Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Case for Freedom

During the last week and a half, I had the opportunity of touring several battlefields from both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Relics of history filled the museums and battlefields--cannon, muskets, rifles, bayonets, canteens, uniforms, etc. Each site was marked with ample monuments reflecting who fought where and who died where. With an obviously limited budget, the National Park Service did a fabulous job of presentation and upkeep on these sites.

As I reflected on our drive back to Texas, I began to think about the cause of these momentous wars in the history of the United States. Both boil down to rights and freedom. The colonists fought for the right to be free of heavy tax burdens imposed by the British government. They fought for freedom from tyranny. The Confederate States fought for states' rights--for the right of each state to dictate the laws it would live under outside of the basic guidelines of the Constitution. The Union fought for a united country and the rights of the larger government as a whole. Their fight would also lead to the abolition of slavery.

These reflections on freedom ultimately led me to what Paul said of freedom that "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1). The author of Psalm 119 proclaimed that he walked about in freedom because he had sought out the precepts of God (v45). Isaiah and later Jesus proclaiming prophesy fulfilled said that he had come "to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1). From these passages we infer that true freedom is found in God alone through Christ the fulfillment of the Law. Therefore, I cannot help but think that the freedom that we often fight for, bleed for, is a freedom that is but a dim reflection of the freedom that is offered to us in Christ. It is a freedom found in democracy, in capitalism, in economic security, in education--noble causes for sure but none bring true freedom.

When I think across the centuries of people who have exhibited this kind of freedom, the cases that come most to mind are those of people who by every external sense seem to be in the most bondage. Of Daniel who found freedom to worship despite the threat of death by lion. Of Stephen who proclaimed the true gospel despite the threat of stones and death. Of Paul who continued to boldly proclaim the truth despite numerous near death experiences and imprisonment. Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who did not loose faith despite the best efforts of his Nazis torturers. Of Martin Luther King who rallied the people for justice and peace despite daily threat on his life and the lives of all those closest to him. These and others like them, exhibited freedom not of this world but freedom found in Christ when pressed into the most dire of circumstances.

I question what freedom that I most often choose to live under. Is it the freedom of religion? Or the freedom of speech? The freedom of a global market? The freedom of upward mobilization? The freedom to vote? The freedom of equality? What freedom do I chose, and is that freedom merely a ghost of the true freedom in Christ that is in turn freely offered to all who believe?

Freedom is a concept that I believe is innate in human nature. We have a deep longing for freedom. We desire to return to that state of freedom that was available to us before sin entered the world. It is this freedom we were created for. That same freedom is now found in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore we should cling to it. Live from it and within it. We now have the opportunity to chose a better freedom.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Simon, Garfunkel and the Mighty Mississippi

New developments since the last post:

I've been cleared as mentally stable and able to serve in the Peace Corps from a psychological standpoint. This is good news. A pleasant sensation of relief and thanksgiving passes over one when one is declared to be mentally stable.

From here we go to the actual medical evaluation. I should be receiving the forms in a few days. Medical evaluation means full physical and a visit to the dentist. The dentist visit I'm looking forward to. I am one of those odd people that actually enjoys going to the dentist. I love that "fresh from the dentist feel." Added bonus is that I will likely be seeing the orthodontist I went to as a child--the man responsible for my straight pearly whites.

In the mean time, my parents and I drove the first leg of a road-trip to the Carolinas today. I've spent very little time on the East Coast and am looking forward to seeing a large part of the country I've never seen before. I'm also already enjoying road-tripping with the parents. Today we drove my grandmother across Texas. Dropped her off in Longview to spend time with friends and family and continued on to Mississippi. The plan is to be in the Carolinas by the end of the day tomorrow.

A few casual observations on road-tripping across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi:
  • Simon and Garfunkel's The Concert in Central Park album makes for great road-tripping.
  • Everyone should make the effort to drive over the Mississipi at least once, if only for the Mark Twain experience.
  • The recent episode of RadioLab (one of my favorite podcasts) Emergence is definitely worth a listen. I listened to it twice today--once on my earphones and then replayed it for my parents.
  • Sunsets when the sun turns a deep shade of orange and the sky lights up in deep shades of pink and purple always improve the scenery.
  • When exercising in a hotel exercise room be sure to pick the machine closest to the air conditioner. Especially important when the AC is turned off when the room is not in use.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Good Patriot

Peter Beinart wrote a challenging article on the true meaning of "patriotism" for this week's TIME magazine. Following the ride of this year's primary season and looking into election season, I can't think of a better topic for Independence Day.

In the article, Beinart neatly narrows down the definition of patriotism in the two opposing camps--conservatives and liberals. Conservatives "tend to believe that loving America today requires loving its past." On the opposing side, "liberals often see it as the promise of a future that redeems the past." He also points out the flaws of both. Conservatives risk becoming elitist and exclusionary forgetting that we are a nation made up of people from many nations. Liberals, however, risk "not being exclusionary enough" and unable to effectively respond when ideals collide with the general welfare of Americans. Beinart concludes by suggesting a move to a new definition of patriotism in which the old definitions work together to create the new. A patriotism that is proud of its past, but not blind to its faults. A patriotism that is critical of its mistakes yet edifying.

I agree with Beinart's conclusion. We have a very rich history full of great moments, great thinkers and great heroes. But we also see in that history frays and flaws, mistakes that we must learn from. I count myself very blessed to be an American. It is a rich heritage to carry, and the freedom that comes with it is invaluable. Both the history and the ideals make up who we are as a nation--one cannot stand without the other.

As I write this, I am reminded of the post that I wrote when I first learned I would be going to Africa. (You can read it here.) I discussed that the Peace Corps was an opportunity for me to be a good steward of the citizenship God has given me--that I can use a great blessing for God's Kingdom. As each day passes and I move another day closer, I believe more fully in the idea of being a good steward of one's citizenship. And I believe that it ties in with the idea of what kind of patriot I choose to be. Do I choose to be a dogmatic patriot, bordering on nationalism and thus devaluing my neighbor in other parts of the world? Or do I choose to be a haphazard patriot, so lackadaisical in my patriotism that I devalue my neighbor next door? I do not believe that either picture accurately portrays what it means to be a good steward of my citizenship. Rather, being a good steward--using the gift of citizenship in such a way as to honor God and further the Gospel--would mean being a patriot seeking out moderation, looking for ways to honor my neighbor across the world and across the street. Godward then nationally and globally.

I challenge you to think about how you can be a good steward of your citizenship. It certainly doesn't have to be joining up with the Peace Corps. There are much smaller ways to be a good steward like voting or writing to your senators and congressmen about the issues that matter most to you. We have so many freedoms and there are so many ways that you can use those freedoms for the Kingdom. I encourage you to be a good steward to what you have been given.