On this hallowed day, July 4, we celebrate 239 years of declared independence from England. And while many in our nation have forgotten or never really learned the significance of this day, and while others challenge the celebration of freedom as the rise of oppression for their peoples, this day of celebration really begs the question,
what is freedom?
Webster’s dictionary defines freedom as the quality or state of being free. It goes on to describe freedom as: the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; independence, among other things (from www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freedom).
Pharrell Williams debuted a song called “Freedom” last weekend. In the intro, he said, “Tonight I want to share something really special with you guys…it’s a song called Freedom. You see, I don’t care how much money you have in the bank account, I don’t care how rich your family is or where you come from, if you’re a human being you need some sort of freedom. There’s always somebody or something in your life trying to chain you down and tell you what you can or can’t do, but tonight England, we’re going to get freedom!” You can watch the whole thing here.
The song doesn’t really seem to paint a clear picture of freedom, even if it does have a catchy tune. The heart behind the music is revealing, however…the celebration is about throwing off chains and being able to do whatever one wants, without reservation or constraint.
But what is freedom? Union Gospel Mission-Inland Northwest asked 20 residents from their crisis shelters how they would define it. You can find their answers here. Then, Phil Altmeyer, the Executive Director for UGM-Inland Northwest, shared his thoughts, here. Both are fantastic articles. And it got me thinking, how do I define freedom?
Having lived by myself for the first time in over twenty years, I have experienced Pharrell William’s kind of freedom; nobody has been here to tell me when to go to bed, what to eat, or how to spend my time. As an adult, nobody can tell me to exercise or eat dessert last or get my classwork done. Admittedly, if I choose poorly, I will deal with consequences.
But nobody is constraining me to do any of those things.
So, according to the definition, I have freedom from constraint. But on the other hand, if I choose to take full advantage of my freedom, I suffer consequences…consequences that can be very unpleasant, expensive, and even painful. How does that fit into the definition of freedom? Is it really just not having anyone tell me what I can or can not do?
In a word, no. That is not freedom.
Freedom is having the opportunity to make wise choices, and to be able to constrain myself.
The best example of this is from the movie Braveheart starring Mel Gibson. In a powerful battlefield scene, William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) rallies troops of free Scotsmen by challenging them to really think about freedom. The scene can be viewed here.
Though our circumstances are different, we face the same dilemma… what will we do with our freedom…
The other question we must consider, especially on this day of celebrating freedom and independence, are we being wise stewards?
Freedom is a tremendous privilege, not necessarily afforded to the majority of the world’s population.
With privilege comes responsibility…
The Founding Fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to secure for us what we celebrate today.
Would they be pleased with their ROI?
What about the more than 1,000,000 men and women through out history who signed the check that bought our freedom with their own blood?
Or the 6, 825 who have laid it all on the line in just the last sixteen years for others to experience what we take for granted?
Would they feel like their sacrifice was worthwhile?
Will they be satisfied with our choices?
If you were in their shoes, would you be?