A day of Independence?

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather QuillToday is July 4th, known in America as “Independence Day,” the day our nation officially proclaimed our independence from the British monarchy.    We now have 237 candles in our national cake.   Happy Birthday to us.

As this holiday has approached, I have been thinking a lot lately about our independence, as a people and nation.

When you are born, you are immediately dependent upon your parents for survival.   By age two, however, you begin to develop some level of independence.   You want to feed yourself, walk where you want, do things on your own.  This is normal and quite healthy as we grow.  Time passes and that “terrible two” eventually realizes that he/she still needs Mom and Dad a bit more than they thought.   The child again recognizes their dependence.   This dependent/independent pendulum swings again at least three different times over the course of your  life; during the teen years, in young adulthood and again as we enter the elderly phase.   These independent/dependent stages are very normal.   On one level, we desperately want our independence.  On another level, there are seasons where we are dependent upon the very people we desire independence from.   Such is human nature and the way life works.  As much as we desire it, we are not as independent as we like to think.

237 years ago, we officially declared our national independence from the British government.   Like a prodigal son, we left the shores of England and embarked on a dangerous journey “across the pond.”   Against incredible obstacles, we created our own constitution and laws and began a new country with new traditions, like none the world had ever seen.   Today we take a day as a nation to celebrate our independence.  

But are we really independent?   

By definition the word implies that an independent one is “free from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.”   By that definition, are any of us truly free?

  • I don’t need to tell you how important oil is to our nation’s economy and lifestyle.  The U.S. imports approximately 10.6 million barrels of petroleum (per day) from about 80 countries.   That sounds like dependence to me.
  • Of our $16 trillion in debt, approximately $5 trillion is held by more than 35 other countries, with China and Japan topping the list.
  • 51% of the world’s coffee consumption comes from Brazil, Colombia & Indonesia.  These countries (among many others) control our access to the number one drug in America.  In other words, if it wasn’t for Latin America, you would be late for work, grumpy and experiencing caffeine withdrawal every day of the week.
  • Your cell phone, computer and flat screen TV are brought to you by rare earth minerals such as neodymium.  Unfortunately, the United States only possesses 13% of the world’s rare earth reserves.   Because of this, we have become heavily dependent upon numerous foreign countries (like China) as these rare earth minerals are crucial in the manufacture of jet fighter engines, antimissile defense systems, and smart bombs, among other advanced military systems.   Even our military dominance is dependent upon others.
  • We are even dependent upon the continent of Africa.  75% of the world’s chocolate comes from this third world nation.   As we all know, this can singlehandedly control a woman’s mood.  <wink>

As great as America is, as sovereign as we are, as dominant as we are in world affairs, we are still massively dependent upon other countries.   We can celebrate our independence and even enjoy the perks of being a world power, but we must not forget that we are not the world’s parent – merely one of the larger siblings in a global family.

As I reflect on our personal dependence upon family and friends and our nation’s dependence upon other nations, I can’t help but think of our collective dependence upon an Almighty God.  In His grace, He “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)  Christian and pagan alike are all dependent upon the One who “holds all things together.” (Colossians 1:17) 

For example, modern scientists marvel at the human brain.  With more memory and capacity than our fastest computer, we still haven’t come close to uncovering its magnificence or even tapping its full potential.  Without the creative power of the brain, we could not develop any “smart” technology in our hands today.  Without our intelligent designs and industrial strength, we could not build the homes, structures, highways & vehicles that allow us to live and work and travel like we do.   But how did our human brain come to be?   Was it the result of a random big bang?  Could it have evolved over millions of years from a single cell out of a stagnant lake?   Or did an alien life form actually drop the beginnings of life to Earth?   Honestly, it takes more faith to believe some of these theories than it does to believe that an Intelligent Creator created an intelligent creation.  The truth is, God created us and then gifted us with such immense creativity and ability, that He Himself once said of mankind that “nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6)    How staggering is that comment from the Creator of the universe, One who creates something out of nothing??   Even the atheist, as he proclaims his independence from God (Proverbs 14:1), does so with borrowed air in his lungs while standing on a planet that hangs precariously balanced at just the optimal tilt and distance from the Sun.  

The point is, the concept of independence is somewhat ridiculous.   None of us are truly independent.   In spite what we might think, none of us are “self-made.”   As you stand at the summit of your mountain, career or personal achievement, just remember – you arrived at the peak with some help – even if you choose not to recognize it.  

Just as we can scarcely call ourselves independent as a nation, likewise we are equally dependent (personally speaking) on others.   For years, I spent most of my life living on an emotionally independent island.  For the most part, I kept my feelings, thoughts and struggles to myself.   Though I helped others with their problems, I never allowed anyone to help me with mine.  Fearful of transparency and intimacy, I lived behind a safe emotional wall and enjoyed my fascade of emotional independence.   Others needed me.   I convinced myself that I didn’t need them.  Sadly, what I didn’t realize at the time was how that thinking was killing me and destroying the relationships of those I loved.  One day, my emotional wall came crashing down and I became instantly dependent upon others for survival.   Five years later, I still find myself leaning hard on family and friends – like I never have before.  It has been a frightenly refreshing experience.  English poet, John Donne, once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”   He was right.   The ferry to my emotional island is now closed.   I’m enjoying my new life back on the mainland.

As you celebrate Independence Day today, take a moment to recognize your dependence on others and your dependence upon an Almighty God.  Thank them for the role they have played in your life.   You wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be where you are today without them.   

As the Apostle Paul reminded those in Athens, “God is not far from each one of us for in Him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:27-28)    Jesus reminded His disciples about this same truth in the Book of John, “I am the Vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

No one is truly independent.   Not you.  Not me.  Not even the powerful United States of America.  

  • “The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” – John Adams
  • “The Fourth of July ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” – John Adams
  • “And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God … and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.” – Abraham Lincoln

The harsh reality of freedom

I was recently invited to a pool party in which the invitation made it clear that there would be free food and drinks.  I attended and it was true – everything there was free to me.  When I left, I remember thinking three things:

  1. That was a lot of fun.
  2. The host was very generous to open up her beautiful home on the lake.
  3. Though free to me, all the food and drink cost someone something.

We love to use the word “free” in our country.  The problem with the word is that it is not entirely accurate.   It’s somewhat deceiving as whatever we are enjoying for free actually cost someone something.

Our constitution promises each citizen the following five basic freedoms:

  1. Freedom of speech.  The First Amendment keeps the American government from making laws that might stop us from expressing rational opinions.  We still have the right to criticize the government and to share their opinions with others.
  2. Freedom of religion.  Citizens have the freedom to attend the church, synagogue, temple or mosque of their choice – or not attend at all.  The First Amendment allows us to practice our religion the way we want to.
  3. Freedom of Press.  A free press means we can get information from many different sources. The government cannot control what is printed in newspapers, magazines and books, broadcast on TV or radio or offered online.
  4. Freedom of Assembly.  Citizens can come together in public and private gatherings. They can join groups for political, religious, social or recreational purposes.
  5. Freedom of Petition.  “To petition the government for a redress of grievances” means that citizens can ask for changes in the government. They can do this by collecting signatures and sending them to their elected representatives; they can write, call or e-mail their elected representatives; they can support groups that lobby the government.

Beyond that, there are many other freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy.  Some of my personal favorites are: free wi-fi, free refills, and buy one – get one free deals.

Today, we celebrate July 4th – Independence Day – the day our nation became “free” from the Tyranny of Great Britain.  As a result, we are able to experience many freedoms that most countries only dream of.  But today should be more than just celebrating our freedoms.  It is also a day we should contemplate the cost of that freedom.  The harsh reality is that freedom is not really free.  Someone sacrificed to give us the right to say what we want to say.  Many have died to give us the freedom to worship how we desire.   Countless individuals gave up their freedom in order for us to maintain ours.

Like Zac Brown reminds us in his song, “Chicken Fried”,

“I thank God for my life and for the stars and stripes.  May freedom forever fly.  Let it ring.  Salute the ones who died. The ones that give their lives so we don’t have to sacrifice all the things we love… like our chicken fried, and cold beer on a Friday night, a pair of jeans that fit just right and the radio up.”

When you see our American flag waving today, remember the cost that was paid so you have the freedom to salute it.

When you hear the “Star Spangled Banner” being played, remember the price that was paid so you could sing it on American soil, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The next time you see an American solider, stop and thank them for their sacrifice.  Literally stop and thank them.  They willingly give up their freedoms so you can keep enjoying yours.

And the next time you gaze at a cross, remember what you are looking at.  In the first century, it was known as a capital punishment instrument.   It is our modern-day electric chair.  But to many of us – that cross is the ultimate symbol of freedom.

Freedom always has an expensive price tag and one that is only fully paid with a bloody sacrifice.  THAT is the harsh reality of freedom.  And for that, I am eternally grateful – for soldiers and Savior alike.