Let freedom ring … a little louder

liberty-bell-philadelphia-firstread

Now that we’ve shot off all the fireworks and eaten all the leftover Fourth of July food, let’s get on with the business of bringing a little more liberty to the land.

We tend to think of liberty as a fancy word confined to the parchment of historical documents. We define freedom as an individual right – I’m free to do whatever I want, so long as I don’t hurt anyone else all that much.

That’s not at all the case.

Liberty and freedom aren’t fancy words or individual guarantees. They’re a process that requires everyone’s participation. We can’t have liberty and justice for all until we’re all willing to see the injustice and the lack of liberty all around us, and then commit ourselves to doing something about it.

Liberty is participatory. Freedom is a process. Neither one freely exists – they have to be created out of a determination that everyone must be treated as equally important and equally beloved.

And each of us has a responsibility to get involved.

A network of mutuality

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it in his letter from a Birmingham jail: “I cannot sit by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

So yes, on this Sixth of July, let’s resolve to make freedom ring a little louder …

Freedom for black citizens to finally be treated as equals in all respects, in a society that has relegated them to the status of property for most of its history.

Freedom for women to finally be treated as equals in all ways, in a society that has relegated them to second-class status throughout its existence.

Freedom for Muslims, Jews, and people of all faiths to practice their faith without intimidation or coercion from those who believe differently.

Freedom for LGBTQ and transgender citizens to be treated as equal citizens in all respects.

Freedom for people with mental or physical challenges to be accepted as equal citizens and given a chance to contribute as they can, without society creating even more barriers and walls for them.

Freedom for hurting people to get the healing that they need without financial barriers erected in their path.

Freedom for needy people to get the assistance that they need without being demeaned, ignored or turned away.

Freedom for all to be treated as equally important and equally beloved children of our Creator, who bestows the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness upon everyone equally.

Let freedom ring

Let freedom ring a little louder …

Freedom from the tyranny of elevating the desires of the few powerful people over the needs of the many people.

Freedom from the tyranny of prizing individual wealth over the common good.

Freedom from the fear and prejudice and anger that imprison each of us in so many ways and shred the social fabric that is necessary for us to live in harmony.

Freedom from the influence of shrill and divisive voices that play on our worries and prejudices and seek to lessen our collective liberty out of fear.

Freedom from the lie that I am the only one who matters and what happens to others is none of my concern — they deserve their fate. This lie enslaves us, corrupts us and is at the core of much of what’s wrong with our society and our world.

Freedom from the violence that is the inherent product of our obsession with weapons and war as ways to solve problems.

Freedom from the falsehood that bullying – in our personal lives or our collective lives — is the way to achieve greatness.

Yes, that freedom – let it ring louder.

Grace in aisle three

Food

We found the aisle with lentils — aisle three, as it turned out — and surveyed the many choices. Which type would a Muslim most likely use to break the Ramadan fast?

Clayton and I didn’t know. We’re not Muslim. We’d never done this kind of shopping before.

Clayton is the interfaith liaison for our church, which has a close relationship with the local Islamic center. Last fall, we partnered with them on a winter clothing drive for refugee families settling in the area.

Now the Islamic center was having a food drive for needy families, many of them refugees. Clayton mentioned the food drive at the end of our church service last Sunday, and people grabbed donation envelopes and stuffed cash into them.

In the blink of an eye, we collected $200. Now, we just had to buy the food. We found a halal market near the mosque and went with a general list of things that we found online – lentils, flour, dates, cooking oil and so forth.

But which ones? Which types? How much? We didn’t know. After a few moments of indecision, we went to the checkout register and asked the manager for help.

We told the man what we were doing. He smiled. He dropped everything he was doing and threw himself into the project. He went to the back of the store and pulled out a box of cooking oil, which would be easier for us to carry. He rounded up bags of flour and packages of lentils.

Yeah. Amazing grace.

While other customers waited patiently, the manager filled several carts with food items worth more than the $200 we’d given him. And then he helped us push the carts to the car for loading.

On the way, he paused, took out his wallet, grabbed a $50 bill and handed it to us.

“This is a personal donation for your church,” he said.

Standing there in the parking lot, all of us blinked back tears.

Yeah. Amazing grace.

There are so many loud and shrill voices in various religions today, ones filled with fear and self-righteousness and arrogance and judgement and hatred -– the very things that faith tells us to avoid. Those voices try to divide us and diminish us. They twist religion into the opposite of what it’s meant to be, hoping to advance their personal agendas.

And then, there are all those other people – most people, I like to believe. The ones who actually get it. The ones filled with a spirit that makes them try as best they can to love one another as equally beautiful and beloved children of God.

They understand that every act of love, no matter how small, is an encounter with the God who makes all people beloved and all things blessed. Such moments are holy and sacred, transforming and inspiring.

Like the one just now in the parking lot.

With our boxes and bags of food loaded in the trunk, we headed to the nearby mosque. Just a week earlier, the mosque had been picketed by an anti-Muslim group toting signs that were hateful and hurtful.

The Muslims responded by setting up a table and offering the protesters food and drink. Here’s a photo, courtesy of The Journal-News of Hamilton.

Table

When our church heard about the protests, we prayed for the Islamic community and emailed the imam a note of support and admiration for their act of kindness. The imam wrote back, suggesting we get together for lunch sometime soon.

“Thank you so much for your appreciated prayers and support!” the imam wrote. “Please continue to spread the message of kindness, respect, loving thy neighbor, and harmony.”

This week, refugees will break their Ramadan fast with lentils and dates donated by a local church. On Sunday, the donation basket at our church will include a $50 bill from a Muslim store manager who spreads the message of kindness, respect, harmony and love.

Another shared, sacred moment for everyone. Blessed by a few more tears, no doubt.