The Gift of Freedom

My friend Brad Watkins turned me on to John Jakes’ The Kent Family Chronicles. Books one and two are an historical fiction of events leading into, and during, the American Revolution. It’s been a great reminder of the sacrifices made by so many during the 1770’s and 80’s to establish our freedoms that we enjoy. Those who served generally made a choice to live in leaky tents with minimal blankets and patched clothing. They would wrap rags around their boots to try to keep their feet a bit warmer. We would have a hard time accepting what they ate as food as opposed to garbage. Payment was questionable, death seemed likely. Moral was low and a fair number just walked out of camp never to return. It was during December of that first year following the publication of the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Paine wrote these words, published under the title The Crisis:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

The rest of that first of the series, as well as the remainder of the papers, can be found at: http://www.ushistory.org/PAINE/crisis/c-01.htm. It is estimated that only 40-45% of the population in the 13 colonies were patriots, 10-15% loyal to England, and the rest remained neutral (Calhoon, “Loyalism and neutrality” in Greene and Pole, A Companion to the American Revolution (2000) p.235). How hard it must have been to not only face such harsh conditions, but do so while the majority of the population either fained unconcern or expressed outright disrespect for your cause. And to continue on for seven years!

Yet because of those very sacrifices, we enjoy considerable freedoms as individuals and a nation today.  The gift of freedom our ancestors left us is captured in the Bill of Rights.    July 4th is the day set aside to celebrate our independence as a nation.  We should also take time to pause and remember with appreciation those minority who stepped forward and accepted the call to win that freedom for future generations!

One sign of appreciation for a gift is how we use that gift.  If Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or the foot soldier who served under General Washington were to stop by today, would we need to quick run into the house and pull out their gift from the back of a cabinet?  Or would they find us tossing their gift around with abuse and disrespect?  Or would they find us using their gift to fullest advantage.  Cheering in a parade is hollow praise; valuing and wisely using a gift everyday is high praise indeed.

So how are we using the gifts that were so dearly fought for and so graciously given to future generations?  I write this blog entry today without concern for repercussions from a government.  Not so everywhere.  According to a World Information Access Report, 64 bloggers have been arrested internationally since 2003 for their blogging activities.  While that may seem a small number, imagine our concern if we found that 64 newspaper reporters had been arrested in the United States for their reports of political activities in the country.  These citizen journalists were detained because of their activism and their freedom of speech was denied.

While the court system continues to refine our understanding of the separation of church and state, it remains that tomorrow night I will gather at the home of a friend and with my small group from church we will assemble to celebrate the 4th and also express our faith.  Sunday I will go to the church of my choice, not the one determined I should attend by my government.  In a week I will travel with our church’s youth group to spend a week in East St. Louis serving and sharing our faith.  At no time do I need to file a travel itinerary with my government or defend my beliefs.

I went to the Global Rich List website and found I am among the top 0.6% of the world in earnings.  Both my wife and I have jobs that we find meaningful and that have brought us unimagined wealth compared to those around the world.  I have traveled to some of the poorest regions in the United States, and I have looked for ways to help as I can.  But at the end of the trip, I come home to a relatively safe neighborhood and comfortable home.  I have traveled to Africa and befriended those who earn 1% of what I do and are considered lucky in their country.  And I come home.

So I do use daily the freedoms gifted to me, the unalienable rights that include Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.  But to quote the sage Beastie Boys lyrics, am I only using these freedoms to “fight for my right to party”, to serve myself.  Is that what was meant by the unalienable right to pursue Happiness?  If “we find these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, why does it seem that so many are unequal?  Why is it that while the global economy has grown sevenfold since the 1950’s, the gap between the richest and poorest countries has more than doubled (see http://www.worldwatch.org/node/82)?

In reading the Kent Family Chronicles, I am once again reminded of the great sacrifices made to form this great nation of ours.  Recent series such as the World War II series on PBS remind me of the continuing sacrifices that have been made by young men and women throughout our countries life to keep us free.  If find that this year as the 4th of July approaches, I am inspired that the best way I can say thank you for the gifts that have been given to me through these sacrifices is to realize the fight for freedom and justice were not won once and for all by the soldiers of the past.  And to realize that the future fight is not particularly a military one.  But it is a fight none the less.  Concerns of social justice and economic equality, and the fight against tyranny in all its forms continues.  Will I be a summer soldier described by Paine, or will I make the sacrifices that will wisely invest the gifts given me for future generations?  I find my faith and my conscience leave me no choice.

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