“To Seek Freedom and Truth, We Must Ask ‘Why?’”


Here are my thoughts for July 4, 2021


Lectionary readings

  • Jeremiah 33:14-18
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34 Messiah and New Covenant
  • 2 Samuel 5:1-5
  • 2 Samuel 5:9-10
  • Ezekiel 2:1-7
  • 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
  • Mark 6:1-13

The focus of the message will be John 8: 31 – 47


Some two thousand years ago, Jesus stood before a gathering of religious and political leaders and told them that to be free they needed to seek the truth.  But these leaders scoffed at the notion they were not free, claiming that through Abraham, they had gained their freedom.

But their freedom was, at best, illusionary.  They had constructed a legal environment that limited their actions.  They had forgotten that the dietary rules they so strictly enforced came from health concerns during the Exodus and were not necessarily a requirement for faith.  They had criticized Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath while ignoring that it was permissible for a farmer to take care of an ailing animal.  There were also angry that Jesus sought to open a society that they sought to close.

These religious and political leaders were also blind to the realization that their power, their position, their prestige, and place in society were dependent on their subservience to the Roman political authorities.  In maintaining their lifestyle, they were slaves to the Roman political authority.

Spiritually and politically, they were not free but slaves to their prejudices, bias, and desire for power.

Two hundred and forty years ago, Thomas Jefferson sat in a hot and sweltering hotel room in Philadelphia and wrote what many consider the most radical of all political manifestos, a statement that the people have the right to determine their own freedom.  He wrote of the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.

Even today, there is much debate what Jefferson was thinking when he wrote those words.  Over time, we have come to see that singular phrase, that “all men are created equal,” be all inclusive, meaning everyone, regardless of gender, sexual identity, financial status, race, creed, or color.

President John Kennedy once noted,

“the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

Some 245 years later, we struggle to achieve that equality as there are those whose view of equality is limited and who see an expansion of equality as a threat to their power and prestige.

As a science educator, I see a society that hesitates to seek the future, trying desperately to stay in the status quo, forgetting, as Heraclitus noted,

“No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

The ruling class saw Jesus as the son of a working man, incapable of deep theological thought.  Somehow, they had forgotten that some twenty years before, Jesus has confounded and astonished the religious elite in the Temple.  It should be noted that the changes in physics in the early 20th century, changes that allowed the development of much of today’s technology, came not from the physics establishment but by younger physicists not bound by the boundaries imposed by the physics of that time.

Today, we are faced with many problems, problems that threaten our freedom as individuals, as a society, and as inhabitants of this planet. 

They are problems of science (climate change, a pandemic, a need for alternative energy); they are problems of equality, in all its forms.  Despite the cries and efforts of a minority, these are man-made problems, and as President John Kennedy noted, can be solved by man.

These problems require that we begin (again) asking the most fundamental question of all, “Why?”

As I noted in “Tell Me The Truth, But. . .”, I am the grandson of an Army officer and the son of an Air Force officer.  This gave me a view of the world different from my many classmates.  And I crossed the boundary from eleven to twelve, the age at which Samuel answered the call from God and Jesus debated the teachers in the Temple, I answer to call from God.

By the time I came to Memphis in 1966, I had chosen to walk two paths, one of faith and one of science.  Each of these paths leads to a definition of the truth.  I do believe there are several truths, some are found in the spiritual world, others are found in the physical world.  To seek the truth should be each person’s goal and the distillation of the facts to their simplest components is how we find that one single truth.  There may be a hint of Eastern mysticism in that, I am not sure (adapted from Yellow Lines and Dead Armadillos | Thoughts from The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)

Let me just say that I am not interested in the post-modern definition of truth where one’s version of truth may differ from someone else’s.  That is for others in a different time and place.

The search for the truth in the physical world depends, in fact, demands that we ask “why?”

As a chemist, I know that there are certain fundamental truths, but these truths have changed over time as we have delved deeper and deeper into the nature of matter.  We have gone from indivisible particles called atoms to the discovery of the particles present at the beginning of the universe.  We have gone from an understanding of matter as simply being a combination of earth, air, fire, and water, to a collection of 118 elements that promises, with the development of new technologies and a better understanding of the technology, to continue to grow.

And just as there is a certain set of fundamental truths for the physical world, there is also a certain set of fundamental truths in the spiritual world.  These, I believe, are more difficult to discover for one must find themselves first. 

Part of the difficulty lies in the things that constitute the basis for this truth are often not visible or measurable (as might be the existence of atoms or elements).  President Jimmy Carter once noted,

What are the things that you cannot see that are important?  (2 Corinthians 4:18) I would say justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, love.  You cannot see any of those but they’re the guiding lights of a life.” – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_power_corrupt_everyone_equally

It is not my responsibility to tell you how to think or what to believe; it is my responsibility, my duty, to show you how to answer the question of “why?” 

In 1969, I was a college sophomore struggling with the demands of college life, searching for meaning in my life.  Against that backdrop, I was beginning to ask how a Gospel message of hope and promise worked in a world of war, hatred, poverty, and ignorance.  As I prepared to travel to my home in Memphis for the Spring break, I asked my pastor, Marvin Fortel, if I could meet with him and take communion.  During the communion, I came to discover the true meaning of God’s grace.

That day, so many years ago, I came to understand that I work for justice and freedom, not because it will get me into Heaven but because it is my responsibility as a citizen of the Kingdom of God (adapted from “The Changing of Seasons”).

. . . it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not the object of our knowledge but the cause of our wonder — Based on Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, author 0f The Orthodox Way  

When I was in college and on my own (as it were), I figured that I would be able to sleep late on Sunday mornings and skip out on church.  But then I discovered that I needed to be in church.  College brought up a lot of questions, some about chemistry, some about calculus, one or two about English and history.  But there were also a lot of questions about who I was and I found that the answers to those questions came when I was in church. 

I was lucky.  The pastors that I meet and worked with in college didn’t give me the answers to those questions.  They showed me the way to find the answers on my own. (Adapted from “Now It Is Your Turn!”)

There were some pastors, of course, who will tell you what the answers to the questions are and that you are not to question those answers.  I genuinely believe that had these individuals been my guide, I would have, as so many are doing today, left the church and the faith.

In a way, I still seek the truth, both in the physical world and in the spiritual realm.  And as I help others answer their own questions of “why?”, so too do I find the freedom that comes from seeking the truth.

In the Star Trek movie, “Resurrection”, Geordi La Forge, the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise, asked Captain Picard if the regaining of his sight was worth it if others lose their homes and lives.  Our search from truth and freedom cannot come at the expense of others.  Rather our search from truth and freedom will come when we help others seek the same goals, to answer the same questions, all that being with “why?”

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