Independence Day

America may be free from a monarch, but can we be truly independent in a consumerist society?
Statue of Liberty, photo by Kaitlin Bailey

Photo by Kaitlin Bailey.

Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman, known collectively as the "Interfaith Amigos," have been learning and teaching together since 2001. They blog weekly for YES! Magazine.

It's early evening on July 4, and as I write this I can hear firecrackers. My hotdogs and beer behind me, I've felt that familiar lump in my throat that comes when I hear that phrase “the Fourth of July.” It rolls off the tongue as one word and points deep toward freedom: We are free of the yoke of monarchy.

But are we? It's true that we hold the promise of freedom. We have within us the capacity to cooperate and address our captors. But, as yet, we are all still prisoners of some kind, aren’t we? Consider your own imprisonments, your own stuck places.

Your spiritual path can address some of these.

The themes of liberation and imprisonment are an essential part of scripture in all three of our Abrahamic traditions, and the story of the Exodus from Egypt is the guiding framework for understanding how these themes work. It gets replayed over and over again through Judaism, into Christianity, and in Islam. Jesus’ teachings often suggest different realities of imprisonments—of being stuck in various kinds of dilemmas. They also suggest that we are stuck because we are not awake to the possibilities of liberation.

This Independence Day, when I consider the places where we are still dependent, I see the conviction that our self-worth is to be measured principally by the amount of money we have.

My favorite teaching about liberation is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Ordinarily, we think of the story as a teaching about forgiveness, about being lost and coming home. But it is also about the imprisonment of self-absorption (the younger son in the distant country) and the assumption that there are certain things for which we cannot be forgiven (the younger son as he contemplates coming home). It is also about the imprisonment of self-righteousness and the assumption of innocence (the older son who stays at home). Liberation, then, comes through the forgiveness that the parent offers the younger son: It is a forgiveness that honors the essential self-worth of the son apart from the things he has done. This is how God intends to deal with us. It is the fundamental condition of being free—everything else flows from it. Without a sacred sense of our own worth as human beings, we constantly and consistently walk down the wrong paths and make choices that don’t lead to healing.

This Independence Day, when I consider the places where we are still dependent, I see the conviction that our self-worth is to be measured principally by the amount of money we have. Every human being on Earth has the right to have her or his self-worth affirmed completely—with no qualifications. But most of the time, few of us feel the full value of our worth. We can’t, because we and the culture judge ourselves to be lacking.

The Interfaith Amigos' Blog
Read more from the interfaith journey of Rabbi Ted Falcon, Sheikh Jamal Rahman, and Pastor Don Mackenzie.

Interfaith AmigosAbraham to Descendants:
"Knock It Off!"
An interview with the Interfaith Amigos.

Consider the passion of the crowds at the World Cup soccer games in South Africa this summer. I was in Beirut two weeks ago, and the yelling and screaming when the favored teams (Brazil and Germany) were winning was so great that it absolutely eclipsed everything else. It was the same feeling I had in the early 50s when the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Yankees in the World Series.

On the surface, it is about sports—about admiring skill, teamwork, and determination. But more deeply, it is about a bottomless yearning to be able to look in the mirror and say, “I am OK.” Given the relatively small number of people in this world who hold money and power, this is a huge problem. And the number of problems that reflect this reality seems infinite. They range from corruption at the highest levels of government, business, and religion in all the countries of the world, to domestic violence, and—in the saddest situations—absolute hatred of self. It is an ugly picture.

In our world, in cultures with affluence like ours, somewhere in the middle of that continuum is the sense that “If I could buy X or Y, then I could be the person I have always dreamed of becoming.” But the more we buy the less satisfied we become, and (often) the more credit card debt we accumulate. It is a sensibility that is both tragic and horribly destructive.

On this Fourth of July, for me, the fireworks have an increasingly hollow sound. It's a sound that would be meaningful again were the peoples of the world really free, or, more realistically, if we as one world were able to find genuine independence.

I pray that somehow, someday, that day will come. In the meantime, I try to remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “Hope does not disappoint us.”

about perseverance in a chaotic time.

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