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We tend to think of liberty as a fancy word confined to the parchment of historical documents.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.

The subversive manger scene

manger-scene

Growing up Catholic, I was fond of seeing the manger scenes that populated my home, my church, and my neighborhood each December. I loved the serene figures and the cuddly animals and the strange visitors.

Still do.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become better at noticing not only the feel-good side of the manger, but the radical side, too. And that part gives me pause. We all have a long way to grow into making the Christmas story our own.

The manger is not only a reminder that God is with us, but a challenge to live in a way that brings God more fully and radically into our world.

The Christmas story is a subversive story. It erases those lines we draw between ourselves and others, and it turns our values and our ways of thinking upside-down.

A subversive story

For starters, the story begins with an angel sent not to a man, but to a woman to get her approval to make the story happen. It’s Mary who gets to decide – all by herself – whether the Jesus story will unfold. Her “let it be” makes everything possible.

And women are in leading roles as the story goes forward, too, which is a stark contrast to much of the religion and tradition of that time –and our time, too. It’s Mary who nudges her son out of the nest at the wedding feast and gets his public ministry started.

And the story portrays Jesus repeatedly and unapologetically stepping over the gender lines that existed in his time and in ours, in his religion and in ours, too. The story of Martha and Mary – where a different Mary sits at his feet, a place reserved for men, and Jesus encourages it – erases the lines that we draw even today.

It’s just the start of the subversive message.

The Christmas story also warns us never to think that our theology or our religion or our country is the only one that matters. The magi show up – visitors from different lands, different cultures, different religions – and are welcomed and given an equal place in the subversive story.

Think your religion or your race or your nation is the only one that should be front-and-center? Think again.

Turns our values inside-out

Perhaps the most radical line that gets erased is the one between rich and poor, important and lowly. The manger reminds us of a baby born in the humblest setting to poor parents from a backwater community. He’s not born in a castle or surrounded by royalty and privilege. He’s important not because of what he has or where he lives, but because of how he brings love and healing and reconciliation into the world.

Same with us.

One of the most shocking moments in our political season came last May when the man who is now president-elect declared during a speech in Bismark that “you have to be wealthy in order to be great, I’m sorry to say it.” What was equally shocking was the lack of pushback by self-styled religious people.

Let’s face it: We worship the rich and powerful.

The manger says otherwise.

The Christmas story is a direct assault upon how we perceive importance. It challenges the notion – then and now – that the powerful and wealthy deserve their privilege, and we should all strive to be like them. And the poor and the homeless and the refugees don’t matter – they’re slackers anyway.

Maybe that’s why in the Christmas story, the actual king wants Jesus dead. This baby will spend his life challenging the king’s values system. Woe to the rich. Blessed are the poor. The first are last, and the last are first. The ones whom we consider the least are the greatest, and the ones who consider themselves great are actually the least-useful in bringing God’s unconditional love and compassion and healing into the world.

This Christmas story is meant to turn our world inside-out. And so are we.

Hear the angels’ unsettling song

So when we see the manger, does it jolt us a bit? It should. It’s meant to, this sight of poor refugee parents and a humbly-born baby surrounded by dirty shepherds and visitors from other religions and races and cultures.

The manger shows us a world far different than our own, one that we’re being summoned to help create with unconditional love and inclusion.

So, what about it? Do we hear the angels’ unsettling song? Do we accept their invitation to come to the manger and take our place in its revolutionary story?

Are we committed to erasing lines and spreading the message of peace on earth and goodwill to everyone equally?