Freedom

Pentecost and the Freedom to Be in All the Wrong Places

Sneakers on asphalt road and "Do Not Cross" sign. Image courtesy igor.stevanovic
Sneakers on asphalt road and "Do Not Cross" sign. Image courtesy igor.stevanovic/shutterstock.com

Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit and reminds us that our story isn’t static but dynamic, alive, and unfolding. In the same way that the disciples moved out from Jerusalem after Pentecost, we are to move out of our places of comfort and complacency as we join God in the world he is making.

 

Selling Sodas: A Cure for Human Bondage

A man holds an XS Energy Drink, which the author was selling, in Ukraine. Photo by David Vanderveen

Intending it as a compliment, a friend described my work in in Kiev last weekend as selling sodas in Ukraine. 

Hes right. I was in the embattled city to represent a company I helped co-found and our Southern California energy drink brand in meetings with more than 10,000 Ukrainian independent business owners. 

It was as simple as that and also so much more. 

Like Bono, I believe free enterprise is a cure for all sorts of poverty  economic, political, and spiritual.

Between Repression and Freedom

Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich / Via RNS

I stopped drinking Coca Cola years ago — not in protest but in a bid for health. But I want to applaud their presenting "America the Beautiful" sung in seven languages.

In a 60-second Super Bowl ad, and now a 90-second version at the bizarre Sochi Winter Olympics, the soft drink company showed people of different ethnic backgrounds singing in English and six other languages.

I found it charming and warming. It spoke eloquently to the America that I know today — and the America that my ancestors knew when they arrived many years ago speaking German and Norwegian.

A Tribute to Mandela

Nelson Mandela was “the most important political leader of the 20th century,” writes Jim Wallis in “A Prayer for Mandela” in the February 2014 issue of Sojourners magazine. Following Mandela’s death on December 5, 2013, the world has stopped to reflect on the life of a man who dedicated himself to justice and reconciliation despite decades of imprisonment to a brutal apartheid.

These magazine articles and blog posts published by Sojourners through the years pay tribute to the great South African leader.

Sojourners magazine articles:

  • In the Wake of A Miracle (November-December 2003)
    Linda Martindale writes on “being ‘real Christians' in the post-apartheid era.
  • South Africa: The Spirit of Reconciliation (July 1994)
    Will Winterfield, an international church observer of Nelson Mandela’s presidential election, interviews Beyers Naudé—one of the first leading Afrikaners to oppose apartheid openly.
  • The Miracle of South Africa (July 1994)
    Jim Wallis writes that South Africa’s transformation means “never again can I say that hope is not a concrete reality.”
  • With the Eyes of Christ (January-February 1998)
    Joyce Hollyday writes that, “President Nelson Mandela modeled a rare forgiveness when he invited his jailer of 27 years to sit on the platform with him at his presidential inauguration.”

Blog posts:

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A Prayer for Mandela

NELSON MANDELA was the most important political leader of the 20th century. While Roosevelt and Churchill helped protect the West and the world from Hitler’s Nazism, Mandela heroically exemplified the movement against the colonialism and racism that oppressed the global South, shown so dramatically in South Africa’s apartheid. And from a Christian point of view, he combined justice and reconciliation like no other political leader of his time, shaped by the spiritual formation of 27 years in prison.

Shortly after Mandela was released from prison, he came to New York to meet with a small group of Americans who had been involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, and I was blessed to join them. From the start, I felt in Mandela a moral authority I have never experienced with any political leader.

Attending Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 was a highlight of my life. We were picked up at the airport by friends, a couple who had both been in prison and tortured, but now she was about to become a member of the new South African parliament. We saw a group of the infamous South African security police. Having been interrogated by these thugs before, I immediately said, “Let’s get out of here!” To which they replied, “Don’t worry, Jim, they’re ours now.”

At the ceremony, joined by my South African friends, we watched Nelson Mandela announce his vision for a new rainbow nation. More than 100,000 people (and a billion or so more via TV) listened with tears in their eyes and great hope in their hearts.

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In Celebration of Freedom

Freedom concept. Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/shutterstock.com.

No stones were thrown, even though these leaders thought they had the law on their side. Not one stone was thrown. Jesus turned the moment from pious religious rules to self awareness of grace, and each person with a stone dropped it and walked away. I think maybe because they realized life is all grace. Then that grace standing in front of this woman is given to her. The system failed, but life was given.

Leading Toward Freedom

Freedom concept,  Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com
Freedom concept, Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com

Tomorrow, millions of people across this land, will be celebrating our nation’s freedom. Many will be marking Independence Day by going to see the fireworks, watching Fourth of July parades, or just having a barbecue and enjoying time together with their family or friends.

One of the things I began doing a few years ago on the Fourth of July was to call a very special person in my life and in the life of my family. His name is Paul Anderson. Had it not been for Paul and his family, my family and I would not have been able to emigrate in 1987 from Poland to the United States. So on every July 4, I call Paul and thank him for helping me and my family arrive safely and settle in this country.

I tell him that he’s had an important part to play in so many good things I’ve experienced over the past 26 years that I’ve been living here — including discerning a Franciscan vocation and becoming a friar.

Why I Love My Country

Margaret M Stewart / Shutterstock.com
Constitution with American flag and Statue of Liberty, Margaret M Stewart / Shutterstock.com

What do I love about America? I love the land, one of the most spectacularly beautiful countries in the world (and I’ve visited many of them). I love walking our long stretches of beaches, hiking our majestic mountains, seeing the desert skies, walking beside the rivers, sailing along the coasts, and visiting hundreds of lakes in my home state of Michigan, where I camped as a kid. I even love some of our big cities! “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plains.” I love our many diverse cultures, including their music, their food, their art, their sports, and their particular stories and histories.

I especially love our best national values: freedom, opportunity, community, justice, human rights, and equality under the law for all of our citizens of every race, creed, culture, and gender, not just for the rich and powerful. In particular, I love our tradition and history of democracy, its steady expansion here, and how it has inspired the same all over the world. We take legitimate pride in seeing how our founding documents have been the models for many new nations.

On Scripture: Fighting for Freedom

Statue of Liberty, Katharina M / Shutterstock.com
Statue of Liberty, Katharina M / Shutterstock.com

“If you love somebody, set them free. Free. Free. Set them free.” Of all the songs to come to mind during this Independence Day weekend, this one rings in my head. Sting, the artist, did not have America’s freedom celebration in mind when he coined these words. Honestly, the song has little to do with patriotism; it is more of a ballad of love lost and letting go. Nonetheless I dare to invoke it, as the words resonate with the spirit of autonomy that is so pervasive on July 4. “Set them free. Free. Free. Set them free.”

Each year at this time, our country focuses on liberty, the red-white-and-blue, and “My Country Tis of Thee.” I am grateful to live in the U.S. and the freedom this affords. Yet, what about persons who are not so independent — the unemployed who rely on federal subsidies, children whose schools are closing due to no fault of their own, and yes, the millions of Americans in the prison system? Although the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reversed the disparity between crack and cocaine convictions implemented by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the prison rate remains exorbitant. More than 2.2 million are still behind bars. The Texas execution rate is at 500 and counting. Forty-eight percent of persons in federal prisons were convicted of drug offenses, according to The Sentencing Project. A reversal in policy three years ago has not flipped today’s prison numbers. So many are not free.

The View from the Bleachers

THROUGH THE WRITER of the letter to the Hebrews we will be learning this month how the spiritual environment that upholds us as agents of God’s reign is richly, magnificently peopled. Entering into the spirit of this letter is like finding oneself worshiping in a great Byzantine church, in which the walls are blazing with frescoes and mosaics depicting the history of salvation and the saints in all their glorious variety. The writer extols the lineage of witnesses to God down the ages. We are asked to recognize them all as a crowd of supporters cheering us on. The writer insists that we live in vibrant awareness of the great and all-embracing community that God is forging. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

This is the antithesis of the bizarre theory that “religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness,” as the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead claimed. God is communion, as we try to express it in the doctrine of the Trinity. Life is interrelatedness. The baptismal creed of the church commits us to belief in the communion of saints because God recruits us for the struggle to build, sustain, and nurture community-where-God-reigns here on earth, as it is in heaven.

Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest, author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ August 4]
'To You, O Lord!'
Hosea 11:1-11; Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

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