Back in the early 1980s our family took a vacation (road trip) through Arkansas and Missouri. The two things I remember about the trip to Branson were the long lines of vehicles attempting to get through town and the quality of the evening entertainment. At the end of the first night’s performance, someone sang Lee Greenwood’s song: God Bless the USA. Who knows, it may have been Greenwood himself? I don’t remember. What I do remember is the response of the crowd. It was almost as though a switch had been flipped and a current of patriotic energy and enthusiasm captivated the hearts of everyone present. The sense of patriotism was contagious. Before the song ended, everyone was standing. It was an electrifying evening.
I guess you could say Greenwood’s song carried a double punch. It is also a song with two names. It is known both as “God Bless the USA” and “Proud To Be An American”. Perhaps the two concepts go hand-in-hand.
As Greenwood expresses it: “The flag still stands for freedom”! What an incredible gift we have been given, and yet most of us take freedom for granted. All along Hwy. 290, fireworks stands are open and eager to sell firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers. These flares are symbols of the words of Frances Scott Key: “And the rockets red glare, The bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night, That our flag was still there.”
Perhaps, because I have never been in the midst of war or in a set of circumstances that was potentially life-threatening, I can’t fully comprehend the full range of emotions that war orchestrates. I know my dad never fully set aside the ghosts from the experiences he endured in WWII.
I have a friend whose plane went down in Vietnam. He spent several days in the jungle before he was recovered. His wife tells me that although he won’t talk about it, he still has nightmares from that experience.
Freedom is a gift that most of us take for granted. I’ve thought a lot about freedom over the past couple of weeks. Week before last, I attended the POW/MIA League of Families Annual Meeting in Washington. This past weekend, as thoughts of freedom rolled around in my head, I went back through some electronic files on my computer and inventoried the different ways I’ve captured the concept of freedom over the years (pardon the pun) in 4th of July sermons at church.
Ten years ago, I went to bed on a Saturday night with the words: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” very much on my mind. The next morning I typed the phrase into a Google search hoping to find the lyrics to Kris Kristofferson’s song: Me and Bobby McGee”. If you’re in my peer group you’ve got to remember it.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, And nothin’ ain’t worth nothing but it’s free. Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues, And buddy, that was good enough for me, Good enough for me and Bobby McGee”.
In thinking of the concept of freedom this week, I thought about John McCarty, a previous neighbor and friend. John survived the Bataan Death March and was held captive for three years as a Prisoner of War in Cabanatuan. He knew first hand what it was like to live with a total absence of freedom. He also would have confirmed for you that freedom isn’t free.
In captivity, he was subjected to a steady diet of brutality and inhumane and horrific conditions.
- He survived an environment where torture and execution were routine and commonplace,
- Where illness was epidemic and untreated, and
- Where starvation and cruelty were everyday occurrences.
John knew first hand the value of freedom in a way that is foreign to most of us. Thankfully most of us have never known the contrast of what it means to live without freedom.
I say that, but is it really true? Maybe a more accurate statement would be: “Most of us have never been held as a prisoner of war and subjected to brutality and inhumane conditions”. However, that doesn’t mean that most of us live with an everyday concept that we are free. If it’s true that freedom expresses itself through unlimited opportunity, there are many who long for more.
Is America really the land of the free? In 1984, Dr. Lloyd Olgivie, Senior Pastor of Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Calif., wrote a book entitled “Freedom In The Spirit”. Using his national television broadcast as a platform, he urged people to write him and identify the areas in their lives where they needed Christ to set them free.
What he found is that many are not free. Generally speaking:
- We are incarcerated in prisons of our own making and the making of others
- We are haunted by hurts from the past
- Our sense of self esteem leads us to believe that we are not loveable or deserving
- We hide the truth about ourselves out of a sense of shame or fear of rejection
- We try to please, but often find it a futile process
Scripture says a lot about freedom. Christ said to those following him: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Viktor Frankl shares, what at face value seems unbelievable, in his memoir entitled: “Man’s Search For Meaning”. When the Allies came to liberate Dachau and set the captive free, a startling thing happened. Frankl expresses it like this: “When the inmates were released, some of them walked out into the bright sun, blinked hard, looked around nervously, and then turned to re-enter the place of death. So shocking was freedom and so accustomed were they to their bondage, they didn’t know what to do with the capacity of freedom”.
Dwell In Freedom,