Monday, January 19, 2009

'dom Ring

When I was a very young child I used to beg my mother to sing " 'dom Ring" to me. It required her best wit and experimentation to connect her array of rehearsals to my request. Finally, we were one. The song I loved and wanted was "My Country 'Tis of Thee," the last words of which are "Let free-dom ring."

Watching yesterdays' concert, the beginning of the inauguration of our next president Barack Obama whom a granddaughter calls "Rock," and hearing my old favorite sung with majesty and dignity, I wept. I do that a lot in my old age. My tears were a mix of hope, relief and fear. I'm vulnerable; we're vulnerable; the whole globe feels wobbly on its axis. And yet . . .

The stated theme of the festivities was "We Are One"—unity. I heard another theme: freedom. Freedom is a hard ethic. Put it together with the desire for unity and you've got a tall order.

To oversimplify, I think freedom and unity can only co-exist, not necessarily cozily, where there is love, mutual (your need is as important as mine) letting-be. You have to care enough about your own freedom to want it for others. To have the same desire is a good start to unity. Then you offer to help others discover and realize freedom in and for themselves. Then you let them help you live your own freedom. And so it goes.

We have learned to love and build ourselves up as a nation. We lost both freedom and unity when we tried to hold onto them by overpowering others in the very name of what we value most. The more we think we are striving to help others achieve freedom and unity on our terms the more freedom and unity we lose ourselves. Paradox,no?

Religious historian Karen Armstrong says with a grin that where there is paradox there is the Holy, or G-d.

Some speak of national shame. We should shrink. But, in classical theological thought shame is the necessary precursor to the positive re-articulation of one's life. Can that be true collectively?

Maybe this nation, long enthralled with its own freedom, progress and self-love, is ready to turn itself inside out for the freedom, progress and self-love of others. Is that enough unity?

Let freedom ring.