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July 4 Celebrates Freedom...Right?

06/30/2015 01:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016
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How Dumb Can I Be?

It was a stupid thing to do.

The parking lot was full, and I slowly cruised around looking for an empty space.

Finally, I saw a car backing out of one. I flipped on my left turn signal and waited. He drove away, and I inched forward.

Suddenly, another car darted ahead of me and seized the coveted space. The driver got out of her vehicle and began to walk towards a nearby department store.

At that point, my mouth stopped conferring with my mind.

I shouted, "Excuse me!" She ignored me.

"Excuse me!"

This time she turned around, shrugged her shoulders, and replied, 'Yeah?"

I said, "I want to know why. Why did you do that?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You saw me waiting. Why?"

She rolled her eyes and walked away.

An Era of Impatience

In an era marked by road rage and parking pandemonium, I exercised poor judgment.

Quite frankly I was irritated. It's the same kind of irritation I experience whenever I hear horns blaring. Is it just me, or do we honk at one another much more than we did five years ago? Are we becoming impulsively impolite?

Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know.

What I do know is that Independence Day offers us a prime opportunity to reflect on how we treat one another.

Freedom From

With sizzling hot dogs, ice-cold watermelons and dazzling fireworks, we remember that ours is truly a remarkable country. Perfect? Of course not.

But for more than two centuries, we have rejected the status quo of history and lived towards the ideals of our Founding Fathers (and Mothers).

For more than two centuries, we have refused to believe that our past dictates our future, that our social standing decides our vocation and that our family name determines our legacy.

For more than two centuries, we have championed freedom, freedom from tyranny, freedom from injustice, freedom from anyone or anything that would deny us the power to choose.

The freedom we enjoy is a blessing. It is a gift purchased with the blood of thousands upon thousands of patriots.

However, when we forget that freedom is a privilege, we soon regard it as an entitlement. We begin to honk horns and zip into parking spaces. We delude ourselves into believing that we are the center of the universe.

Freedom is a gift, but freedom without responsibility enslaves us to our own whims and desires. Freedom without accountability destroys community, and freedom without purpose sends us into a swirling sea of self-absorption.

Freedom For

Thankfully, the Christian tradition offers us some direction and insight. It reminds us that we are not simply free from. We are free for.

We are free for love, free for compassion, and free for others.

I learned this lesson well several years ago. Charleston, S.C., is a beautiful city, and my family and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we lived there.

But we did not particularly enjoy late summer, the heart of hurricane season.

Early one muggy morning we, and most folks along the coast, evacuated inland. Floyd was raging in the Atlantic, and it was hurtling towards us.

Some people, including my neighbor, decided to stay. At the last moment, the storm skipped north and spared us the brunt of its fury.

We returned home the next day, and as we drove through our subdivision, we saw debris strewn everywhere. It was a mess, and we knew that we were in for a long afternoon of hauling and raking.

Sure enough, when we pulled into our driveway, we saw palm branches, oak limbs, pine straw and pieces of scrap metal. But all gathered into a pile near the road?

I looked down the street and saw three more mounds of rubbish.

Our neighbor had cleaned up our yards. I barely knew him! But he was stranded at home, and as he put it, "I had some free time."

He had more than a free time. He had a free heart.

We truly are our brothers' and sisters' keeper. We are free for one another.

The next time a friend visits you in the hospital or your co-worker invites you to join her at a soup kitchen or a cashier asks you how you are doing or a stranger holds the door open for you at Wendy's, look up in the sky. You might see a few Roman candles painting those white billowy clouds yellow and red. You might smell hot dogs and hamburgers cooking on the grill.

And if you listen very, very closely, you might hear someone singing, "Oh, say! can you see by the dawn's early light ..."