Sometimes, the best place to hide the truth is out in plain sight. The vary place we never look.
Sitting on a cloud could not have been more comfortable. Digging my toes into the plush red carpets could not have felt better. My eyes were being treated to amazing creations of art. And, my ears drank in the sounds of this luxurious hotel. Still, the beautiful surroundings could not shake my friend Michael’s words from my head. “What is the measure of a great vacation? Taking snapshots that the mind eternally remembers. You never forget the best vacations. Tropical beaches, breath-taking landscapes, cities that never sleep, they’re nothing. You have to go on The Mysterious Shrinking Freedoms Tour!”
I tried to get Michael to tell me more about it, but he wouldn’t. He said, “TJ, you have to experience it to appreciate it.” So, here I am. Waiting for the tour guide to show up. I checked the clock on the wall. I checked the time on my cell phone. I checked my watch. Then, I checked them again. “Come on, breath. Is this tour ever going to start?”
The clock chimed in the hour and the tour guide marched up with all of the fanfare of a master sergeant who’d been in the military for 20 years. He marched up to me. “And who might you be?”
I answered, “TJ.”
“Well TJ, the tour starts now sir.” Then the sarge turned to the group. “Good morning everyone. My name is Jonathan Taggart, but you can call me sarge. It’s time for The Mysterious Shrinking Freedoms Tour! Everyone onto the bus.”
I rolled my eyes. “Do you mean to tell me that I traveled thousands of miles to listen to some drill sergeant when there are so many better things to do? A day at the pool, a message, a root canal.”
The sarge saw my reaction and marched back up to me.”So TJ, are you foolish enough to think that ALL of us are perfectly free? I just bet that you don’t even realize that our freedoms are shrinking.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
The sarge smiled a very odd smile, but would say no more. So, we all got onto the bus. Then he said, “First Stop, the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.”
The bus trip was short and the sarge led us off of the bus, through the halls, and to a glass covered case. “Here are some of the most famous words that Thomas Jefferson ever penned.”
We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
“Strong Words. Powerful Words. Words that keep ringing in your ears long after they have been read. Hey TJ, are these truths self-evident?”
My response was immediate. “Well of course they’re self evident! We live in the United States of America – the land of the free!”
The sarge merely smiled and left me to my thoughts as we looked through the rest of the exhibits. After a time, the sarge guided us back onto the bus. “Next stop, the Lincoln Memorial.”
The sarge’s voice dripped with pride. “Standing in a small field in Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln said,”
Four score and seven years ago our fathers
brought forth on this continent, a new nation,
conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal.”
“Lincoln wrote those words while he was on a train traveling to Gettysburg. Gettysburg, a Civil War battle ground where more than 36,000 Americans had just lost their lives. Compare that to 9-11 where nearly 3000 people lost their lives. We would have to have twelve 9-11’s to equal one Gettysburg! Hey TJ, Do you think that those truths were self evident to Lincoln?”
I stuffed my hands into my pockets and turned away from the sarge. I thought about how Lincoln had freed the slaves. Then I thought about 9-11, Iraq, Afghanistan and the terrorists fighting against our freedoms. But, I said nothing. I said nothing and remained that way until their next stop, the Smithsonian museum.
The sarge was speaking, “Today, we have more information at our fingertips, than at any other time in history. And with all that knowledge we can make huge pieces of metal fly through the air to the farthest reaches of the world. We’ve made staggering advances in medicine. We’ve even touched the moon. Hey TJ, with all of this knowledge, do we believe that these truths (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) are self evident?”
My forehead scrunched in thought.
The sarge continued, “All this knowledge and people are addicted to drugs. People are slaves to money. Their intense greed caused a world economic crisis. Greed is just another word for addiction. Addiction is just another word for slavery. Slavery is worse now than it was in Lincoln’s time. Hey TJ, do you have an answer yet? Are they self evident?”
I was more confused than ever.
The Sarge saw my confusion. “Hey TJ, perhaps we are too busy spending money that we don’t have. Did you know that in 2010 Americans owed a staggering $826.5 billion in revolving credit? To put that into perspective. One billion minutes ago, the Roman Empire was flourishing and Christianity was emerging. It was about 100 AD. If you stacked one billion one dollar bills you would have a stack 67.9 miles high.”
My confusion deepened. I had tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt. And, I had to work 2 full time jobs just to make ends meet. And, I was raising three kids by myself. It wasn’t pretty. I was a slave to that debt and I didn’t even realize it. I was giving up my freedom! How many more people are like me? Distracted, slaves to money. Allowing someone else to run OUR lives!”
The sarge continued, “How long are we going to tolerate such slavery? What are we waiting for? Are we looking for another Abraham Lincoln, a Ronald Reagan, or a Martin Luther King Jr.? Do we need one strong voice?”
“Listen again. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident.’ “We are that voice. All of us! We the people! Is your voice silent? Are your hands idle? Slavery has a new name – addiction! What is the price of freedom? What is the price of reaching out to help another person in need? What is the price of lifting up our voices together in a call for freedom? How much should we sacrifice? How much is freedom worth? In the words of Edmond Burke, ‘The only thing necessary for the persistence of evil is for enough good people to do nothing.’ What are YOU going to do?”
Then, it finally made sense. “Hey sarge, I have your answer.”
The sarge smiled and let me continue.
“Even though Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers of our country knew that those truths were obvious, self-explanatory, and self-evident, they knew that knowledge wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to stand on the side-lines and hope that the truths would come to pass. They knew that they would have to stand up and do something to obtain them. They took action. And so did Lincoln, Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others. They fought for their freedom! And, we have to fight for ours!”
The sarge beamed, “Well done TJ.”
The tour ended but the snapshots of the tour would be burned into my memories.
Food for thought:
Freedom is not just another word. Neither is slavery or addiction. The greatest author of freedom is Jesus. And, we have only scratched the surface of the freedom that God offers to each and every one of us.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14
“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Psalm 119:45
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36