(Author’s Note: This article was originally posted in The Oakdale Chronicles on July 2, 2013 while I was still incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana, and although it is a couple of weeks late as an article, it is never to late to consider its message)
It seems appropriate to think about freedom as we approach the day on which we commemorate our independence.
I have written before about the “Toastmasters” group here at Oakdale, and I have posted speeches that I have given at some of those meetings. The following is a 5 minute speech I gave at a recent meeting. I thought I would share it with all of you.
I hope you find something in it that speaks to you.
“USE WELL THY FREEDOM”
“USE WELL THY FREEDOM”. Those four words adorn a low wall located in an older section of the Penn State University campus.
“USE WELL THEY FREEDOM”. A seemingly simple admonition to put to good use the freedom paid for in blood by so many American men and women since the founding of this great nation.
But is it something we do? Indeed, is something we even think about?
In the state of Florida, a well known professional football player and his equally well known super-model wife spent a reported $25 MILLION dollars on a 50 THOUSAND square foot home for them and their 2 children, while in the state of Louisiana ALONE, at the beginning of the last school year, there were 22 THOUSAND children who had no home at ALL.
Is THAT freedom used well?
In another part of the country, a man brags about the birth of his new child. Nothing unusual there, except that this is that man’s TENTH child, brought to life by SIX different women, none of whom he has been married to, a couple of whom were pregnant at the same time, and none of whom receive any emotional, spiritual, or financial support in the parenting and educating of those children.
Perhaps THIS is freedom used well.
In still another part of the country, a woman and her children are asleep in their beds late at night. In another room of the house, the husband and father reflects the glow of the computer screen he sits in front of as he engages in inappropriate sexually oriented “conversations” with people he doesn’t even know. Maybe he spends hours looking at ‘adult’ pornography. Perhaps he has even crossed the line and is looking at images of child sexual abuse referred to as child pornography.
Maybe THAT is an example of freedom that is being used well.
Since the founding of the United States of America, almost 2 MILLION men and women have sacrificed their lives to establish, preserve, and protect our freedom.
Are THOSE the freedoms they all died for?
In a recent Wall St. Journal report on how the average American uses the time in his or her day, it was stated that 2 hours and 50 minutes were spent watching television. Another 2 hours and 32 minutes were spent on sports and other leisure activities. Combined, the numbers equal 5 hours and 22 minutes of ‘me’ time each day.
Compare that to the 31 minutes that we spend caring for household members, and 11 minutes spent caring for non-household members, for a total of 42 minutes taking care of people other than ourselves.
We DO spend a whopping 30 minutes each day engaged in educational activities, although for many I think that is quite high, and when it comes to being involved in civic organizations or religious activities, we manage to spare an astonishing NINETEEN minutes each day.
Again, I believe that to be quite high in many cases.
If I have done my math correctly, the average American spends 91 minutes per day engaged in learning, taking care of other people, and taking part in civic organizations and religious activities. while we spend FIVE HOURS AND 22 MINUTES engaged in self-centered, self-serving, self-indulgent, and self-gratifying activities.
Which leads me to this question: Did all of those sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and husbands and wives make the supreme sacrifice of their LIVES so that we can each think only of OURSELVES?
Is THAT using our freedom well?
As inmates in a correctional facility, we probably think that freedom is what we lost when we entered this place. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth, because it was our FREEDOM that got us here. It was FREEDOM that was NOT USED WELL that closed the door behind us. It was the FREEDOM that we mistakenly believed gave us the right to think about OURSELVES to the exclusion of everyone else around us that keeps us behind fences and razor wire. We have convinced ourselves that FREEDOM is what makes the things WE want to do more important and more justified than what anyone else wants to do.
It stands to reason, then, that because we do not understand what freedom IS, it is impossible to understand how to use it WELL, and because we do not understand what true freedom is, we have all made ourselves SLAVES to those self-centered, self-serving, self-indulgent, and self-gratifying activities I spoke about.
Alright then….If freedom is NOT the “ME-dom” that we have made it, then what IS it?
The apostle Paul wrote, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”
I understand that people have different beliefs – or NO beliefs – when it comes to God and when it comes to the Holy Bible, but I challenge ANY person to find fault with that statement.
Imagine for a moment that YOU have a son or a daughter wearing the uniform of the military of this country. None of us would want our child to die at all, but if he or she must, I for one would pray to God that the life he or she gave would be sacrificed for a nation of people who cared about one another and NOT for a nation of people whose concept of freedom has made them slaves to selfishness.
You see, my friends, freedom is NOT about the rights that YOU have to do what you want to do.
Freedom is NOT about the rights that I have to do what I want to do.
This is because freedom isn’t a RIGHT at all. Freedom is a RESPONSIBILITY.
Freedom is the responsibility each one of us has to look out for one ANOTHER.
It is only when we truly understand what freedom IS that we can then begin to understand how to use it well.
Until we have learned to escape the slavery of our own selfishness, we will never be able to make our freedom even BEGIN to come close to being worth the cost of the life of someone’s child, parent, or spouse. Until such a time as that, ANY life lost will have been lost for nothing, and life is NOT worthless.
We only make it so when we insist on not using our freedom well.
I thank you.