Friday, January 27, 2012

The UNITED States of America: What it means to live in community

I’ve been hearing a lot, and I mean a lot about individual freedom; everywhere I turn, whether it is TV, radio, or print—it’s all the same.  I’m told that a fundamental principle of America is individual freedom and liberty.  I heard it in Mitch Daniel’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech and I read it in Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible; Grudem even asserts that individual liberty is a biblical principle (I’ll leave that for another blog). All this talk about individual liberty got me thinking, how does that coincide with the fact that we live in the United States of America, that the motto of this country at one time was E Pluribus Unum; out of many, one.  Ultimately, the question is, what does it mean to live as a community?

Currently, I live in a small townhome which is part of a four-plex. The walls seem paper thin at times and I can hear far more than I’d like to. As an American with individual freedom I should have to the right to stay up as late as I want, with my music as loud as I want, with as many people over as I want; yet I don’t—because I understand that living in a community—or in this instance a four-plex with thin walls, means being respectful of my neighbors even if it means a loss of my own “rights.”

Something else that reminds me of community? Marriage.  I’ve been married over 7 years, and on the day I was married, I gave up many of my “rights” in order to live in “community” with my wife.  As a young adult male, I should have the right to hit the bars and party it up with my friends whenever I want for as long as I want, I should have the right to sleep with whoever I want, and I should have the right to do whatever I want—life is about individual liberty after all.  Yet, strangely enough, because I have agreed to live in community with my wife, I sacrifice all these “rights.”

Ok, so if you’re not catching my drift, I’ll explain it right out; living in the United States of America is living in a community.  As Americans, we sacrifice many individual rights in order to live together as a part of this nation; after all, that’s what being a community is about—not the one, but the many.  In case you haven’t figured it out by now, being an American, being part of the United States should be about sacrificing one’s own rights for the good of the many.  That means sacrificing some of my money to help others who need it (taxes), that means buying light bulbs that use less energy (a conservative pet peeve) so energy will be more available for all, it means (gasp!) restructuring an economic system so that not just one benefits but rather all benefit. 

If I may pull some biblical support into this, I’d like to suggest the story of the Good Samaritan.  Just before Jesus actually tells this story he is talking with some religious folks of his time about what were the most important religious principles to live by. The answer given first was loving God, and second, loving your neighbor as yourself.   Jesus said this answer was spot on, but seeking to find a loophole, the religious person asked, but who is my neighbor?  This is when Jesus brings in the story of the Good Samaritan.   Jesus understood what it meant to live as part of a community; it meant sacrificing your own “rights” in order to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

So do I have a problem with people asserting their own “individual liberty?” Not necessarily, but I would recommend they go buy an island in the Pacific were they can use whatever kind of light bulbs they want, dump into the ground whatever they want, and use however much energy they want.   Or perhaps we could just go back to the way it was in the Middle Ages, build our own castles and do as we please.  Heck, corporations these days are essentially kingdoms; the CEO is king, the shareholders are the knights, and the employees are just their serfs.  That saying, “freedom isn’t free” is right on, it takes boat loads of money to buy freedom; corporations spend billions each year fighting for their “individual liberty.” Oh, have you forgotten? “Corporations are people my friend” (Mitt Romney) and as such deserve all the rights and freedoms of an individual. These days, freedom isn’t free, and whoever has the most money gets the most freedom.

So for those who constantly want to beat their drum of “individual liberty,” I’d like to ask them what it means to be a part of a community and what it means to be a part of the United States of America. And for Christians who share that same mantra (I’m talking to you Mr. Grudem); I’d like to ask them what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.  

So what does it mean to live in the community of the United States of America? It means sacrificing individual rights for the greater good of all—this is loving your neighbor as yourself.

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