January 7, 2021

Our Freedoms Should Mean More

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.

— Abraham Lincoln

An image I saw yesterday is seared into my mind. The caption read “protesters celebrate upon reaching the Capitol rotunda.” Some of the people in the photo were clearly celebrating, but there was a small group that appeared to be gathered in prayer. I looked again. I was fairly sure my interpretation of their activity was correct.

Normally, I would be glad to see people praying in the Capitol. But this image shook me. I thought of all the times I had prayed in that same location. I once stood beside the bodies of two slain Capitol Hill police officers and prayed for their families and asked for healing for myself and my coworkers who were struggling to make sense of such violence. My husband and I had the privilege to stand beside Ronald Reagan’s casket and pray for our nation. I prayed as I stood at the edge of the rotunda watching a small firecracker of a woman named Teresa of Calcutta receive the Congressional Gold Medal. I also prayed alone on many occasions, head turned upward toward the remarkable artwork of Italian immigrant Constantino Brumidi, thanking God for the honor and privilege of living in this nation. I probably even prayed for help with some of the more unruly tour groups I led.

But the people I saw in this image were exercising their freedoms in a way I couldn’t comprehend. They had violated something I hold dear. What were they saying to God as they stood praying in the rotunda? I have no idea. Perhaps they were praying to bless our nation. If so, I’ll confess I cannot understand the disconnect between their prayers and their actions. I can only hope they were listening for God because that’s what we all need to be doing in this moment. 

If they wanted to pray in the Capitol, they could have entered the building (current Covid restrictions aside) the way many citizens do on a daily basis. In a non-pandemic year, no one would have stopped them. And yet, they chose to abuse their freedom.

Our rights must be used with wisdom, to build up, not to destroy.

The same must be said of those who have misused their freedom by destroying both private and public property in the riots that have occurred in cities across our nation. Whether coming from the far right or the far left, such actions hurt us all. Weren’t we taught in elementary school that two wrongs don’t make a right?

The people involved in yesterday’s tragic events may know their rights but seem to lack an understanding of the purpose of these rights. For instance, I can say that I “know” the Bible, but if I do not love, I do not understand the Bible. Knowledge and understanding are not the same thing. Understanding is related to the heart. When understanding is absent we must examine our hearts.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

— Proverbs 4:7

I’d like to believe we are better than this. I pray we are. And I believe now is the time to examine our hearts. This is a heart problem — not a political problem. We need to embrace forgiveness. We need to learn how to love. It is the only way to heal these wounds. Bitterness leads only to evil.

Our freedom is a sacred privilege. May we not squander it through foolish and dangerous acts.

Such actions devalue the very freedoms we claim to hold dear. May we seek greater understanding and unity of purpose. May we choose healing over revenge. May we love our neighbor more than our ideologies.

So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

— John F. Kennedy

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