Freedom. What does it mean? What does it look like, not just in suburban America,where the grass is green, the weeds are few and the only shots fired are at the shooting range, but in the inner city, in the Bronx and the Bayou and the Appalachian Mountains, in Detroit and LA and Miami, thirty minutes away on the streets of Milwaukee?
Do the lyrics of Lee Greenwood’s song, Proud to be an American, still fit there? Is there freedom in poverty or homelessness or joblessness or illiteracy?
My circumstances are a gift. I didn’t choose where I’d live or the color of my skin, my parents or their income or family status. I didn’t choose, but God did. I could have been born in Viet Nam or Chile or Zambia or Iran, but I wasn’t. I could have been born in a housing project or a coal mining town, but I wasn’t. I could have been born to teenage parents, or been the child of rape. But I wasn’t.
God chose the time and place and circumstances of my birth, placing me in the arms of parents who wanted me, who’d been waiting for me, who would give their lives for me. Why? I don’t know. I can’t even guess, and that’s a humbling reality. Freedom in small town America where stoplights are few, traffic is light, neighbors watch out for one another and the letter carrier knows your name is as foreign in some places in Milwaukee as it is in Afghanistan or Nicaragua or Ethiopia.
I have shoes on my feet, bread in my cupboard, milk in my fridge, and money in the bank. What do I understand about freedom? I haven’t fought for it or starved for it or bled for it or walked for hours to be educated towards it. I’ve never been oppressed or imprisoned for want of it, and I’ve suffered no lack of it. I was simply born into this privilege – this inherited freedom – but why? How do I reconcile all the freedoms I’ve had since birth – freedom from poverty and illiteracy and lack of medical care, from tyranny and subjugation, from hunger and thirst and homelessness, from choosing whom to worship and how – with so many millions who have none of those freedoms and no way to acquire them? How do I stand and sing, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free,” when I’ve done nothing to earn that status? Nothing to warrant that gift? When I didn’t even choose where or to whom I’d be born?
It makes me think of the rich young ruler in the Bible who asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Sell everything you have and give to the poor,” Jesus answered, “Then come, follow me.”
Am I willing? Willing to lay it all at His feet in order to follow, or like the rich young ruler will I simply, sadly walk away, because the cost is too high?
Oh, Lord, may I be willing! Willing to lay these freedoms at Your feet, in faith, in trust, living not for my comfort and convenience, but for Your eternal Kingdom, not for my present circumstances, but for true, lasting freedom found only, ever, always in You. Amen.