Happy birthday, sweet country of mine!

I have been thinking a lot about the nature of freedom these days, especially in light of last week’s Supreme Court ruling and the resulting punditry that has taken over the news and opinion pages. What does personal freedom really mean anymore? Too often, it seems to be about indulging ourselves – that “freedom” means “doing whatever the heck we feel like.”

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Galatians 5:13-16

We are called as Christians to live lives led by the Spirit, empowered by him, and the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Self-control… it’s a tough one, especially when we are encouraged everywhere we look in today’s culture to “listen to our own hearts.” And so living in freedom doesn’t mean just doing whatever I feel like – it means living a life that is unbound by things that lead me away from a deeper relationship with God and that reflects his character in the world around me. The more I seek him, the more I am still and listen and pursue his will in my life instead of my own, the happier and more content I am – and the more I am able to harvest the fruit of a heart and a spirit plowed deep, tended, and pruned by his hand.

I am deeply grateful to live in a country where I am free to pursue that life. For all its problems, this country is still the standard by which freedom and opportunity are measured. It was founded by men who were willing – in very real and literal ways – to give up everything in furtherance of their belief that free men and women did not need a king (or any government) to tell them how to live their lives, and that lives of meaning and purpose were best rooted in community with others of like mind, with the understanding that what worked for one community (state) might work very differently for another.

Some years ago, I sat on the marble floor of the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC and contemplated the very flag Francis Scott Key saw raised over Fort McHenry. It was deeply moving – it was as if time had been bridged in some way, to look at that flag and imagine what he thought when he first saw it. Without making a conscious decision, I began quietly humming the “Star Spangled Banner” – it was just part of the moment. And then people around me began to pick it up and then we all stood and looked at that flag and sang together, spontaneously. And I cried, with joy and gratitude and a sense of community, standing there with people I didn’t even know celebrating what this country means in the world.

I think it’s not too late to reclaim that ideal – a country where we all take responsibility first for ourselves and then for those around us, and we do not allow the government to impose itself as our surrogate either in service or decision-making. Today, I’m celebrating the birth of that ideal on this continent 236 years ago, and I thank God for the privilege of living and working and serving here. God bless America and her leaders, and those who serve and have served to keep her free and safe – our servicemen and -women, our law enforcement officers, and the many, many men and women who have given their lives.

Happy birthday, America. You’re a grand old dame, and I love you.

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