Saturday, July 03, 2010

Words For The Fourth

Turley is a particularly wild place on the days celebrating the Fourth of July. Because we are an urban/smalltown/rural mix and unincorporated section of the Tulsa Northside, we have become the mecca for selling and exploding fireworks, all day and all night. We are also in a valley and by the Fourth's end the smoke hovers over the streets as in a battlefield. Driving through the streets becomes difficult especially in the evenings. Every time the massive amounts of fireworks explode above the houses and the treetops, it provides spectacular sights, but also I keep thinking of the massive amounts of dollars being spent by the folks here who are in the lowest income section of our area; of course there are no movie houses or entertainment places on the northside of Tulsa and so for a few days or weeks of the year we become one of the "places to be" for people to get what they are looking for in the Entertainment Empire.

Which is the opposite of what the Fourth of July celebration should be about. We may light the skies for a celebration of freedom, but the freedom we celebrate is not the freedom to have no laws and no limits, to outdo our neighbors in firepower, to find ways to retreat into our own boundary lines of property and family, to gorge on unhealthy food, and to crash out in couch potatodom, or to mouth yet again the platitudes of freedom and liberty and go on perpetuating injustice and its twin of isolation. Is this what the signers of the Declaration of Independence died for and set into motion? In part, yes; the right to lose our way, but moreso, no, it was for the creation of beloved community with its twin markers of lovingkindness and responsivefreedom.

It must be said and repeated year after year: Freedom is inherently relational; it only has meaning as a component of community, where we together as a community grant and entrust it to one another as persons within community. It is part of and contributes to and is created by our covenants with one another. Individual freedom in itself is not ultimate (and is in fact more of an oxymoron); that is not liberty but license and aloneness. Freedom as an expression and sign of Beloved Community is inherently Transcendent and points us to our deepest being outside of own own personal egos and needs and lives, even our lives as national citizens. It is an aspect of the image of the One who is at heart relational and freeing. Therefore, our celebrations of freedom should be in this spirit, should draw us closer to one another in service to one another, especially with those in need of lovingkindness and liberation.

This is why this rainy weekend our Community Center was a site and a departure point, as it always is, for community work, working with OU graduate students contacting people to find out about their neighborhood's health in order to help guide our response in the future. Offering free meal. Working on gardens in local schools. Talking with people who came by. Creating space for addictions recovery. All in a day at A Third Place, 6514 N. Peoria Ave.

It is why this Sunday during our gathering to be the church here that we will watch part of the opening episode of the HBO miniseries on John Adams where the future revoluntionary war leader and President puts his life and reputation on the line first by defending in court unpopularly the British soldiers accused of murdering colonists during an altercation. His personal sympathies are with the colonists, but his deeper allegiance is to both law and justice and to "living and acting as if the beloved community of freedom were a reality" in order to help make it so, in order to remind people that freedom is not about winning, nor about sides and personal triumphs, but about what kind of community their struggle and their winning was for in the first place. The United States of America was not a reality yet when that event occurred, but for John Adams it existed as a vision that he would live into reality, then and over time. It is a vision we must keep casting, and how we celebrate that vision, how we spend our time and talents and treasure uplifting it, is a way to make it become closer to reality.

And what motivated John Adams into that kind of response to a higher calling than popularity or the desires of the citizens of his land was his faith (he was a Christian of the Unitarian persuasion by the way) in a particular kind of God and Christ that sends one, even reluctantly like him, into service for the good of others different from him, though sharing with him a common thread of being children of that God.

This is why the Fourth of July is a kind of high holy day for our missional community that is part of the free church tradition and progressive Christian. Our communion celebrated on this day will stress the act of the feeding of one another symbolized by our passing the plate and cup to one another, as a way to uphold our bonds with one another, and our vision of beloved community that requires us to create freedom for one another, particularly for those different from us, because it is the mark of love and the path of liberation.

"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," wrote the Apostle Paul. As a well studied Jew, he knew the connection deep in the story of the Hebrew Bible that it is in community, in response to God's calling, that liberation happens and people as collections of individuals become "a people." The early Universalists likewise used to talk of the connection and the primacy of what they called "gospel liberty." The gospel leads to liberty, and liberty is necessary as the soil for truth and justice to grow. It is so easy to get out of balance. We focus on freedom from instead of balancing it with freedom to; we make an idol of our way of knowing God but forget we came to that understanding through the freedom to do so granted by others, and so don't work to extend that same ground of freedom and equality to others.

So this Fourth feel free to light up the skies, to come to Turley and experience the wildness, but do so after serving to build up community and justice. Do it where you live. But I also invite you to do it with us, especially by donating to our Miracle Among the Ruins project, the Welcome Table Community Kitchen Garden Park, where we seek to create community space in a place that now stresses neglect and isolation and violence. Go to to read more about this vital initiative of hope in an area of despair, and see more and to donate there simply and easily the price of fireworks or even what one might spend on themselves during the holiday. It is a great way to remind one another that what we really celebrate is Interdependence Day, for that is the ground from which our own independence sprouts and develops fully. And we now have a new July 30 deadline to raise the final $8,000; there is no better time than the Fourth for you to become one of the hoped for 150 people from here and around the world who make this happen, and who let others know about it and that you have helped us reach that goal.

Thanks and blessings and more soon; you can follow along during the week each day at


No comments: