Vigilance and freedom

Collect of the Day:

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..

Our town proudly boasts a new steeple. At its peak is not a cross but a crescent moon. It’s the new mosque, the Islamic Center of Fort Collins. Joining synagogues and churches, Buddhist meditation centers, a Taoist temple and a Vedantic worship space, it attests to the many ways in which God is worshiped in this community.

So far the great experiment that is the United States of America is working. Sometimes we despair of it; but so far our commitment to the freedom to think and to express ourselves, to form and articulate our understanding of the world and of God, has held firm. Government of the people by the people is alive and well. Our country has been around for well over two hundred years, and we haven’t failed yet to maintain our liberties. And while two hundred years is not very long when one thinks in terms of the life of a nation, it is far longer than other phenomena – say, the life of the Berlin Wall.

The price of freedom is vigilance, however. So I like to spend a little time at the beginning of Independence Day thinking about how I personally am contributing to maintaining our liberties. For me that boils down to the question of how I work to combat fear and prejudice – and I like to start with my own.

Here are the questions that address the presence or absence of liberty in my own life: When do I fail to hear all sides of an issue and weigh them before making a political decision? When do I get lazy and let others determine for me how I should think about a particular hot topic? Does an affiliation with a political party blind me to good arguments from the other side? Who do I turn to for advise on political issues, and why did I choose those people? Is it time to rethink any of this?

For me failing to exercise my right to think for myself, educate myself on issues, and then speak is often the result of fear. This can range from a mild discomfort at something being new and therefore strange to an out and out panic because I feel threatened. Key to working against this fear is opening myself to new experiences, new ideas and new people in the situations in which I am scared enough to be outside my comfort zone but not frightened enough to shut down.

Finding opportunities to worship or meditate with people of other faiths is a great way to do this. To be culturally sensitive, it’s a good idea to call ahead to see which ones are open to outsiders. Then the way is paved for me to experience one of the many ways in which the Holy One, no matter by what name that One is called, loves all people.

God is alive in our diversity, and in our multiplicity is both our flexibility and our strength. I celebrate the new steeple gracing the skyline of my community. And today I celebrate the success of the United States of America – of our way of life, the strength we have as a people – and of our ability to reach, with God’s help, for greater and greater righteousness and peace.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado

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