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What is Liberty? – A Reflection

May 4, 2020

These are indeed interesting times as our nation and world deal with the COVID-19 Pandemic. There is plenty of tension continuing to build as leaders balance opening an economy with keeping the people safe. Some are doing this better than others. As the pastor of a church that is predominantly made of up folks who are at a higher risk, the leadership and I are being very conservative in terms of “opening” up.

We are offering multiple Zoom opportunities for worship and fellowship which have been gratefully received by the members. Many have told me that while they miss being in the building that church is taking on a new meaning for them. A church beyond the walls of a building. A church that is concerned about the physical as well as the spiritual well-being of our members/family.

Yet I watch as protesters (yes, even in our small mountain town) decry the loss of their freedoms. They are accusing the government of taking away their liberties. It boggles my mind that folks would even consider putting others at risk by their reckless behavior all in the name of their so-called liberties.

When I was stationed at a USAF training base for my first assignment the chaplains all taught a class called “Adult Values Education” which was later renamed “Core Values.” As I would teach and talk with the students (my classroom style was very much a dialogue and not a lecture) we would learn from each other about what values are and how they impact our actions as a military member and a human being.

These students had just graduated from Basic Training and were at the base for their next level of Technical Training. They were still getting used to the military way of life and after leaving the confinement of Basic Training they were gradually gaining more freedom. Yet the bottom line was that when you raised your right hand and swore the oath you gave up some of the freedom and liberty you had as a civilian.

One example that I would use to talk about the difference between liberty/freedom and responsibility was the person’s right to swing their fist. They had the right to swing their fist but it ended the minute it hit my nose. What was I trying to impart? The point was that along with rights/freedom/liberty you had responsibilities to others. In the Christian tradition a core belief is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The Golden Rule which is found in many belief systems is this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

With all that I see on television and in the media about the protests that are verbally violent (and also physically violent) deeply disturbs me. To hear politicians say that it’s okay if old people die to save the economy makes me ill. Time and time again I think back to that lesson I taught nearly thirty years ago about rights and responsibilities.

In A Book of Hours which is a Daily Prayer book composed of some of Thomas Merton’s writings I found this quote in today’s Prayer at the time of Dark. Here is liberty, all I have to do is be quiet, sit still. (Run to the Mountain, p.20) With all of the commotion, agitation, fear-mongering, and hatred being spewed I believe we are losing something that is at the core of our being.

Perhaps if people spent less time hollering, fussing, fighting, and killing in the name of “liberty” they might truly learn that a person’s actions impact others. Then they might learn that the better way is to cooperate and care for all of God’s children. In the stillness and the quiet I have been learning a lot about myself, my faith, and life itself. In the words of Psalm 46:10, “Be Still and know that I am God…”. Be still… in that stillness we just might find true liberty which cares for all of God’s children and God’s creation.

  1. Thanks for your reflection on values and responsibility. The social compact is not equally distributed around the country. My niece, who has a specials needs four year old, posted on Facebook recently, “Your only the vulnerable, is my everything.”

    • It is so far from equal… sad how little has changed… yet differences are being made one life at a time.

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