The Burden of Liberty

Statue of Liberty with fireworks in backgroundFireworks, footlongs, baseball and the beach are the usual order of the day on the U.S. Independence Day holiday. Our philharmonic here in S.C. will accompany lakeside festivities with the usual 1812 Overture, complete with cannon fire. And many will contemplate the years they served in uniform, or supported someone who did. Being in the Bible Belt, no doubt some will pray for our country and sing patriotic hymns. The predominant emotions, though, will be enjoyment of a long weekend and cookouts with friends.
Cherry Hill Seminary serves students and includes faculty from a number of countries, but we acknowledge our American residency, roots and culture by reflecting on what spiritual messages we might glean from July 4th. The U.S. certainly has much to be proud of. There is also more than enough shame to go around. Americans (and many Pagans, I might add) have often been brash, self-absorbed, and obsessed with the idea of independence—whether national or personal—as rivaling the common good for supremacy.
Being so recently transplanted from other shores, most of our ancestors might have cautioned us that liberty is a rare flower which only thrives in the right conditions, with a time of bloom that can be shorter than we anticipated. Our indigenous – First Nations friends can certainly attest to that truth. I happen to love flowers and go to some trouble to keep my yard blooming most times of the year. I know all too well that neglect or just hoping for a good outcome are not enough to ensure a colorful display in my garden.
Gardening wears me out and leaves me aching; so does the work of being a citizen in my country. It is not enough for me to only read the news I want to see, hope the local zoning and water commissions will issue permits that are good for the land as well as the community, or substitute clicktivism on social media for actually trying to understand issues and make an impact myself. At the time that I write, it is looking as if negligence may have caused the deaths of at least 150 people at a collapsed condo in Florida. The final crash of concrete happened quickly, but the signs were there several years ago. Likewise, our neglect of healthy community can begin to crack the foundations of democracy.
This weekend may we enjoy some long overdue fun, including the hotdogs. But let’s also pause to contemplate the work—the burden, if you will—of enjoying a way of life that few in history have known. Ask your gods, consult your preferred divination, and discuss with your intimates, how to make our world a kinder, stronger, safer place. Commit to the ongoing burden of liberty, and look forward to more beautiful seasons of its flowering.
– Holli S. Emore
Executive Director
Cherry Hill Seminary