Liberty and Justice
I hope you had a good Independence Day this week. But I wonder if maybe we should start calling it Interdependence Day instead. The holiday celebrates the Declaration of Independence where a group of feisty colonists decided to break from England. It was the beginning of a revolution that would sever the political and economic ties between a colony and an Empire.
That revolution was not just about independence, however, the colonies also banded together in common cause, eventually forming a country that would create its own empire. It also wasn’t just about freedom or about having a say in what affects you – it wasn’t really about following our Unitarian Universalist principle about the democratic process. Women could not vote and neither could men who did not own property. Blacks were still enslaved. Native American villages were being burned and the people slaughtered.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass, said this:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
Harsh words, but we know that they were true. Just as it is true today that all who dwell on this country’s soil are not free. Undocumented immigrants are one obvious example, but what of the masses of people who are poor, who are homeless, who have little real freedom, because most of their waking hours are concerned with survival?
So what is freedom? What is liberty? Is it something we have in this country? Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Freedom and justice are intertwined. You cannot really have one without the other.
A lot of people don’t seem to understand that.
It plays out in the political and economic spheres of course. A corporation’s freedom from government regulation can destroy the environment. Is that justice?
What about the individual who simply throws away a soda can rather than taking it to be recycled. That is freedom I suppose, but hardly justice.
Employers are free to pay whatever low wages they can get away with, so low that their employees are eligible for food stamps. Is that justice?
Independence needs to be balanced with interdependence. We try to do that in this faith tradition. Several of our principles mention freedom, the right of individual conscience, liberty, the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But others also lift up world community, justice, and the awareness that we are each truly bound and connected to all the rest of existence.
What affects one of us really does affect us all. Our freedom sometimes needs to be limited because our doing whatever we might want would limit someone else’s freedom in more important ways.
How free are we anyway? Are we not all constrained by our circumstances?
We may not be slaves, but we need to show up at our jobs and do some work or else we won’t be paid. Students have to go to school, even when they may not want to go. Some might call that justice, some might name it responsibility, but it is a limit on freedom.
I believe in free will. I think that we each have choices to make in our lives. It is not all laid out in some pre-destined way. But every choice we make, limits our future choices. It is way too late for me to become a physicist, for instance, even if I had both the desire and aptitude for that discipline.
Our liberty is limited by our stage in life and by our circumstances. We also can deny the freedom we do have. If we don’t use it, we don’t really have it. We limit ourselves sometimes before we even try. ‘That can’t be done.” “It is no use.” “It has been tried before and did not work.” It isn’t always other people that tell us we can’t do something, the conversation inside of our own head is often enough to stop us.
“I am not good enough.” What will people think?’
Think if you will, for a moment, about you own sense of liberation. What holds you back from being the person you would like to be? What is keeping you from doing what you really want to do? What are the chains, either of your own making or of the larger culture and society that keep you from breaking free?
This is where spirituality comes in. If you don’t already have a spiritual practice, I encourage you to find one. It could be prayer, mediation, doing yoga, or even taking walks in nature. A spiritual practice can be anything, whatever stills that negative self-talk, whatever frees you for at least of few minutes from the busyness and frustrations of your daily life.
James Baldwin said,
“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be”
His statement does not meant that people who are not free don’t want to be. People do not generally choose their chains. But freedom, liberation, begins in the human heart and mind. You have to imagine it, have a vision before it can come to pass. In slavery days, songs were sung in the fields. They helped make the long days go by, but they also kept the hope of freedom alive.
Oh, liberty and justice! We can’t find either of them alone. You can’t be free until you know who you are. And you can’t really know who you are until you find at least one kindred spirit who will see you, really see you. We all need somebody who will see us as someone who has something to offer to the world, who will look at us and recognize that divine spark that each of us carries inside.
We say Namaste here sometimes. It is a Hindu term that is used as a greeting and basically means that the divine in me bows to the divine in you.
Namaste means are all holy. It doesn’t matter who we are or how much money we have. It doesn’t matter what we have done or haven’t done. We are holy.
Do you believe that?
Do you believe that the lives of all people are sacred? Do you believe that your life is sacred?
Sometimes that last one is the hardest.
Try it with me. Even if you don’t think it is true, just try it.
“I am holy.” It is OK to cry. Some of you have been told that you aren’t an OK person. That was wrong. Say, “I am holy.”
Now, look around the room as we say, “You are holy,”
We are all in the room, so let’s say, “We are holy.”
Expand your awareness to our neighborhood, the folks living in the downtown Ogden area.
“They are holy.”
Fly up in the sky and look down at the earth. Think of all the people in all the countries. Imagine the plants and animals too. See the mountains and the oceans and look at the white clouds circling a blue green globe.
Say now, “All is holy.”
That is where liberation comes from. The deep spiritual understanding that everything is sacred. Life is a miracle. We are miracles. I am holy, you are holy, we are holy, they are holy, and all are holy.
If we are holy, we cannot stay in chains.
We need to speak our truths and we need to struggle to be free. If we are holy, we need to love ourselves.
We need to forgive ourselves for any mistakes we may have made. We need to live the best lives that we can, honoring who we are and where we have been, and stretching ourselves so that the sacred will look out from our eyes.
If all are holy, we need to work for justice, for equality, for freedom, so that all people can be recognized as the miracles they are. We must practice compassion and mercy in how we deal with others. We can look for the sacred in everyone’s eyes.
If all is holy, we also need to take great care with how we tend to our planet. We need to keep the air and water clean. The earth sustains us and we must sustain it.
Yes, God Bless America. God bless all the countries of the world. God bless the entire world and all its creatures. God bless you and God bless me.
Namaste, my friends, Namaste, may all of us find liberty and may all of us know justice.