Yesterday, the U.S. celebrated Independence Day with barbecues, picnics, outdoor adventures, watermelon, ice cream and fireworks. Lots of American flags were flown, and lots of people talked about our gift of freedom.
There’s a new park in my neighborhood. The City of San Francisco took a dilapidated block and turned it into a beautiful little park with a large grassy area, a walking path, swings, exercise equipment and water fountains.
Yesterday afternoon I walked there with a blanket and a stack of books, and I spent a few hours relishing sunshine and blue skies and rest.
The park was filled with lots of cute kids whose skin was yellow and black and brown, who spoke languages other than English. I smiled as I watched these little ones who were brimming with happiness as their parents pushed them on swings, played hide-and-seek, and gave them piggyback rides.
As I watched these kids giggle and run and play, I realized that they weren’t just brimming with happiness; they were brimming with potential. And possibility.
I thought about freedom as I watched them play. I thought about how I “won the cosmic lottery,” as one of my friends likes to say, by being born in the U.S.A. By being born in a country that values freedom.
And I thought about the little lives all around the world who didn’t have that same opportunity. Kids who were born in to countries where freedom is fought against instead of for, where speech is silenced, where innocent people are punished, where unjust laws are enforced, where food is scarce and clean water is is impossible to find.
When we think about freedom, it’s good to be grateful for the freedom that we have.
But it’s not enough to stop there.
It’s not enough to think that we’re lucky/fortunate/blessed and other people are less so and that’s just the way it is, the way it has to be.
The point of our freedom isn’t just that we get to enjoy it. The point of freedom is that we get to leverage it on behalf of people who aren’t free.
Brave people have fought for our freedom — and now we get to be the brave people who oppose racism, injustice, violence, economic disparities and food scarcity that threaten not only the freedom, but the very lives, of our brothers and sisters at home and around the world.
We get to love our neighbors as we love ourselves — and use the freedom we have to advocate for theirs. We get to see that other people’s freedom doesn’t threaten our own, because freedom is not in limited supply. We see that when we advocate for other people’s liberation, we follow in the steps of Jesus, who came “to set the captives free.”
Yesterday, a toddler interrupted my reading when he ran over to my blanket, tossed his ball to me, and stood there with open arms, inviting me to toss it back. As we played, I talked to his mom, who told me they recently arrived here from Nicaragua. She spoke English well, but her son hasn’t started learning English yet, so I chatted with him in the limited Spanish I know.
As I played with him, I thought about the immigrant children who have just arrived in the U.S. And I thought about the children around the world who are still “yearning to breathe free.”
I wonder what it looks like for me — for you — for us — to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. To advocate for other people’s freedom as much as we insist on our own. To follow in the steps of Jesus to set captive people free. To remember the words of Emma Lazarus, who said,