My very first date was on the 4th of July, when I was 20 years old. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, and I was home with my family in northeast Pennsylvania.
My older brother Lenny was a server at Applebee’s. He came home one night and said, “Sarah, I have a great guy for you. He was at Applebee’s having lunch with his pastor, he drives a red sports car and he plays golf.”
Apparently those three things — lunching with a pastor, red car, golf clubs — meant this guy was perfect for me. My brother gave him my number, and the guy called the following day. We made plans to go to the fair on the 4th of July to watch fireworks. He picked me up around 9 p.m. and we drove to the fair grounds. While we watched the fireworks raining from the sky, he stood behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist — presumably so he could “rescue” me if sparks flew in my direction.
After the fair we went to Dunkin’ Donuts and he bought me a coffee Coolatta, the predecessor of Starbuck’s frappuccino. Then he drove me home. While we were sitting in the car in front of my house, he started talking about how he’d been dating this girl and he fell in love with her and she worked at KMart and they were talking about getting married, so he spent a few hundred dollars on an engagement ring (from KMart’s jewelry counter no less.)
But then their relationship had soured and they broke up.
“I still have the ring in my underwear drawer, though” he said suggestively. “And I’m just wondering who I might give it to next.” He winked at me.
This was the proposition. Marry a guy in a coal-mining town of 15,000 people. Have “fancy” meals at Applebee’s. Wear a ring from KMart that would likely turn my finger green.
He tried to kiss me and I jumped out of the car. No way. No thanks. Not happening.
A few days later he called me to have the “DTR” (define the relationship) talk. He wanted to date me, and hey, there was still this ring in his underwear drawer and if we hit it off we could maybe even think about a future together.
I told him no thanks.
He told me if I rejected him he might kill himself.
I told him to get some help.
And then I hung up.
And then I finished college and grad school and then went to another grad school and wrote a book and traveled around and…well, you get the idea.
The 4th of July reminds me of my first date, and it reminds me of what true freedom is about. Sometimes freedom is not just getting things; it’s about turning them down. Sometimes it’s not just about doing something; it’s about refraining from this so you can have something even more promising.
Freedom is independence from inferior choices.
As I look at our country and think about freedom, I don’t think about how much stuff we can have or how many liberties we can indulge; I think about what we’re free to sacrifice so we all can have something better. I think about the inferior things we can give up so we can have God’s best instead.
Like I was free to decline a KMart diamond ring so I could have a more promising future.
We are free to give our money to the church or other non-profits to alleviate suffering. We’re free to give up our right to bear arms so less people have access to violent weapons. We’re free to show compassion to people who have fled here to find refuge from poverty and suffering. We’re free to pardon wrongdoing.
We’re free to share our space, to welcome strangers, to show hospitality to immigrants and refugees, to love our enemies, to practice nonviolence, and to whisper peace to a world that’s shouting war.
We’re free to rise above petty partisan politics and embrace “on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re free to care for the environment, free to leave smaller carbon footprints.
We’re free to let go of our pride, to loosen our grip on transient possessions, to bear someone else’s load.
We’re free to pray for our leaders instead of criticizing them. We’re free to lay down our arms, to beat swords into plowshares, to speak gentle answers to wrath-filled questions.
This 4th of July, I think of Paul’s words, “It is for freedom that Jesus set us free.”
And then I think about the words of John, and I think I’m starting to see what he means. “If the Son sets you free — you will be free indeed.”