Sounds of Freedom


These are my thoughts for this week.  They are based on the Scriptures for Sunday, July 2, 2017, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A) – Genesis 22: 1 – 14, Romans 6: 12 – 23, and Matthew 10: 40 – 42.

What are the sounds of freedom?  What sounds or words do you associate with freedom?  Granted, there are many choices one could pick but the first sound that I thought of was Richie Havens singing “Freedom” at the Woodstock Festival back in 1969.

The story is that Richie Havens was the opening act for the festival and only scheduled to sing a few songs.  But, for whatever reason, the next couple of acts had not arrived and the organizers asked Richie to keep playing.  So, he played and he played.  And after playing virtually all his material, he began to improvise on the song, “Freedom.”

The ability to improvise is not as easy as it might seem.  If one is not versed in the fundamentals of one’s trade, it is literally impossible to improvise.  So, when I hear this song, I am reminded that freedom is more than a word and that we must work on the fundamentals upon which freedom is based.

And there is another song which reminds me of the fundamentals of freedom, “Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills, & Nash.  As the words of the song state, the cost of freedom is buried in the ground.  Unfortunately, there are those who see the way to freedom through war and are quick to go to war when other means can achieve freedom as well.

I am reminded of the closing lines of Patrick Henry’s speech on March 23, 1775.  We all are aware of this speech for the closing line, perhaps echoing Joshua’s proclamation from Joshua 24: 15, “As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”

“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

But it is the line that precedes this is just as important when considering the words and sounds of freedom,

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the prices of chains and slavery?”

Those who heard that speech that day were probably well aware that Patrick Henry’s wife, Sarah, was mentally ill and there were those who felt that the best solution was to have her committed to the public hospital in Williamsburg.

If Patrick Henry had agreed to this treatment, his wife would have been locked in a windowless cell and chained to the wall with leg irons.  Rather than accept this, he chose to keep her home, in a well-lit and well-ventilated two-room apartment with 24-hour attention.  It should be noted that when Sarah died, she was died a Christian burial or religious funeral service because it was felt her mental illness was caused by possession by the devil.

The cost of freedom goes beyond the sacrifice of a few and to finding a way to maintain freedom.  Sadly, in today’s world, there are those who wish for others to die for their country while ignoring the wounded and maimed.  And when the wounded and maimed come home, they are quickly forgotten and monies that could be spent on building freedom are spent on additional weapons of war.

The next words of freedom come from Jesus.  In John 8: 32, we read that we are to seek the truth and the truth will set us free.  It is interesting to note that some of those who heard those words felt that they were already free because they adhered to the laws, rules, and regulations of the time.

But those laws, rules, and regulations gave freedom to those who wrote the laws, rules, and regulations; for the rest of the population, all they did was to enslave and entrap the population.  When people began to seek the truth for themselves, instead of relying on others, then freedom became a possibility.

And that leads to the last words of freedom.  When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, he spoke of people working together to seek the common goals of all humanity.

The words and sounds of freedom are many and various.  They echo through the ages and presage the future.  And while individuals speak the words of freedom, they require the work of all the people, working for all the people and not just a select few.  One cannot be free if someone else is not free.

So as you celebrate freedom, remember what you are asked to do.

 

Defining Freedom


This is the back page for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, July 2nd, 2017, bulletin of Fishkill United Methodist Church.  It was written by one of the youth of the church, Miles Cobb.


 

There are some misconceptions about freedom today, such as nobody can tell you what to do or that everyone has equal rights. A third definition, perhaps the closest to the truth, is that freedom give us the right to speak as we want and declare our opinions

For most people, to be free means that no one is commanding them or that they are not being held against our will. The right to do whatever we want is not a realistic possibility.  You could argue that if you want to steal from a store or trespass onto private property, then you should be able to do that. Doing whatever you want is a possibility, but there are consequences. The second way of defining freedom that I mentioned above is that everyone has equal rights, but this is not a reality. In America one of our mottos is equality, but groups such as African Americans, women and LGBTQs are continuously discriminated against. In the ideal American nation discrimination would not exist, yet it does.

Finally, there is a fourth way of defining freedom.  In the Bible freedom is described as a blessing by God that grants self-control and the ability to love. By this definition, through God and Jesus we are all free. When God created humans, He blessed us with consciousness and the freedom to love. This is what being “human” means. The quote that I always associate with freedom is 2 Timothy 1:7- “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Today, as the idea of freedom is becoming more and more convoluted, there is always this single verse to remind us how to be free in the heart of God.

What Do We Do Next?


I didn’t post anything for Memorial Day and perhaps i should have.  Memorial Day is a day to remember those whose sacrifices enabled his to celebrate our freedom.  Granted, this is has and will always been a day to consider those who have served in the military but I do think it proper and appropriate to remember those civilians who have died in the cause of freedom.

But what do we do next?  In this time and in this place, what are we going to do to stop the need for war to be the solution of society’s problems.  We know what causes war – when one group feels the need to extend their grasp of power over others, when one group goes to great trouble to take away the essentials of life, should we not be surprised that there is a war?

What would happen if we worked to remove the causes of war?  What would happen if we made sure that the sick and injured received medical treatment?  What would happen if all people have enough to eat?  What would happen if people were treated equally?  What if we spent millions and millions of dollars on education and other services that enable people to find their own path?  Would this not be a better world?  Would this be a world without war?

Do I think that we can eliminate war?  No, I don’t.  But if we focus on removing the causes of war, we are likely to make a non-starter.

So on the day after Memorial Day, will you be working to ensure that there are no new deaths to remember next year?

Is War Something To Forget?


I once wrote a piece for my blog entitled “Maybe We Should Study War More Often”. It was written as a response to another blogger’s idea that war can solve many of the problems of modern society (it turned out I was arguing with a bumper sticker).

War can never be the answer unless the question is related to the total and complete destruction of civilization and life as we know it.

One of my middle names (I have two) is Lee. It is a family name, given to me in honor of my maternal grandfather. I suspect there is a lengthy history to this name and that some of my ancestors named their children Lee in honor of Robert E. Lee.

I am fully aware of the role that General Lee played in the Civil War but I also know that he once wrote his wife, and I have used this quote many times, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should too fond of it.”  (My thoughts concerning this topic are found in “It’s Not About a Piece of Cloth”.)

When I opposed the Viet Nam War, it was because I saw several injustices. Among those injustices was the decision by old (and usually white) men sending young men off to battle, to die on the battle field, lonely and forgotten.

I don’t know how others felt but my argument was and will always be with a leadership that sends the youth off to war and then forgets them. Those that went to war and were fortunate to come home deserve recognition and support (something that our society and our leaders have seeming forgotten).

In my family are three flags, flags that are not flown on national holidays but cared for because of what they represent.  Each of these flags was given by a representative to the United States as an expression of thanks for the service given by the individual on whose coffin they lie.

Many people have these flags, folded in a triangle, and carefully stored because these are flags that cannot be replaced.  My family was lucky because each flag was given during the peacetime.  Other families received their flags during the war time and their father or son, their mother or their daughter died on a battlefield far away from home.

I have a Facebook friend whose brother, Walter. went to the same high school as she and I did.  He was five years ahead of me so I never knew him.  Shortly after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  In 1967, he died in Viet Nam.  Before he died, he saved the lives of several of his comrades and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Over the past few years, I have observed the love his younger sister, Carolyn, had for him and I know that his death was not vain.

But we seem to think that it is okay to send our youth off to war and to forget them when they come home, some wounded, others dead but all changed by the horrors of war.

In this place and time, we must work for a world in which there is no war and that war is never used as the first step in the solution of conflict and hatred.  Against the violence and destruction of war, we must make a stand that says, “we shall study war no more and we will not forget those who have died when war was necessary.”

Where Do You Meet Jesus?


Ordinarily, I would wait until the end of the post before answering the question that I use for the title.  But in this case, I will answer the question at the beginning.

I think that we will meet Jesus in the most unexpected and unusual places.  We will meet him when we are not ready or when it is the most inconvenient.  This is an uncomfortable answer for many today, simply because we want to meet Jesus on our terms, not His.

And I do that because, in the first weeks of the Easter season, on the day of the Resurrection and in the days following, the disciples and followers of Jesus were meeting Him in some rather unusual or unexpected places.  And from the gloom and despair that came on Good Friday came the joy and restoration of the Resurrection.  The movement, the ministry that had been three years in the making would not end but would continue.

And it must have been even more frustrating to the political and religious authorities that the movement, which they felt they had crushed, was still alive.  But it had to be frustrating because Jesus never did things the way they, the “experts”, had said religion was supposed to be done.

There were rules and laws which dictated the behavior of the people; there were places in which one was to worship God.  And Jesus went outside the boundaries set by the rules and the laws.  He extended the ability to worship God to people who were routinely excluded, for any number of reasons, from worship.

Jesus didn’t do things the “right” way, the way prescribed by the laws and the rules established by the religious authorities.  He understood those rules and those laws, but more importantly he moved beyond simply following them because he also understood that the rules and laws which prescribed the proper behavior served as a limitation, preventing individuals from truly encountering God in their lives.

During this Easter season, I have been looking for quotes from John Wesley to put on the back page of the Fishkill UMC Sunday bulletin.  I was interested in the more well-known quotes, though I did use three of them.  But I also found two quotes that spoke to John Wesley’s mind set about religion in 18th century England (see the entries for May 7th and May 28th).

It seems to me that Wesley was the ultimate Type A person, he also understood that others were not.  And while he demanded that those who wanted to be “those people called Methodists” follow the rules of the Methodist society, I don’t think that he demanded that all people do so.

And how ever one views Wesley, I think it is important to realize that the vision that he had for the church required that the church go beyond its physical boundaries.  Just as Jesus went beyond the boundaries of the established religion, so did Wesley do that as well.  Faith cannot grow, individually or collectively, if it is limited in vision and scope.  One has to be very careful that the rules and laws that one creates as the basis for operation don’t become restrictions and boundaries that prevent you from moving.

We live in a time where, if there is a vision for the future it is a bleak one.  We live in a time where some feel that being one of God’s children is determined by your race, gender or sexual identity, or economic status.  The world that Jesus sought to open is becoming very much closed.  And as we seemingly stare longingly at the past, we need to see that the England in John Wesley preached could very well have undergone the same violent and bloody revolution that France had recently gone through.

But history tells us that England did not undergo the same revolution as France, in part because of the Methodist revival lead by John Wesley.

In the 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw a world in which laws became even more controlling and limiting.  And while the laws that were passed directly limited the rights of a few, they, in effect, limited the rights of all.  And this is something that we in this country know quite well (or at least we should know quite well).  And, if I understand what took place, the effects of those restrictive and prohibitive laws, filled with hate, changed the way that Bonhoeffer saw the world around him and the role of Christianity in that world.

Today, we are seeing the same things happen.  We are seeing the passage or the attempt to pass secular and sectarian laws which limit the rights and privileges of a few.  And we would be sadly mistaken if we think that such laws do not affect us, for as it has long been said, when we seek to enslave one, we enslave all.

And the true nature of Christianity is being challenged, challenged in such a way that the church may not survive.  Now, I do not know and have never understand that one can claim to be a Christian and yet work for the oppression of minorities, deny healthcare to people, favor the wealthy over the poor and disposed, or even cast out the strangers in our lands.  I cannot conceive of anyone claiming to be a Christian but still seek a society that ignores even the basic message of the Gospel.  The world in which these people live is a restricted and exclusive world, a world in which even Jesus is excluded.

We are on the cusp of a great change.  How we respond to the changes taking place will decide not only our future but the future for our children and this planet.

Personally, I will not live in that world and I will work to make sure that the world in which I live is one in which one can meet Jesus.  You see, if we are who we say we are, when others meet us and when we meet others, there we will meet Jesus.


Quotes of John Wesley for the back page of the Easter Season bulletins for Fishkill United Methodist Church (service starts at 10 am on Sundays, click here for the location of the church; you are more than welcome to come and worship with us!

23 April 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

In August, 1739, John Wesley went  to Bristol, England to begin a Methodist revival.

The  Bishop of the Anglican Church, Joseph Butler, told him, “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore, I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley replied, “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever, therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can –do most good here. Therefore, here I stay.”

And thus, the Methodist Revival began in England.

30 April 2017 3rd Sunday of Easter

I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. John Wesley, Journal (11 June 1739)

7 May 2017 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Condemn no man for not thinking as you think.  Let everyone enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself.  Let every man use his own judgment, since every man must give an account of himself to God.  Abhor every approach, in any kind or degree, to the spirit of persecution, if you cannot reason nor persuade a man into truth, never attempt to force a man into it.  If love will not compel him to come, leave him to God, the judge of all.                      John Wesley

14 May 2017 – 5th Sunday of Easter – Mother’s Day

Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church. . . nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy Presence.

Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley (as this was Mother’s Day, the quote came from John’s mother).

21 May 2017 – 6th Sunday of Easter

May 24, 1738 – the moment we called Aldersgate (let’s face, what quote would you use for this Sunday?)

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death – John Wesley,

28 May 2017 – Ascension Sunday

This is the first of the four points John Wesley used in beginning the Methodist Revival in 1738 –

Orthodoxy, or right opinions, is, at best, but a very slender part of religion, if it can be allowed to be any part of it at all; that neither does religion consist in negatives, in bare harmlessness of any kind; nor merely in externals, in doing good, or using the means of grace, in works of piety (so called) or of charity; that it is nothing short of, or different from, “the mind that was in Christ;” the image of God stamped upon the heart; inward righteousness, attended with the peace of God; and “joy in the Holy Ghost.”

4 June 2017 – Pentecost Sunday

I have seen (as far as it can be seen) many persons changed in a moment from the spirit of horror, fear, and despair to the spirit of hope, joy, peace; and from sinful desires, till then reigning over them, to a pure desire of doing the will of God.