“Finely-Tuned Freedom”

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From the Pastor, October 12, 2016

“Finely-Tuned Freedom”

Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840) the great Italian violinist, willed his fine instrument to his home city of Genoa. His bequest carried one condition. The violin was never to be played; it would simply be placed on display. But that’s not good for a finely crafted stringed instrument. It needs to be used and handled regularly if its beauty and value are to be retained. As a result of Paganini’s request, his marvelous violin has become nothing more than a decaying form. It has wasted away as a museum piece.

Here in this country, we have been given a great gift: the gift of freedom. But how are we going to treat this great gift? Will we enshrine freedom like some vague ideal sealed behind a plexiglass case untouchable by mortal hands? Will freedom become another Paganini violin?

Freedom must be defended and guarded closely and carefully. Defending freedom is not simply a matter of maintaining a military. Rather, it requires the active, watchful attention of all citizens to make sure that no one at any level of our society deprives anyone else of the rights guaranteed and vouchsafed in our Constitution and codes of law.

Freedom must be exercised. Like finely crafted instruments, freedom is meant to be used, expressed, tried, and respected. But, of course, freedom is not absolute. Freedom is a communal attribute. This is expressed in the Preamble of the constitution in these words: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Freedom exists as a result of the collective will of the people as the governing principle by which we live together as a body of people. But it is not something that is a fact of life. It is, rather, a product of our life together as a nation.

One of the greatest freedoms we possess in this country is the freedom of speech, enshrined in the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

These rights and freedoms we have are predicated and built upon respect for one another, and commitment to the idea and ideal that each person is endowed by God with value and dignity, and that it is incumbent upon each person to defend the dignity of every other person in our society, and to allow them the full exercise of their rights as a member of that society. We especially expect such behavior and respect from those who we elect as our leaders. If anyone running for office is unable to demonstrate respect for all persons, they are not worthy to lead as our elected officials at any level of government.

According to the foundational documents of our country and to the arguments that brought our nation into being, the ruling authorities of the United States of America sit in this congregation. And in every congregation. And in every café, bowling alley, schoolroom, union hall, factory floor, corporate boardroom, tennis court – you get the idea. In the USA, the people rule. We govern ourselves. We elect people to represent our interests and to make decisions on our behalf, but they do so by our active consent. This is what it means to be free in the USA, and what it means to have rights. But these rights and freedoms, like that violin, must be exercised and defended.

There has been an alarming trend in recent years to dismantle freedom through questioning the patriotism of some people based upon party allegiance or political opinion and commitment. Labels such as “conservative” and “liberal” have been cynically manipulated by people vying for power to distract and derail the vital political process based upon reasoned and principled debate. Sloganeering and political posturing display the highest form of disrespect for the blessings of liberty, freedom and the right to govern ourselves. What are we doing to this gift we have received? This gift that has cost the lives of countless persons on the field of battle, and in their homes and communities here in our own country? What can we do as ordinary citizens to protect and defend this gift? In this election year, we are all challenged to think carefully about this issue and discern what we might be called to do in large ways or small ways, but especially as we vote. We must not throw our vote around frivolously. The people we elect will make decisions affecting the lives of millions of people, yea, billions. They will represent us to the world, and will be our face and voice to that world.

Whatever you feel moved to do, I would hope that you would reflect upon how important the gift of freedom is, and if you really care for it, exercise it. Don’t let it be like Paganini’s violin and be destroyed.

Your pastor and fellow citizen,