Love People, Snack on Skittles

In which I attempt to define what it means to be we the people in the land of the free.

Here we are again. And again, and again. And here, again, we, the people, have a choice. We can dwell on the words and theories of the politicians …or we can talk about the things that are actually happening in our neighborhoods, our country, the world.

An innocent life taken by someone whose job it is to protect him. An American of one race violently snuffing out an American of a different race. A single action that consequently validates the actions others have been taking when they refuse to stand for our national anthem.

Drug addictions that sabotage a person’s hopes and dreams, a family’s unity, a child’s sense of security.

Isolation created by a misunderstanding of someone’s religion, leaving a person vulnerable to a radicalization of that religion by a zealot (and let’s remember that this is not just true for Muslims — there are misguided Christians who can get just as radical when they feel that’s the only way they can belong and make a difference).

The Us and Them mentality, which is the exact opposite of what our country was established to be: the land of the free.

True freedom means that we are not bound, hindered, or restrained. It means we are released from any autocratic or despotic power, so that we the people can each become the people we were created to be. It does not mean we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want. That would, in fact, invalidate freedom, because it implies that a person has submitted to the bondages of pride and selfishness.

Paul, a much better and more inspired writer than I, tells us plainly in First Corinthians, that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The fruits of the Spirit have been identified as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So, by logic, this means that you can’t have true freedom if the opposites — indifference, sadness, distress, resistance, indecency, immorality, dishonesty, hostility, rashness — are being displayed. And if those opposite qualities are what we promote, then freedom doesn’t stand a chance.

Paul also asserts that freedom is both our destiny and our goal. In Galatians 5 he tells us that we were “called to be free.” It’s God’s intention for us. What’s not part of His plan? The very next sentence: “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” What is in His plan? The very next phrase: “serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Whether or not you believe in God, I am quite sure I can fairly state that all of us want a world where freedom is for all of us, and we therefore — or maybe as a result of — are all loving each other as ourselves.

So let’s exercise the freedom we the people say we want, and in fact do have…starting now. So many of these we take for granted, forgetting that they actually do distinguish us from the very countries millions are fleeing. Among others…

We the people have the freedom to assemble. We can welcome groups of people into our homes simply so we can all get to know each other and talk about our needs and hopes. We can gather together, celebrate together, grieve together, discuss possible solutions together, share a meal together, be together.

We the people have the freedom to petition. We can drown out the voices of lobbyists and pundits by writing rational and intelligent letters to our politicians. We can also approach those overworked and under-appreciated public safety and public service workers and find out what their concerns are.

We the people have the freedom of speech. Instead of hating on someone who says something we don’t like, we can celebrate the fact that they have the right to do so. This right means we get to be exposed to people who have different views than ourselves, so we can listen — really listen — and then decide if that view is injurious or just…different.

And, for the sake of this story, lastly, we the people have the freedom to enjoy other freedoms. I am unashamedly restating this as: the freedom to love others, helping them to enjoy such basic rights as education, employment, and family. This is the one that’s been churning in my soul lately.

If we the people say we want to solve “the race problem”, then we need to give our time and love to the underprivileged. Whatever their race, color or creed. When data clearly shows that there are Americans who can’t succeed — or even be safe — because of oppression, then we can’t expect them to just “make something of themselves”. Again, anyone who is born into a situation where they can not become the person they were created to be is not truly free, and therefore as long as that is the case for even one person then America is not complete.

If we the people say we want to solve “ the drug problem,” then we need to reach out to both those who are vulnerable to, and those who are struggling with addiction. Instead of blaming and insulting and diminishing and accusing, we could be creating opportunities to come alongside them, so we can get them to their appointments and help them find jobs and make them feel valued and and motivate them to unlock their best.

If we the people say we want to solve “the immigrant problem”, then we need to go out and meet the ones who are already here. Make them feel welcome, help them learn our language, give them a chance to thrive. Show them why America is a gift, not an exclusion, so that they will want to defend her as much as we do, and then they will in turn extend the same help to those who come next.

We the people are going to have to do this on our own, putting into practice the freedoms I just mentioned. We each know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who needs help. An immigrant, an oppressed, an addict. Someone who‘s been accused of abusing freedom, but whom we know is being denied it. Each one of us can reach out to that one person and love them. Really love them, in practical and tangible ways.

You don’t have to be everything to everyone, just something to someone.

There are over 324 million Americans. According to some rough data (translation: I Googled it) something like 46 million are living in poverty, 119 million are races other than white, 11 million are undocumented immigrants, and 23 million are being treated for addiction. I’m not smart enough to figure out how much of that overlaps and how it all fits together, but I have to believe that the number of privileged, white, healthy, secure Americans at least slightly outnumbers those who are not. Which means we have a ratio for success. It means each of us who “is” has the freedom to come alongside one person who “isn’t.” It means we could stop being “us and them” and move toward “we the people”…for real this time.

To paraphrase one of my living heroes, Reggie Joiner, we need to remember that politicians are not really going to change the world, or even solve our problems. That’s the church’s job — it’s why Jesus instituted it. It’s a gift to us, so that we can each be part of the transformation He began. Whether you are a Christian or not, the church is for you. Take the gift and let it change your life, and then take a step to make a difference in someone’s life.

True freedom means we the people don’t have to be forced to do the right thing, and we can’t be prevented from doing it. We don’t need politicians to tell us how to make this country great. Each of us people just needs to be great.