“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Words from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. Powerful words, right? The heart of this American experiment.

Most every time we celebrate the Fourth of July, it’s these words I think of when we gather with friends, barbecue, and gape at fireworks. When I was younger I barely had a notion of what these words meant other than the fact that I was happy eating hot dogs and ice cream, staying out after dark and enjoying the rockets’ red glare and “bombs” bursting in air … Other than my birthday, the Fourth may have been my favorite holiday.

But as I’ve gotten into this pastor business and learned more about the history of our nation, the presumption of unalienable rights endowed by a Creator has become less and less self-evident. It’s clear the founding fathers (all men) who approved the Declaration didn’t consider all people equal. Only those who owned property could enjoy these benefits.

It doesn’t make sense any longer that we would exclude renters or women; that we would see people of color as less than in God’s eyes or in the law. We have a long and complicated history surrounding immigration and who can become a part of this nation of ours.

I don’t have a solution for our current situation as a citizen, but as a part of the Christian faith that was sent “into all the world,” this is a messy issue for me. I’m further pushed when I read in the earliest letters, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). I’m not saying this means that anyone who wants to come to the United States should be granted citizenship, but in the very least, it is difficult to see those seeking asylum as unworthy of those unalienable rights.

Further, I no longer wonder so much about what will make me happy (it doesn’t seem like we ever get to happiness if that’s what we’re pursuing) as I try to figure out what makes a good life and what does liberty really look like, and who gets included as those who are endowed with those rights.

My thesaurus says that freedom is a synonym of liberty. In his letter to Galatia, the apostle Paul writes, “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.” Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. (5: 13-14 The Message)

That about sums it up for me. The freedom we have offers us an opportunity to live a life based on love for others, the same love you have for yourself. And as Paul suggests, if we don’t love one another, we destroy our freedom and when we do love one another, freedom grows.

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Jonathan Eastman is pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Saint Helena, 1428 Spring St. For information, visit www.firstpressthelena.org or call 963-1255.