Jan 28, 2011 1
Recently in this space we regretted aspects of contemporary American life that tend to turn many a meaningful thing into meaningless bling. Our sound-bite society has been fed, and therefore has come to prefer, life’s pleasures as if they are spectaculars on an IMAX screen; and life’s challenges to be as brief as downloads on an iPod.
“’Tis a Gift Be Simple,” began the old Shaker hymn of the 1840s. At one time this could have been the anthem of the American folk. Modesty, industry, simplicity: not goals inculcated by teaching and preaching, but ways of life, of living and giving; willingly embraced.
The next line of the sacred American folk hymn is significant today, perhaps honored most in the breach. “‘Tis a gift to be free.”
Like many virtues, “freedom” is inchoate. Is it the right of Americans? Is it a birthright – inherited but able to be squandered? Freedom from what? Free to do what? Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Free from sin; and there is no other way to this glorious freedom. At the same time, we are free to sin. In Galatians (5:13) we are told, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another.”
It would seem that, more than a right, freedom is a gift. A gift of God, not of governments or any other agencies of man. Not an entitlement to be indulged, but a privilege to be worthy of… to become worthy of. Continually.
The question in those lights is pertinent this week. Societies squandering their rights, people rallying to demand their rights, and regimes denying rights, are all in the news. Street protests across the Arab world are being met by repression… and leaders who flee with their lives. We find ourselves suddenly in a historical moment, as during the French Revolution or the fall of Communism, when hour by hour, seismic changes occur. Scenarios that seemed impossible yesterday are reality today, and might be obsolete tomorrow. Political boundaries might not be changing, but societies are transformed overnight. “The old order changeth.”
Also this week, Freedom House, a human-rights group, issued its annual report. It documented “the longest continuous period of decline since it began compiling the annual index nearly 40 years ago,” according to Agence France-Presse.
Repression and widespread denial of rights is nearing levels of the post-Cold War era, the report says. Areas of deep concern include press freedom, political and civil rights, ethnic prejudice, forced prostitution, arms and drug traffic, corruption, slavery, and genocide. Two fewer governments than in the previous report are characterized as “free” (87 countries in all; only 43 per cent of the world’s population). And, alarmingly, religious persecution and deadly violence sharply are increasing. We read the news; we see the reports – and yet we don’t know a fraction of the horrible occurrences.
Christians frequently are the targets of prejudice these days, in democracies that are familiar to us; and expulsion or murder, in countries that are strange to us. It increasingly seems that the strange is becoming familiar, and the familiar is becoming strange.
A thousand years ago, there were lands of legend – not only of fiction – where individuals had to fight for freedom, defend their faith, and “earn their spurs.” And they did! Today, in this land, if it were to become the case that it is against the law to be a Christian… would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Here is a song about that time in history, when knights earned their spurs, standing for God and valor when “freedoms” were not automatic. It is sung by the London boys choir Libera.
Click: For God and For Valor
The lyrics of this song:
When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old,
He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold;
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand,
For God and for valour he rode through the land.
No charger have I, and no sword by my side,
Yet still to adventure and battle I ride,
Though back into storyland giants have fled,
And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead.
Let Faith be my shield and let joy be my steed
‘Gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed;
And let me set free with the sword of my youth,
From the castle of darkness, the power of Truth.