One of the profound statements that I love in all the gospels is If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed - John 8:36. I love this verse because of the assurance that you are truly free when the Son sets you free. Your freedom isn’t dependent on another person, institution, or government. You are truly free when the Son sets you free. Any kind of freedom which is less than what the Son can give you doesn’t make you free.
How free are you?
It makes perfect sense for you and me, and in fact, those of us reading this article to look at ourselves and proclaim that we are free men and women, and that may be accurate. After all, we are not in shackles like the millions of African Slaves who were taken from their homes, kept in ships for months as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean to work on tobacco and cotton plantations, and forced to serve their masters and their families. We are free men and women. And to an extent possible, we can use our freedom as much as we want.
At our Adult Forum: Sunday Circle this past weekend, the presenter talked about Slavery in Howard County, at a time when it was part of Anne Arundel County. According to the historian, in the 1860's census, about 23% of the inhabitants of Howard County were African Americans. An interesting piece of information was that some African Americans were classified as ‘Servant of…’ or ‘Belonging to…’ Servants were not slaves - but to belong to another person meant that person was a Slave.
As demeaning as this was, the sad reality is that there are some who, in spite of all that we have now come to know and appreciate about the dignity of every human being, believe that we should still perpetuate such practices or variations of them. The idea that we still have Slaves is even beyond me. But I dare say that it is not only the Slave who may be in bondage, but the one who owns a Slave is equally in bondage.
We have all the reasons in the world to forgive what was done. And in fact, we should have all the reasons in the world to forgive ourselves for what was done. Yet still, we should even forgive those who still believe in the dehumanizing brutality that Slaves have to endure.
The tragedy that I see is that the failure to forgive others and ourselves is to be in bondage with those who have wronged us. And that, my friend, can be damaging.
How free are you?
The experience of the Exodus from Egypt is that God delivers us from the bondage of slavery, just like he delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt into a life of perfect freedom. It is a life where we are not beholden to any ‘gods.’ A life where we find our joy, our deepest joy, not in anything material or some false sense of security, but in knowing who we are, whose we are, and the purpose for which we have been delivered from slavery and now find ourselves in the land of milk and honey. And so to be in the land of milk and honey and still yearn for the former life in Egypt suggest that you may not be as free as you think you are. The desire of the Slave is to be free. Our collective desire is to be free, free enough to fly as high as we can.
So why do we still want to act like Slaves all over again?
How free are you?
You may have heard of Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae star who passed away many years ago. In one of his songs, Redemption Song, he sings “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds,” a quote attributed to Marcus Garvey. Marley’s invitation is for you and me to free our minds from the slavery to which we have subjected that same mind. You and I have the capacity to free our minds, to liberate them from the slavery of hate, selfishness, and greed. That is the only way we will be able to sing the songs of freedom, Redemption Songs. Remember this - you cannot be free while I am in bondage. Nor can I be free while you are in bondage. We are either free together or in bondage together.
How free are you?
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, admonished them with these words: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Does this remind you of Marley’s words? Does this spur any desire in you to want to sing the songs of freedom, those Redemption Songs? To renew the mind is to liberate it from squalor or turpitude and into the fullness of life to which God calls us.
Yes, you may be free... but how free are you? In your own mind, think about what your hatred and mine do to people. Think about what your selfishness and mine do to people. Think about what your godlessness and mine do to people. Think about what your greed and mine do to people. Think about what your deception and mine do to people. Think about what your anger and mine do to people. Think about all the many ways in which our thoughts and actions impact the lives of others, and wonder with me - why are we still Slaves if we have been bought with a price? Why are we still Slaves if the Son has set us free?
During this Black History Month, I invite you to free your mind... and while at it, free your heart too. Like the Negroes of ol’ times, refuse to be a Slave.