I tried writing this several nights ago. It didn’t work. Then again, the next morning. Three days later it’s still waiting.
Why hasn’t it worked? Maybe because, as I began to write, I sat out on the balcony of our hotel, and I was too close. I sat mere yards from the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg.
This past Wednesday we spent some time touring the Gettysburg battlefield, standing on the spot where others stood and fought, and where many died. The Railroad Cut, Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill, the Angle. Places where blood was shed and lives were lost. In the end, the Union was preserved, and more importantly, freedom was won. Despite the “Lost Cause” revisionist history that argues the Civil War was really about states’ rights, the war was fundamentally about human freedom and dignity. It started with states fearful that Lincoln would free the slaves, and it ended with freedom for the slaves.
It was quite moving, and that’s part of why its taken me a few days to digest all of this. That and the irony.
Part of that irony is sitting on the balcony, 1000 yards away from the cemetery. And part of the irony is that just one day earlier we toured Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
The Liberty Bell is, of course, an iconic symbol of American independence. Housed yards from Independence Hall, it’s an almost required part of any visit to the very origins of American freedom and democracy. When one sees the bell, (and that’s all it takes – it is so well known even by sight), one cannot help but think of our struggle for independence, the sacrifice made to bring freedom to the American colonies and create this nation. Appropriately, therefore, it is housed in sight of the spot where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were adopted.
But check the history for a moment…the Liberty Bell wasn’t called “The Liberty Bell” in 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, or even in 1788 when the US Constitution was ratified. The name was first used in 1835, and not in connection with national independence. It was used by abolitionists, seeking an end to slavery! Or, in other words, the Liberty Bell is very much about liberty, but not the liberty of the country, the liberty of African-Americans, that all might have freedom.
Now it really becomes ironic! The Liberty Bell is within sight of the place where it was declared that “all men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence), and where a bunch of white men sought to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” (Preamble to the US Constitution). Yet the proclaimers of independence and the framers of the Constitution, deeply concerned about freedom, could only see freedom for themselves. They couldn’t see how their words of freedom and liberty would be hollow. Millions would remain enslaved for another 80 or so years. It would take lots of blood shed at Gettysburg, Antietam (we went there too on this trip), Cold Harbor, the Wilderness, Bull Run (twice), and many other otherwise obscure locations. Only then would freedom begin to have a chance, freedom which 150 more years down the road we continue to work toward.
So, if you missed it in the long paragraph above here’s the irony – the Liberty Bell, in the shadow of the Independence Hall, wouldn’t, and couldn’t, really be about liberty until it was about the freedom of someone else. Only in the absence of liberty, and the effort to fill that absence with freedom for all, could it really become “the Liberty Bell.”
But isn’t that also what Christian living is about? We talk about love and care as Christians, but until we care for those whom we really don’t care for, we really don’t get it. Jesus says, “If you love those who love you,” big deal – even evil people do that (Matthew 5:46)! To really live as we are called is to love and care for those whom, well, we don’t.
Or to put it another way, we can’t understand what Christian love is really all about until, like this nation, we expand our net to include all of God’s people. The Liberty Bell cannot be about liberty until it becomes about the freedom even of slaves; our Christian love cannot be about love until it becomes about our care and love of ALL of God’s people.
And that’s why our new mission statement says “all.”
…inviting all into a community of worship, nurturing all to be disciples of Jesus…
Not just all we like, or who think like us, or look like us. ALL. And only when we wrestle with what it means to include all, especially those who we don’t really want to include, only then can we really understand the love God calls us to have for others, the love God has for them – and the love God has for us!
Of course, there won’t be cemeteries filled with the dead who gave their lives to make that happen. Instead, there is a cross. A cross and a crucified Jesus. For while soldiers died to move this nation closer to true freedom, Jesus Christ died to give us love of God already.
And that is perhaps the greatest irony of all – we work to be an inclusive community, not to achieve a sense of Christian love, or to make love happen, but to realize the love of God we had all along. In the end we discover that God’s love has been here all the while. And when we embrace the love of those we love the least, we discover that our love, so grudgingly given, is really just the reflection of God’s love freely given. Not God’s love for someone else. God’s love for me.
And so I am really only sharing what God has first shared with me. When I love others. When I love all.