I spent the first 18 years of my life growing physically, mentally, and spiritually as an “Air Force brat” or “military dependent.” My family eventually included two parents, seven children, and almost always one dog and one cat. My dad was an Air Force officer, and the rest of us almost always had military ID cards that described us as “dependents.” Our identity was on that card; it was my admission ticket to the bases where we lived and all the services and opportunities they afforded. The Commissary, PX (Post Exchange), Short Stop (gas station and convenience grocery store), bowling alley, swimming pools, golf courses, and the movie theatre were amenities available if I showed my ID card. In a sense, my freedom and responsibilities were tied to that card.
I grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and often a Prayer of Thanksgiving before lunch in public schools. I also stood for The National Anthem before every movie I frequently enjoyed at the base theatre. If I was riding a bike, walking, or eventually driving on the base, at 5pm every day, The National Anthem and Taps would be broadcast. Wherever I was, I would stand at attention and face the direction of the base flagpole while the American Flag was lowered and folded. I was proud to be growing up in the land of the free and the home of the brave! As I stood at attention, crossed my heart, or offered the Boy Scout salute; I celebrated and rarely, if ever, questioned the freedom I enjoyed. I was proud to be an American, and I enjoyed all the opportunities and privileges that identity afforded.
Identity, who and/or whose we are, greatly determines how free we are! “What’s in Your Wallet” is the slogan for a major credit card company. They try to convince us that their card is the ticket or ID card that opens the doors for material goods and opportunities others cannot afford. Is the actual message that “We are only as free as the credit we have access to, or the money we have in our bank accounts?” Maybe credit cards are the new ID card, and our freedom is attached to them. Is our freedom tied ultimately to the “cards” we have been dealt? Is everyone “free indeed” regardless of who or whose we are? “Membership has its privileges” is another slogan for a credit card. That card is a door to opportunity and also debt bondage. Is everyone or anyone “free indeed?”
Is everyone as free as everyone else, or does “membership” have more opportunities and freedoms? How is freedom gained? Can freedom be lost? Is freedom available to all or just those with the right cards? Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose or gain? Is freedom just an illusion, especially if you believe in predestination or determinism? Can anyone be genuinely free if others are not? Is freedom an American “god” which has led us away from the worship of the one true God? Has that “freedom” left us serving gods of desires and wealth that enslave? Debt and addictions are epidemics in my neighborhood even as we proclaim, “I am free” and “It’s a free country!”
On My Street in Our Country
These are my thoughts as I enjoy a holiday weekend. We celebrate with fireworks, even where it is “illegal,” burgers, hot dogs, apple pie, homemade ice creams, out-of-town family visitors, boating, traffic jams, and all the other joys of another “Independence Day” celebration. Maybe I need to let go, lighten up, and not concern myself with questions, mysteries, and wonders too great to wrap my mind and heart around! Embrace…celebrate…and be grateful for all the blessings of being an American and a ‘card-holding member’ of this “great experiment.” However, the questions in the previous paragraph bark at my heels, even as I take a casual, fear-free walk down my street! I want everyone to be able to enjoy the freedom I experience walking down my street in our country!
On May 18, 2021, I had the joy and privilege (after an hour of interrogations and credential checking and issuing) to participate in a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. We were just across the Potomac River from Washington DC and our Nation’s Capital. In previous years, my family and I have witnessed the Changing of the Guard at The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, visited the grave of John F. Kennedy and other famous Americans. We had also watched the 4th of July Fireworks from this cemetery. On this day, I walked for a mile and a half behind a horse-drawn wagon bearing the casket and remains of a highly decorated WW-2 Veteran and Former POW. The carriage was led by a military honor guard of a least ten soldiers, seven horses with four riders, and a military chaplain. I followed the carriage and another soldier who carried the POW / Missing in Action black flag. We walked through a cemetery of over 400,000 tombstones. These are the memorial stones to men, women, and families who gave their lives, blood, sweat, and tears to gain, guard, and pass on the freedom expressed in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. As I walked that afternoon, I realized that Declarations and Constitutions are only as authentic and genuine as the lives and the life sacrifices we continue to make to gain, guard, and pass them on to the next generations! 400,000 grave markers shout that reality.
Closing Thoughts for Another Kingdom
“Jesus said to the Jews who believed Him, ‘If you hold to My teachings, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you Free!’ Then they said to Jesus, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the Truth…if the Son sets you free, you shall be FREE INDEED!'” John 8:31-37
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race marked out before us. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3
Privileges, boundaries, and responsibilities are components of FREEDOM we must accept and even celebrate if we are “Free Indeed”!