Freedom: The American Experiment

ALIVE READERS:

I have been on a mental trip away from Egypt and the plagues. The book I am about to describe made me realize that it wasn't the Jews only who were slaves of Pharaoh, but all Egyptians were equally under his whim and control. It was horrible how the Egyptian people had to suffer even more when God wanted to set His people free, without the benefit of achieving their own freedom. Fascinating to think that while God was trying to free "His people" meanwhile in Greece, He was introducing the concept of freedom to humankind through the brilliant minds of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the three hierarchs of Western Civilization.

I will return to Egypt in the next posting. For now, let's explore the concept of freedom and what that means to each of us.

FREEDOM

The other day, I was reminded and further educated about the birth of Western Civilization through a book by Edith Hamilton entitled The Echo of Greece*. The content is so important and relevant to today that I want to share it with everyone I know! I hope that the following excerpts will inspire and energize you too.

What failed in Athens was not the brilliance of the new concepts of individual freedom and self-government, but that the people would not do their part as individuals to sustain it. Perhaps a reminder of our duties as individual guides of the system will help us to prolong this fragile American experiment beyond the mere two and a half centuries of its existence on earth.

The founding of America, a fresh start, will never happen again on this planet. It is for Americans today to show the Greeks that we can maintain their concept of freedom through thousands, not a few hundred years. This takes frequent trips back to the standard. This short piece is one of those trips back to the ruler to check where our construction is straight or getting cock-eyed.

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The most precious possession of the Greeks was their freedom which was unique.

Despotism was the form of rule, but not in Greece. Despots destroyed the individual to empower the State. They didn't enslave people, because they didn't have to. People under strong government control were already slaves of the state.

Freedom is the power to live under one’s own control and not another's which was unthinkable to the [powerful] east: e.g. Egypt, Persia, Babylon, Assyria. The east could not conceive of order in any other way but despotism. Aristotle said that Asiatics were slaves by nature. They didn't know what freedom is. If they did, they would fight for it with their bare hands, if they had no weapons.

Unlimited freedom is chaos. It would destroy humankind. So the Greeks discovered a way to achieve order through freedom. Men were to limit their own freedom through self-control.

The Greek love of freedom was checked by an equal appreciation for truth. They sought and cherished truth so much that they even shunned exaggeration. They detested extremes and the idea of the limitless to keep a firm hold on reality.

Sculptures with more than natural human beauty were the expression of the artist's discovery of the necessary relation between beauty and truth. Physical perfection evoked a sense of spiritual perfection. They were driven to find order out of confusion. They found it in beauty.

What the artist did, the statesman also did by finding the relation between law and freedom. Both written and unwritten laws are the key to moderation, reality (truth) and order.

Unwritten laws were even more important than written laws. The violation of unwritten laws didn't send you to jail, but were the basic condition of freedom for men living together, i.e. kindness, compassion, unselfishness... Laws were as nothing compared to the limits established by a man's free choice to be good.

Arrogance, self assertion were detested by the Greeks, who favored restraining the impulses to unrestricted freedom, shunning excesses, obeying inner laws of harmony and proportion.

In Greece, men started thinking of themselves as individuals. Slavery was common throughout the world, yet in Athens even slaves had the right of self rule. Human equality was essential to the concept of truth, freedom, and individualism.

Socrates thought that every man's good was dependent on the good of the community. The two could not be separated. Only a good man could be a good citizen, and a state could only be good when its citizens were good. The condition of the state was bound with the condition of the souls who live in it.

Socrates’ eyes were fixed on the individual, and on the individual part of him, the inner realm where he could be absolute master. Men were free when they were masters of themselves. Otherwise they were all citizen-slaves to the State.

To expect a government to be good when dishonesty had crept in among the officials, or officials to be honorable when the voters were indifferent to their being so, was folly.

Failure of the concept of freedom started when people voted to be paid for their public service. Plato and Aristotle both strongly objected. Instead of men giving to the state, they wanted a government that would provide them with comfortable lives. Self reliance, and service to the community were obscured to the point of disappearing. Athens began to be looked upon as a wealthy cooperative business in which all citizens had a right to share. The more that was demanded from the people of their government, the higher the taxes, till they were taxed out of existence. Votes were for sale as well as politicians. The freedom people wanted became freedom from responsibility.

Yet, responsibility was the price for freedom. It could be had on no other terms.
The true believers in freedom never regarded public office as a chance for private gain.

They considered poverty among their fellow citizens as their own disgrace and measured their well being, not by outdoing each other, but by the soberness' of their daily life and absence of want among all the people.

Isocrates believed in democracy, but he was aware of the danger in unchecked majority rule, perpetually threatening to pass over into mob rule. And of the fact that while the best in the community will always be a minority, rule by a minority had again and again resulted in loss of freedom.

The failure came as men rejected the disciplines and responsibility of freedom - they wasted their youth in soft living. Lawlessness was looked upon as liberty, license as happiness. To them, the state was a means to satisfy selfish desires. [Ask not what your country can do for you…JFK]

Wise self-control became less valuable than State control. True democracy is the renunciation of power.

Plato was not a romantic, he was a realist who showed men what was real. Ugliness was there. Most people only saw the bad. Seekers of truth, the artist, the philosopher saw something else because they believed in the presence and power of inner divine light. They could discern the meaning of the ugliness going on, of what was important and what was not.

Plato said to turn the eye of the soul to the light, looking at the good in all its purity; use it as a pattern.

Plato died a happy man even though he was often disappointed. “Perhaps the perfect State can't exist,” Plato said, “perhaps it is laid up in heaven for him who wants to see it. That doesn't matter, a man can still order his life by its laws.”

Through Plato, Aristotle came to believe in God. But Plato never tried to prove his reality. Aristotle, who was a scientist had to do so. Plato contemplated God, Aristotle produced arguments to demonstrate him. Plato never defined God. Aristotle thought God through logically and concluded he was the unmoved mover. "To find Him is hard and then impossible to utter Him. God is the rational center of an orderly universe.”

Aristotle had a burning curiosity about facts. His biggest achievement was that he united the world of scientific thought with metaphysical thought, he joined philosophy, art, and religion with sciences. He held the two worlds together as no one else.

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The American system of government was derived from these basic principles that can guide us through the perilous seas of a world in a constant tug-of-war between good and evil.

If only we could pivot our attention to what is good, beautiful, honorable. If only each of us, one by one, would think about Plato’s advice to “turn the eye of the soul to the light, looking at the good in all its purity; use it as a pattern” for our own internal dialogue, America would soon reflect its calm intelligent people, and the world could follow.

The key to freedom is individuality. Individuality should always repel group-think. Our individuality should make each of us critical listeners/readers to broadcasts. Is the sentence an opinion without a fact to back it up? Is the sentence an emotional trigger, or does it have real substance that can be verified by multiple sources? We should turn away from broadcasts that are designed to inflame rather than inform. Dividing us and angering us is a sure way to control and conquer us. How important is freedom to you personally? Think deeply about this, make sure your decisions will lead towards freedom. If you disagree about the value of freedom, ask yourself if you should have the right to revoke the freedom of others who want to be free and are willing to accept the risks and work that freedom requires.

One of the more frightening sentences I read was the one that said men allowed their leaders to be corrupt. How familiar, how frightening.

Winning the America Revolution was a miracle. It was proof of the Ancient Greek theory that those fighting for the good will always prevail over those fighting for power. Imagine history without this miraculous war. Since our founding, time and again, we have seen despots rise who want to enslave people with their ideologies, and then physically control them. Study the rise of the Ottoman Empire, study the rise of Naziism. A chaotic centralized government is easy to grab. Is America being systematically set up, from within, to be conquered? The enemy of freedom is shrewd and patient.

The foundation of a good nation is good people. Look inside your self for the light, for peace. When you find it, shine it brightly. Others will follow until we become a country filled with luminous people who love. A measure of our success as a culture will be when we promote beauty over horror in art and entertainment. We demand excellence in our food, the delicious, the beautiful, the nutritious; let us also demand excellence in what our eyes and ears absorb.


*The Echo of Greece, Edith Hamilton, W.W. Norton & Co. 1957

Pray and Fast for America


September 29th marks the beginning of the 40 day period before our National Election. In the Judeo Christian tradition 40 is the measure of time for key biblical events.

It began with the 40 days of rain in which only Noah and his family were saved from global devastation. Later, Moses was with God on the mountaintop for 40 days to receive the Ten Commandments. This occurred twice. After the first attempt Moses fasted for 40 days to beg God not to destroy the people for worshipping an idol. (He didn't.) Moses returned for another 40 days and another set of Tablets. Israel wandered through the wildness for 40 years before reaching the Promise Land, and King David reigned over Israel for 40 years. Joshua reconnoitered the land for 40 days before the Israelites entered, and finally, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before beginning His mission. Because of the significance of the forty day period the Christian Lenten period is forty days before Easter.

40 HOLY days
before the new world,
before receiving the Ten Commandments,
before entering the promise Land,
before beginning Christ's salvific mission, and
before celebrating the Resurrection.

Fasting from foods is a type of prayer booster. Fasting tells God how much we care about our requests. Fasting puts our 'skin in the game'. Growling stomachs get God's attention.

This is why I invite my FB and blog friends to join me in fasting from now to November 8th. Let's pray that God's mercy and (good) will for this country be done. Your personal fast may be as long or short, intense or easy as you want it to be. Let your own conscience be your guide.

The powerful Archangels Gabriel and Michael await us on November 8th, cheering us on every step of our way to that crucial day in America's history. By a wonderful coincidence, the Orthodox feast of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael just happens to fall on November 8th too.

So let us keep our eyes fixed more than on the earthly stressful campaign period, fixed on Gabriel, the messenger of Good News and Michael, the militant angel who combats evil with his super-powers like no other.

Let's act like the army of the Lord that we are. Let's get to work. Each and every one of us focused on combatting the divisiveness that has plagued our country. Democrat, Independent and Republican join each other to pray for the demise of the DIABOLO, the divider, pray for the unity of this nation under God, indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.


"America America, God shed His grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea."

War and Gratitude – Ode to Memorial Day

Lovely little yellow rosebud, hankering to blossom, kissed by the lips of morning dew, blessed are you not to have an enemy in the world. When your life is cut off it is only so that your beauty may adorn a cozy room. No one cries. 

Little do you know of mass murderers, of tyrants and despots, of hatred gone wild, horrifying human beings disgracing God’s image. 

Pity us dear rosebud that too often freedom must be purchased with life’s blood over and again. How grievous to be torn from our dearly beloved; how the heart aches that must live with memories instead of hugs and kisses. Even more tragic than war for freedom, is brothers who annihilate each other in bloodied hope of prevailing in an argument.

O what great suffering man endures to root out a cancer within his body.

What depths of distress the brave militant endure who root out the cancer of paralyzing conflict. 

Rosebud longing to greet the world with open yellow petals let us give thanks together. How shall we express our gratitude to our countrymen who died in battle? What has a pauper to offer the king? Will you send up your rosy fragrance to the heavens where the immortal fallen sit at feast on this day of honor? 

The little rosebud opened gently to reveal an inner petal and with that movement said, "Fragrance I have but it is not gift enough." 

Then let us compose a symphony of thanksgiving with strings and symbols.

Let it sound like heartbeats in fear and then evolve into the sound of angels cheering. Let our symphony end with the ringing of bells, heralding the slain into the kingdom of heaven. 

With help from a passing breeze the little rosebud shook in disapproval.

“Could a tune express the gratitude of millions through the centuries who have benefited by the sacrifice? No, music is not gratitude enough. They bravely suffered terror and death. Men of peace sent to kill and be killed. Music is not gratitude enough.” 

Suddenly my ears opened to the chirping of mourning doves and ruby red cardinals, a cacophony of language. Who will translate for me? 

The birds all said, each in its way, "Their sacrifice means nothing to us, but from our perches on high we see that the only fitting expression of gratitude is to show the fallen brave that you are worthy of their sacrifice. Be truthful and just in all your dealings America. Disagree respectfully, politely and without bitterness. A house divided cannot stand. Embody the values of your constitution. Honor the fallen brave with righteousness. Are you grateful enough?” 

And with that the rosebud blossomed and a new breeze lifted the flag for a show of stars and stripes and I heard bells ringing. The rose whispered, “Gratitude is costly too. May God look upon our nation favorably and may we be worthy of His blessings and protection.” 

Let us say ‘Amen’

Remember the Revolution

Today we were going to start out on a mystical vacation with a two-foot tall angel named Juan Diego, but it happens to be the 4th of July, Independence Day. This day is much too important to ignore, so our vacation will have to begin next Sunday. Meanwhile, start packing.

Aspiring immortals get out your flags and wave them high, high enough for all the angels in heaven to see. Even if our ancestors were far far away from America in 1776, when we adopted this country, we adopted the brave signers of the Declaration of Independence as our forefathers, and their protestation as our cry.

Today we keep the memory of what they did alive because it was brave, and intelligent, and right. To remember the words of the Declaration of Independence forces us to measure this country by what they revolted and died for: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and equally vital: freedom from tyranny and oppression.

Are we the America they demanded? Are we alert enough to recognize and revolt against tyranny and oppression even when it creeps in from within our government? Are we brave enough to demand liberty? Do we consider that the right to life extends to the most vulnerable among us and do we fight to protect that right? Finally, are we free to pursue happiness? Yes! I say yes to all. We are that America they demanded 234 years ago today!

On the day we cut the cord that tied us to Great Britain, Americans became more aware of humanity’s dependence on God who created us equal and was able to protect and provide for this rich young country-full of industrious men and women.  Let us maintain that awareness of our ultimate dependence on God, for all that we are, and all that we have, and all that we aspire to.

May our gunpowder always be used for glorious showers of light, and when it is not, let it be for the most noble causes.

What does this have to do with aspiring to live in Kingdom Come? I say, be faithful in the small things and God will grant you greater. A good citizen of America will make a good citizen of the new earth. Rejoice in our freedom to disagree; may right and goodness always prevail in our holy land, America. Amen.

Remember Sacrifice

Even as an aspiring immortal who tries always to keep one foot in heaven, a person who wants more than anything to live happily ever after in Kingdom Come, I am in awe of those Americans who from day-one to now have been willing to go to war knowing they could be killed. They are martyrs for the cause of freedom and democracy.

Freedom to think and say whatever is in our hearts, and democracy which is the Greek idea of diffusing power among the people seem to be just like God’s plan to allow mankind to choose between life and death, to choose between following Him down the path to immortality or freely going the other way and to choose those in authority over us even as we can freely submit to His power and authority.

A martyr who is also an aspiring immortal knows that God will catch him or her when (s)he throws his or her body into dangerous places to protect the American democratic faith. To me, that person is a saint and should be honored like one.

To be brave enough to risk your life, and then to lose your life in this world so that others may live free and freely submit to God’s authority seems to be just like Jesus Christ marching up to Golgotha. I know that Jesus died so humanity could become immortal; He died to destroy death, but doesn’t it seem similar when brave (wo)men die to destroy tyranny and oppression?

I have read many stories that take place during World War II and each time I am amazed at the atrocities and how widespread the horrors became, and then I flash forward to today and it amazes me more that as one enemy was vanquished, another one surfaced. I suppose on this old earth evil will never stay away because men’s hearts are filled with a lust for power over others. Yet, we must continue to fight evil on a grand scale for the same reason we must fight it within. What a relief to know that someday and forever we will be rid of the foolishness of evil.

Until then, I want to thank the brave ones who risked their lives and lost them for the sake of freedom and democracy. I suppose Memorial Day is not too different from All-Saints day. I wonder if they can hear us thanking them, if they can see us playing and having fun with our freedom and if this makes them very happy. 

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Even though these hundreds of years have passed since the pilgrims first gave You thanks with a similar feast and with such joy and relief in their hearts, we here thank You still for protecting and providing for that brave remnant who suffered so much to come to this land and to set up home here where they could worship You as they saw fit. We thank You Lord still for the Indians who helped the settlers so much.

Thank You for guiding this wild and barren country through the centuries to become the great nation it is today, a source of marvelous inventions in so many fields from electronics to medicine, and a land of the brave and generous who give of ourselves in so many ways to free others from political, religious, and financial oppression. Thank You for Your part Lord in making the America of those pilgrims free and great, the land of opportunity and our home.

Thank You for love and forgiveness, for our family, and our dearest friends, You who orchestrate our lives and bring people together for Your purposes. Thank you for bringing us together today.

Thank You for forming and strengthening the hands that have labored to bring us this feast. Those here among us who made these scrumptious looking foods, and those behind us, the farmers, the truck drivers, the grocers, the recipe writers, who also had a hand in this feast. Thank You.

Finally, thank You God for being the source of all that is good and beautiful. Let’s eat.

Amen