044. The Art of Freedom

I must start with something true before I go into a short blast about something more true: I love this country. I am blessed to have been born not only in the United States of America, not only in one of the most beautiful (albeit polarized) states, but also a glorious little ray of sunshine known as Orange County. I’ve lived here my entire life and have struggled and watch my family struggle to enjoy as much of the dream this land provides as they could (without sacrificing their morals).

Now, dear reader, you’re about to see what you will think is a counter to the former statements, but please stick with it and read why it’s not only not counter, but 100% because of my love for this place. So, to borrow from some great writing of another lover-of-America, Aaron Sorkin: “America isn’t the best country in the world…” The writer goes onto have his actor (the incomparable Jeff Daniels; another lover of America) to say that we’re “seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports” He then states that we lead the world in “incarcerated citizens per capita,” which for a land of the free, that’s disheartening at best and harrowing at worst. “Well, they’re keeping us safe from these villains,” some predictably repetitious people might say, but if you look at who’s actually in prison/jail for crimes, it’s the same types of people for the same types of trivial things: drug possession with intent to sell/distribute, mostly honest men and women who tried to make payroll by pilfering from their pension investments, and yes, there are some that are convicted and serving because of actual dangerous-to-society crimes. I’d be all about this system if it actually did what it was called: corrections! But no one seems keen on “correcting” these felons and getting them back into society! No no, it’s more to mark them as “felon” the rest of their lives and leave them in poverty because no one wants to hire “Hestor Prinn” with the A on her shoulder, they want “clean, honest folks that ‘contribute to society’.”

We never seem concerned about the dangers to society when it’s a politician accepting campaign funds from dirty oil businesses or “BIG Pharma” or any other investment pool. We don’t seem to hold the same standard to the ruling class when they reject forgiving the people’s loans, but forgive their own small business recovery loans. How is this any less honest than the dude trying to pass a forged check as their own money to get groceries? It’s not; and in many BIBLICAL ways it’s worse.

Jesus Christ says that those in leadership who lead that “…whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Who shall offend these little ones? He’s talking to adults. The grownups. The ones in charge who lead. Well, hate to break it to all the boot-lickers out there, but I’m offended. I’m offended by the ruling class; this oligarchy that has developed in our “freedom.” We’ve exchanged the freedom our founding father’s set out to create for serfdom of the rich and ruling classes. This is not what God wants; these are not His leaders. If you’re looking for how Christ would respond to the American (and all the rest too, for that matter) government in the modern age, it’s what He said about the Romans. It’s what He said about the religious elite (ahem, today’s white Christian Nationalists). He abhorred it. He never once endorsed Caesar saying ignorant statements like, “well he’s protecting the babies, so every other hang up is ok.” And, to that point, He never said “let’s overthrow this Roman government, so I can set you free.” No. He said, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God’s what is God’s.”

So, why am I bringing this up now? Well, it’s Independence Day in the United States today; our marking of the grandest and maybe biggest “fuck you” to the British Empire ever. The day we celebrate our freedom and everyone waves the colors that mean so much to them. But, it’s all a show. That flag has not represented people for decades if not longer. It represents some skeletal constructs that we just simply ignore if you’re rich or powerful or (even more annoyingly) privileged enough. Front of the line pass if your family went to this institution? Sounds like freedom to me. This war-torn country has a lot of oil in it? Sounds like they need some freedom.  Then the flag waves and everyone cries and meanwhile there’s not been fresh water in parts of the domestic USA for years. There are children dying because they’re hungry while the politicians decide that free food is a talking point in the political arena. Does any of this sound like actual freedom to you?

Now, me, a white Christ-following male born with no money yet So. Much. Privilege…what do I have to say about this whole thing? Why am I both in love with this country, but so disappointed by it? Because it’s mine. It’s yours. And some greedy-assed rich people have stolen it from you the way our ancestors stole it from the native dwellers. They stole it and have marketed this to you as “freedom.” All I’m saying is a similar thing to what Sorkin was trying to convey: America isn’t the best country in the world”…but it could be.”

You want to celebrate freedom today? Please do. Celebrate your true freedom to not buy into someone else’s prison cell they’ve created to keep you “safe.” Celebrate the ideas where true freedom means no one is different than anyone else; no one is the exception to the rule. No one is above grace, mercy, or justice. No one’s skin color, social station, or who they love or what they were born as means anything other than “child of God.” And this freedom is NOT something America offers you; it’s only available one place on this side: Jesus Christ. Not Christianity, not American Non-denominational White Evangelical…Jesus. Jesus doesn’t hate the gay community, doesn’t oppress women or the black community. He doesn’t care what church you go to (or not); He doesn’t care if you drink (or not), if you curse (or not), He is not concerned about legalistic hermeneutics of what the Apostle Paul said to the Ephesians thousands of years back…Jesus doesn’t care, because He’s already fixed it all. He only sees YOU. He doesn’t care if you defend the 2nd Amendment (or not), if you invite your friends to church (or not)…He wants you to feed His children, sit with them in their sadness, be HIM to THEM. Jesus would not have you legislate against the single mother or against your gay neighbors…He would tell you to invite them in for a meal. He would tell you to sit with the woman in the clinic to get her abortion. You wanna know where Jesus Christ is today? It’s not in the metaphorical four walls of the church or the sacred halls of Washington DC (or any other government)…He’s in the Planned Parenthood desperate to hold the lost and broken woman who’s about to abort her child…but instead the mechanism He made to do that in a physical, meaningful way is outside picketing and spitting in her face on her way in. He’s in parade with the truly happy-although-oppressed LGBTQIA+ community laughing and loving each other. He wants to hug them, but where are you? Sulking on the corners of pure joy telling these people that they’re going to hell. Jesus is with them, not against them…why are you? Be free from these constructs of what society or other men think about what the Bible says, what a Christian “should do,” and what your church says is important. Be free to be Christ to His people. God is love, right? Be the love to the people.

That’s it, that’s the message: freedom isn’t America, freedom is Jesus. Celebrate that on this Independence Day.

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