makes freedom critical to living a full and meaningful life. Because if I’m forced to do, say or be what others think I should, then I’m no longer myself at all. I’m just a drab and faded copy of someone else, leached of everything that makes me a unique soul. There’s no freedom in that.
I always stop at this point because a question keeps popping up in my mind. If freedom is so vital to us, is it really that easy to lose? Am I only free when others let me be free? Or is real freedom found somewhere else? Safe from all the pick locks, demands and surveillance that mankind can devise?
That’s what I want to talk about next month. Until then, be free and use that freedom to be the best person you can possibly be!
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Louie Marsh is pastor of Christ’s Church on the River on the Parker Strip. Visit the website HERE.