As an American, I am very proud of my nation’s history and the independence we celebrate each year on July 4th. Living now in France, I have also been caught up in patriotic parades on July 14. ”Bastille Day”, as known among English speakers, is the the French National Day, commemorating the beginning of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789,as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France and I just recently enjoyed a wonderful parade and fireworks display this week.
I recognize and respect the many sacrifices and lives lost in order to protect these national and individual liberties. Our two countries share much in common and just recently commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings and the eventual WWII victory.
As I reflect this month on the blessings of freedom, I also acknowledge the harsh truth that my situation is not the reality of so many in our world. Millions of people live in oppressive situations, held captive by political or religious dictatorships. Many nations are currently scorched by civil war and longing for safety.
While I watched colorful fireworks and heard marching bands, hundreds of thousands of people were scattered seeking shelter from air raids of missiles and blocking their hears from bust of bombs and screening sirens.
In addition to these “news worthy” stories, we know that millions of people from every nationality suffer under the oppression of hunger, homelessness, illiteracy, poverty, and addiction. These chains in many ways are just as deadly but often are swept under the rug of ignorance.
I will be honest, it is easier for me to enjoy parades eating cotton candy if I do not have to think about starving children in Africa, overworked immigrants in Asia, or orphaned boys and girls in Latin America.
Considering these contrasting realities, I am struck by a powerful quote from the great international leader and humanitarian Nelson Mandela.
He said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
How are we living in a way that not only respect, but also enhances the freedom of others? How are we spending our time, talents, and treasures in ways that help release people and communities from the chains of oppression? Are they actually ways in which we spend our money that contribute to these global problems rather than work towards eliminating them?
Personally, I know I have difficult choices and decisions ahead. We can all do our part and believe that the culmination of many people doing their part can make a big difference. Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Let’s think this summer about how we can use our lives to help others break the chains holding them back and be set free for the life God intends for them.