30 Jun 2013
“For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters, but do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather, serve one another through love.” (Gal. 5:13) (+)
This past Monday I attended a talk on nanotechnology, the science of the extremely small. A nanometer was described as taking a strand of your hair and then slicing it lengthwise 10,000 times. What was also interesting about the talk was where it took place. Mount Holyoke College has given a grant to bring the discussion of science out of colleges and into the public. I appreciate this because as I have said many times before, I love science, but I can’t do science. I need to have scientists explain their work to me in ways that I can understand. So this whole idea of scientists sharing science with the general public, I think, is wonderful. And with this in mind, talks are held once a month throughout the school year, and this is what is also cool, they’re held at the Amherst Brewing Company.
Now Monday, you may remember, was unpleasantly hot. I like science, and I also like an occasional adult beverage, especially on a hot day. Bringing the two of them together made perfect sense to me. But now it starts to get complicated. I also like jazz. The Amherst Jazz Orchestra plays at ABC twice a month. No admission charge, and they’re good. Check them out if you get a chance. But for some reason, they were playing in one room at the ABC while the nanotechnology talk was going on in another. I like the science, I like the adult beverage, I like the jazz, but I don’t know how to like them all together. Individually they’re all great. Even paired up as science and beer or jazz and beer is fine, but all three together just don’t work.
Now let me transition to another topic, our upcoming celebration of Independence Day. The United States is an amazing experiment in liberty, and it’s amazing because there are all of these different strands of thought and expectation that have to coexist in order for liberty to remain. We’ve seen too often recently with the Arab Spring and Russia that once a ruler is overthrown it’s easy for the ones who are elected democratically to turn around and start acting like the rulers they threw out. Liberty requires a profound respect for everyone’s freedom, not only the majority’s. And this is where it gets complicated. Just like I like science, a beer and jazz, but not all together, somehow all of the different expectations people have because of liberty have to be enjoyed together. Citizens have a right to be for or against abortion, gay marriage, government surveillance, and all of those Supreme Court decisions this past week about equal protection of the law. The amazing characteristic of our liberty is that all of these differences exist together. This is why I get nervous about all the talk of red and blue states like we’re fundamentally different citizens, and about bull-headed national leaders who won’t compromise on just about anything. Differences shouldn’t divide. They should be respected as part and parcel of liberty. Compromise is not the abandonment of your principles. It’s how liberty works.
Take today’s Gospel. Jesus begins to make His way from Galilee to Jerusalem. To do so He has to pass through Samaria, and the Jews and the Samaritans were not too fond of each other. The Samaritans won’t help Jesus because He and His disciples are Jewish, and then His own disciples turn around and are ready to call down violence from heaven against the Samaritans in some weird anticipation of Jihad. Jesus will have nothing to do with this nonsense. He rebukes His own disciples and He simply journeys to another, hopefully more hospitable, village. (Lk. 9:55-56) This idea of automatically equating different with enmity is profane to Jesus.
And then Paul writes so beautifully about Christian liberty in today’s Letter to the Galatians. Christian liberty gives American liberty a firm moral backing. We all have freedom in Christ, says Paul, but don’t use that freedom selfishly. Paul’s phrase is “an opportunity for the flesh,” by which he means don’t let freedom be an excuse for being self-absorbed, of only being concerned about our own benefit. There’s a growing divide in this nation between the have’s and the have-not’s. Paul says we have a Christian obligation to address this problem. Christian liberty points us toward service not the accumulation of as much as we can. [6 Walmart families control as much wealth as bottom 40% of American population. Example of Maryanne Uchneat and ¼ of the pie.]
Our first President, even before there was the First Amendment’s explicit freedom of religion, addressed the concerns of a Jewish synagogue in Newport, RI. They were worried about their religious liberty as a minority group. To them President Washington replied: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance …” (George Washington’s 1790 Letter To Touro Synagogue) Washington is better known for what he did than what he thought, but these words put him right up there with Jefferson and Adams, Hamilton and Madison. He was in a position to be an absolute ruler. He is the only President ever elected with 100% of the Electoral College. Some wanted him to become king. But Washington respected liberty. He knew that the freedom of others was part of his freedom. This wasn’t tolerating a different opinion; it was embracing the right to believe differently.
Sometimes all of these different likes can be conflicted like my night at ABC this past Monday, but we can be proud of the fact that we have received a working and abiding tradition through our Founding Fathers that allows all of these different likes to somehow coexist. Of this we should be proud. We can also be proud of our religious tradition that promoted this same thought long before 1776 and gave it a strong moral foundation. And it is in this spirit that we pray for our country this weekend as we worship together. May God continue to bless us with a freedom that looks not only to one’s self but to the community, so that like Jesus we are not repulsed by differences, and like Paul we may understand the interdependence of freedom and service. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name this Independence Day Weekend. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo