Friday, July 6, 2007

Spacious skies, purple mountains, amber waves of grain and other beautiful sights

It is truly amazing to observe what Katherine Lee Bates did from the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado, as she penned the now famous words to America the Beautiful. I have had the privilege of seeing this view on numerous occasions while living in Colorado Springs, and it truly is breathtaking.

It struck me recently, as we celebrated our Independence day, that, to observe the natural beauty she did, and interpret it the way she did, necessarily required complete freedom. Freedom from the kinds of burdens that would have served as a distraction from all the natural beauty around her. By my reckoning freedom is at best a nebulous term, since many people define it differently. For the man incarcerated, who spends the majority of his life behind bars, but yet has found peace and contentment in a personal relationship with Christ, freedom holds a completely different meaning than it would to, say, the man who spends his life using drugs while backpacking and hitchhiking from one town to another, living off the goodwill of people and sometines doing the occasional odd job to pay his way, while enjoying his freedom to live as he pleases.

I call to mind the incredible and awesome natural beauty in places like my birth country, Nigeria. The endless stretch of incredible, virgin-white beaches, the warm and turbulent atlantic waters with their waves breaking on the empty beaches, stretching for miles along the coast of Lagos (undoubtedly an undiscovered surfers paradise), the majestic, tall palm trees swaying in the wind, as if in rythm to a song only they are privy to. All of these amount to... nothing! In a nation where survival and three square meals a day aren't a guarantee, these natural wonders are completely wasted on the average person who passes by, oblivious to the veritable tourist gold mine upon which we sit. Had these natural wonders been found in a country that is truly free, where the focus is on enhancing lifestyle and not just survival, they may well have become among the most traveled tourist spots on earth.

America has worked hard for her freedom. The old cliche rings true, that freedom is not free. I read an internet article (don't quote me on its veracity) recently that stated that a large majority of the signers of the Declaration of Independence met with hardship, poverty and death. Some spent much of their lives as fugitives from an oppressive British government that was bent on staving off the American fight for freedom and independence. Whether these assertions about their struggles are true or not, the point is well made that freedom always comes at a high price. If you doubt that fact, you need look no further than the war in Iraq and the casualties that have been claimed by the fight for a democratic world. Whatever your political position on the efficacy of the war, you cannot argue the fact that a high price has been paid to preserve the freedom of the Iraqi people as well as the rest of the Middle East, that have sufferred at the hands of tyrants like Saddam Hussein.

America is great because she is free! As Americans, we are free to choose what, where and when we will eat. We are free to choose where we work and what we are willing to accept as fair compensation for our labor. We are free to choose what we will wear, what we listen to, what we watch, we are even free to choose Coke or Pepsi. The greatest freedom we have though, is the freedom to choose, who, what and when to worship. Herein lies the paradox. Our freedom, if we choose to worship the wrong thing, will lead us back down a path of bondage. This in turn will cause us to miss the beauty that is all around us (a drug addict that "worships at the altar of meth" will more than likely not concern himself with appreciating the view from Pikes Peak the way Katherine Lee Bates did), a beauty that is so quintessentially American. I for one am proud to be an American, and I am gratified to know that my freedom is greater exemplified by the freedom to worship Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

I urge all Americans (as well as non-Americans) to take advantage of this freedom which we sometimes take for granted, and seek for a personal relationship with the One who paid the greatest price of all for the most valuable freedom that could ever be purchased. Freedom from eternal estrangement from our maker. The price? The "blood of God" shed upon a cross for you and for me. A more horrific yet beautiful sight as Christ freely choosing to hang from a cross, has never been seen before or since, not even from the top of Pikes Peak!