In recording my recent podcast about the nature of American freedom I naturally left out LOTS of things I wanted to say so I thought I’d follow it up with a blog.
The thing about freedom, as I said in the podcast, is that it is a contract. Freedom with a capital ‘F’ is about more than the ability flout rules and do what you want when you want because you’re grown.
That’s what American freedom has become in recent years – the right to drink beer, wear the Stars and Stripes, and carry guns around like you’re a kid getting ready to play war.
As people like to mock – ‘Merica!
Only, that’s not all that ‘they’ fought for.
The they we love to bring up as these benevolent ghosts of the past that fought and died so we wouldn’t have to wear masks to keep ourselves and others safe from a killer virus.
People that have lost all subtlety and gray areas and are just black and white and red, white, and blue all over.
We miss out that these Americans, these early Americans were also terrorists fighting against the ruling class and the establishment.
We forget that they were the rich and poor united against a common enemy for a common good – freedom.
The freedom to keep what you make and to decide your fate.
It was freedom and its pursuit that drove many here in the first place.
The first people were driven here by the freedom of the high seas and freedom to discover and claim.
Then after them it was the pursuit of freedom of religion, a desire to worship differently than what the establishment believed.
Freedom and its pursuit has always been a pursuit of another way, a different path, a new direction. It has always flouted the established ‘norms’ to seek out other ways to achieve things. Freedom though, always comes at a cost.
Those seeking freedom were never fully heroes.
Those that ‘discovered’ the Americas found a land already populated but they claimed it anyway.
The freedom to serve god as you choose still meant that you had to serve god.
The freedom from England still meant we were tethered to someone else, just someone closer, who wanted their share of our wealth and our work.
And then there was the notion that to make this nation as great as god wanted it to be it would take labor and toil…of other people who were forced into these things against their desire or will.
Ours is a nation with soil soaked in blood and which has made its bones on enslavement.
It has taken a good long time but we can finally look at the past and start to assess it with a more fully rounded view.
That doesn’t mean we damn everyone and everything that came before us, no, but we learn from it do better. We learn from the people and see how flawed they were but that many of them meant well. And we don’t tear down everything that came before us because it’s convenient to do it now.
History is rarely black and white
Heck, you can still find people that will Well, Actually you about Hitler.
Sure, they’ll say, he was a rude fella but boy the things he did for the economy!
None of us are the heroes we like to see ourselves as and all of us are someone else’s villain. It’s just a matter of how big of a villain we are.
Does that forgive the unforgivable?
But it means that we still have to accept that flawed, damaged, sometimes awful men helped make this country what it is today, good and ill, and instead of burning their images in effigy we need to learn to learn from them and reckon the good from their evil and to acknowledge that our nation has a very, very complicated past.
We can’t tear everything we don’t agree with today down because a day will come when many of us will have our actions re-examined and we will be damned for the things we stand for so strongly.
And that’s good.
That’s part of the deal.
It’s our duty, as uncomfortable as it is, to embrace our past and to do better.
We can’t stop the evils that happened in the name of America from happening, that’s in the past, but we can do better.
We can learn.
We can teach.
We can grow together.
Freedom isn’t about burning the system down, or making it more of a labyrinth, it’s about slowly making it better over time.
It’s about making it more inclusive.
It’s about making it a better reflection of who we really are and want to be.
This is an awful time for our nation, with a hateful President that only cares about himself and his greed and how many people love him, and a cult-like following that is so desperate to hold off reality that they will follow that man right into the fires of Hell out of fear of a future that’s already here.
But in the same way, burning everything to the ground doesn’t do much. It’s too close what zealots do – destroying the past that they have no connection to or interest in.
The past is there, it’s for us to reckon with and learn from.
That doesn’t mean we have to kneel to it or hold it to be higher than it should be.
Some statues need to come down.
Some names need to change.
Some symbols have to die.
We don’t wipe them from history but we put them in museums where they belong so we can keep learning and teaching.
Otherwise we just let the past repeat itself all over again eventually.
It’s easy for us to forget how many bodies we leave behind us as we live our lives, doing the best we can but messing up constantly. We forget that we’re someone else’s villain We forget that we screw up over and over and over again until we learn to do better and be better.
We forget that not everyone grows at the same rate we do ad they need time and patience and forgiveness to get it right.
We are so obsessed with screaming out and proclaiming what is right that instead of building bridges to allies who are still catching up we are scorched earthing everything, enemies and allies alike, and leaving ourselves on islands.
And again, we forget, freedom is a contract.
It’s between me, and you, and everyone else.
It’s an agreement to find common ground as we move forward together.
It’s doing the right thing instead of the easy thing.
It’s about understanding that I am not in this alone, and that this world is on loan to me from the future.
It’s about growth, and change, and wisdom.
It’s about sacrificing what I want sometimes for what WE need.
Freedom isn’t just a slogan on a t-shirt, or a flag on a pick-up truck.
Freedom is complicated, and unruly, and bigger than any of us tend to see.
Freedom, as they like to say, isn’t free.
There’s a cost.
That cost is us – and what we want.
As these times get dangerous, and scary, and change by the day we must remember that no one elected any of us to be the arbiter of wisdom and knowledge.
No one made any of us infallible or unimpugnable.
No one granted us a waiver for our past sins and ignorance.
That means that we all need to remember not to make enemies of our allies and villains of our friends.
All of us are growing and learning and most of us are doing our best.
We are a country that lives on slogans and petty arguments and childish grudges. A nation that needs to always feel loved and special.
There’s a reason Trump was elected and it’s because he represents what we have become.
He is us.
So we have to learn to be better.
Let’s take a moment for wisdom and a breath for understanding as we re-mold this world into a better representation of who we really are and put the torches down.
There’s a time for fighting, and a time for teaching.
Let’s pray we know when to leave one behind for the other.