This year’s 4th of July felt like the most tenuous celebration of the United States’ independence in my lifetime. Given the events of recent years and even weeks—an insurgency on the U.S. Capitol, Afghanistan, voter suppression, protests, Roe, mass shootings, disinformation and misinformation threatening democracy itself—a unified celebration of freedom seemed implausible if not impossible.
Bearing this mind, I started my Independence Day conversing with God. Walking around the neighborhood, I spoke my prayer aloud, expressing to the Creator whose love for the whole world supersedes the blessing of any one country, my mixture of appreciation for and frustration with the nation in which’s borders I was born. Through lament and celebration, I listened for the voice of the Divine while listening for the experiences of so many Americans, all of whom are made in that Divine image, and so many of whom question the historical record of America to reveal the truth of who we are as a country and what freedom means to us from our myriad perspectives.
Jesus tells his followers that when they know the truth, the truth will make them free (John 8:32). The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about freedom; liberation from oppressive powers of any kind that hinder the full personhood of human beings made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And Jesus exemplifies this message by literally overturning the tables of unquestioned convention (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17) and challenging passively accepted norms of culture and religion (Matthew 23). He even invites anyone willing to listen to him to take a hard look at what they’ve always heard and to take those cultural practices to task so that the truth of God’s will—the kingdom of God, the kin-dom of heaven—might be revealed. “You have heard it said that retribution is justice, but I tell you that an eye for an eye is nonsensical and unsustainable, and that forgiveness leads to restoration, true justice” (Matthew 5:38-42…my remix of it anyway).
On Saturday, the youth of Friends Congregational Church are traveling to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they will spend a week doing volunteer work and learning about communities and cultures; in some instances, how those communities and cultures were affected by the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny. Both of those concepts are inescapable parts of U.S. history, both are informed by racist, white-centered interpretations of the Bible, and both have been taught, heard, and accepted from generation to generation as noble and even good and just; necessary means to a proud end. But the Jesus that the young people are following into this experience instructs them to question and challenge what they have always heard, for doing so will reveal truth with the power to set people free.
We pray that our youth’s faithful discipleship with Christ might bring home some of that truth, and that it might work in our church and wider community to unite all people in a celebration of freedom that is not based on secularized human will exerted over other human beings of different races, nationalities, or cultural identities, but on faithful obedience to God’s will for all people to be free—free to do justice in mutuality with our neighbors, free to love mercy in solidarity with one another and the whole of creation on which everyone relies to fully live, and free to walk humbly with our liberating God and one another as liberated people.