Freedom over Fear

“In our country,” wrote Mark Twain, “we have three unspeakable precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either.” So in honor of the 4th of July and Twain, let’s try and give some expression to both. And keep in mind that speech without conscience is like those who confuse typing with writing.

The land of the free and the home of the brave are irrevocably linked. You can’t be one without the other. If someone tries to sell you one without the other, they’re just getting ready to sell you a bridge. No one, any time, any place has ever bought freedom without paying for it with bravery.

Bravery is very different from bravado. Bravado is a junkie hooked on hot air. Bravery is often inversely quiet to its actions which speak loudly. People who strut and pose behind their bravado are often confusing character with character actor. Projecting how we want to be seen is very different from letting others truly see who we are. Bravery is not the absence of fears but simply and resolutely refusing to put our fears in charge.

An isolated young man who refuses to join a gang is exercising his freedom and his bravery. A single mother who doesn’t want to teach her children to hate their father is exercising freedom and bravery. An old man or woman who doesn’t want to accept society’s notion of what it means to be old is exercising his or her freedom and bravery. Anyone battling addiction – any addiction of the soul, mind, or body – who exercises their freedom and bravery in effort should stand up and be saluted – certainly by themselves.

What is the bravest thing you did on a private stage in your life? This Fourth of July share with yourself and/or someone else not only your courage but your fears. People who are afraid to face their fears never would have faced the English at Lexington.

Freedom is more than the freedom to do something dangerous or stupid and back it up by calling it bravery. Too often we will avoid real issues of freedom and bravery to do something ridiculous which is designed to impress ourselves and others but primarily serves as psychological cape work.

Real freedom and real bravery is the right we give ourselves to face what we fear most. Every social norm was once an idea that was a social outlaw. The British did not see the American Revolution as an act of heroism or bravery. The idea that “all men are created equal” was a revolutionary idea that upset those who heretofore simply defined themselves by their birth as being superior to others. What a ruling society most fears is any individual who will face society’s social norm and see the Emperor of what has been taken for granted as naked – buck naked.

Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence: Five were tried by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Several lost sons who were serving in the Revolutionary Army. Nine fought and died. John Hart of New Jersey was driven from his wife’s bedside as she lay dying. Their thirteen children had to flee for their lives. His fields and his grain gristmill were laid to waste. For over a year he hid in deep forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children gone. Within a few weeks he died of exhaustion and heartbreak.

That life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness require bravery may not sound like news but it is always new to the moment. Let us remind our children and ourselves of that. And let us remind our children and ourselves that the battle for freedom is fought not only on a hill named Bunker but just as often in the night’s private darkness of our own bed with our own scary thoughts.

And a necessary closing thought: While freedom and bravery are often linked to war, and the glories of war, peace is the real triumph in life. In scripture there is a prayer that ends with a request for “peace and blessing.” For years I couldn’t figure out why blessings didn’t come first. With age however I have come to learn a divine lesson. Peace precedes blessing because any peace we find in life is its own blessing, and any blessing we receive in life that does not bring us peace is no blessing.

Put your faith and not you fears in charge, and may peace and blessings illuminate your sky.

Noah benShea
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