This weekend we celebrate an extended Fourth of July weekend.
July 4th celebrates the founding of our nation — based on the values of freedom and liberty. This is is why we call the holiday “Independence Day.”
Our personal feelings about independence take many forms. For many, it might be as direct as the motto of the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution: Delaware. Its motto is “Liberty and Independence.” For others, it may be summed up as “proud to be an American.” For still others, it could even reflect the motto for another of the original 13 states, New Hampshire: “Live free or die.” And then there are the words of our national anthem: “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
But today is not Aug. 2, 1776 (when the Declaration of Independence was signed.) How do we think about freedom, liberty and independence in 2019?
For some on this Independence Day, it is admittedly about freedom from work. That can be good, since leisure and recreation bring health benefits.
For others, freedom goes beyond a day off; it is a mindset that freedom means “doing it my way.” Others feel grateful for the chance to fully explore their potential. That’s part of what we remember in this centennial year of the U.S. Congress granted women the right to vote. (It took another year before enough states ratified the 19th Amendment.)
This year also marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, what many consider the turning point in World War II, which led to the liberation of a large part of the world trapped under the control of dictators. This year also marks the centennial of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.
Later this month, we mark the 50th anniversary (July 20) of the lunar landing and “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 2019 is also the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, the leader of the independence movement in India and one of the greatest proponents of nonviolent resistance in a generation.
This is also the 90th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who also championed nonviolence in his pursuit of civil rights.
And the “Summer of 69” was the summer of Woodstock, another form of what some called freedom but which nonetheless shaped a generation.
What do all of these anniversaries have in common, besides some aspect of freedom? Looking back on the history of wars and struggles for freedom, one message is very clear. It is the oft-quoted adage that “liberty is never free.”
We can see that in the lives — and deaths — of those who fought in our wars, from the American Revolution to modern-day Afghanistan. We can see that in the ongoing struggles for civil rights, not only for Black Americans and women, but for the poor, for refugees, for those subjected to human trafficking. Freedom and liberty are sought by the sick and elderly who lack sufficient resources, health care and companionship, by those who are bullied, by those who must work more than one job to make ends meet. All these are seeking the promise of freedom — now, today — in our country.
Let’s also remember the millions who seek their dreams of freedom worldwide: freedom from unsafe water, from the fear of war, from the fear of disease and from oppression because of their religious faith.
No, freedom is never free. Jesus, who came to set us free from sin and death, taught us that, both in his ministry and from the cross.
Deep down, as we in the United States celebrate this holiday in honor of freedom, we all understand the message of freedom given to us by God through his son. Maybe that’s part of why, since 1956, we have had the official U.S. motto: “In God We Trust.” Where else can we find true and lasting freedom?