Because Wednesday is the 4th of July, yesterday's testimony meeting mixed the usual expressions of faith and gratitude for God with expressions of gratitude for our country and our freedom. A brother who had lived in countries under military rule spoke briefly. A sister mentioned her specific gratitude for the families of those on military tours or between military tours right now. Another sister said something about the country's early years and her later immigrant ancestors.
And then a boy, probably about nine years old, got up and bore his testimony about how Jesus died for our freedoms.
I think he was just confused...and who can blame him on the week when George Washington keeps coming up in testimonies that end in Jesus' name? But hearing our most sacred story confused with the much less significant story of the American revolution did make me wonder whether we should be more careful not to mix patriotism and piety quite so casually--even in July--if only for the sake of our children.
I'm grateful for his strange little testimony, though, because it got my mind and heart going. When the next testimony was all about our American freedoms, I found myself thinking about many of the things people have done with those freedoms and feeling really sad. Because I realized: Jesus dies for our freedoms all the time. But not the way a revolutionary dies to make freedom possible. No: Jesus dies to carry the burden of the ways we use our freedoms to make a mess of our lives and the lives of others.
I am certainly grateful to live in society that values freedom--but I'm not sure how much of a value freedom has in and of itself. After all, our culture of freedom has led to widespread drug use and high rates of divorce as well as to healthy religious diversity and genuinely constructive innovations. Our Constitution protects the willful distortions of pornography as surely as it protects the speaking of truth.
So just as the bishop was about to stand up and close the meeting, I stepped up to bear my testimony that I'm grateful to live in a free country--but still more grateful for a God who guides me as I exercise that freedom. And to testify that in a culture that says I should do what I want, I'm grateful for covenants that bind me to what's important and right.
So on this 4th of July, I'll be thinking about the tragedies as well as triumphs of a nation built on the slippery notion of freedom.
And I'll be praying for my country,
where a twentieth of the world's population consumes a fourth of the world's energy,
where people pursuing their own kind of happiness fuel other countries' narco-wars,
where parents abandon children to go off in search of themselves,
where we try to buy meaning on the marketplace instead of reaching it in our relationships.
Yes, I'll be praying that we can heal our two-edged freedom by finally learning restraint.