This is a weekend where many celebrate freedom. Or at least, that’s how the celebrations started. Oakboro, the small town outside of Charlotte where I grew up, always has a big celebration. The focus was on family and fun but always with that emphasis on freedom. There were flags flying and star spangled smiles throughout the town. People from several different counties came to our little town to celebrate freedom. There was always a carnival so that children and adults could ride the rides. There were street dances at night and the Fire Queen Beauty pageant. Growing up in Oakboro was a great privilege and its atmosphere seemed representative of our country so of course I thought growing up that all July 4th celebrations were about freedom and love of family.
When I first moved to the Charlotte area one of my favorite ways to celebrate July 4th was to go to the Charlotte Summer Pops at Freedom Park. There were families there but also lots of young couples all there with picnic baskets and various spreads. Some had wine and cheese. Those with children had games on the blankets as we sat under the hot July sky listening to the symphony play music that spoke of Americana. The atmosphere was calmer than the one in Oakboro but no less festive.
It’s been interesting through the years to see how things have changed. Not so much Oakboro’s celebration because as a small rural town, change happens slower. The Charlotte Pops still has its Summer Series but it’s no longer free. When you look at the repertoire of “Celebrate America” the music is not much different. That’s not a bad thing either because we have some great American Composers who are often featured in these series.
The thing that has changed the most for me is seeing and hearing how we all talk about the 4th of July. The atmosphere seems more charged with the fireworks of competition rather than celebration. The atmosphere appears charged with “who is the most patriotic” rather than celebrating freedom. Perhaps this is the nature of the country’s celebrations when at war. During the Vietnam War, I was in junior high so I was not attuned to the adults’ attitudes about Independence Day. Of course we also didn’t have the media and technology that we do in 2011. During the 70s there was television (we only received 3 channels in Oakboro at that time), radio, and the newspaper or magazines. Even with that, the only way one could spread personal opinion was by personal conversations or written letters.
Perhaps my point of view has changed because I’m older and more attuned to world news and politics. The writings and talk surrounding the 4th of July seems tinged with anger in a way I don’t remember from the past. The change of attitude concerns me because we are changing from a people who look at our blessing of freedom to a people pointing fingers of blame or condemnation at each other. Our call as Christians in this country is to live a life that is free in compassion and love towards each other.
Pastor Chris Ayers from Westwood Baptist in Charlotte posts a powerful article “July 4th: a Dangerous Day for Christians” and addresses his concern about how easy it is to forget our calling as a people of faith. His most powerful statement for me is “The government needs the Church but the Church does not need the government.”
As a people of God Jesus said that we are “free” because we know the truth. The truth that Jesus spoke of was not related to political party or the red, white and blue. In fact, one of the reasons Jesus was crucified was because he was not the political messiah many had anticipated. To make matters worse for Jesus, he did not participate either in the political views of the Pharisees and Sadducees at the time. Jesus’ message was not about political freedom, but his truth was about knowing God.
It is through our connection with God and Spirit that we are set free. When we are set free by our faith this freedom is one that embraces others. When we are set free by our spiritual experience our eyes are opened to our brothers and sisters so that we see our similarities rather than our differences. Our eyes are opened to injustice and oppression so that we can let mercy flow like water to our neighbors. James Peterson in his Bible translation called “The Message” states Amos 5:21-24 it like this:
I can’t stand your religious meetings
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice-oceans of it.
I want fairness-rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
The kind of freedom that Jesus and the prophets talked about did not separate you from me, black from white, Christian from Muslim, Democrat from Republican. The freedom Jesus spoke of is one where love (as working for the well being of all people) freed the believer from the chains of prejudice, fear, hatred. Jesus message freed the disciples to see each person as a child of God. The message is love and that love is a freedom to celebrate because it frees us from the tyranny of what others think; frees each of us to be the person God created us to be.