Like many of you that will read this, I voted this morning. I stood out in the cold for an hour, was then politely told that I was at the wrong precinct, and then went and stood out in the cold for another hour. I did all of this to make a single mark on a digital chalkboard. Even in the two lines that I was able to be a part of this morning my one vote didn’t seem all that significant from a mathematical perspective (though, admittedly, I loathe mathematics with a white, hot, seething hatred). There were hundreds of people who I stood with representing hundreds of opinions and carrying hundreds of stories about what brought them to that (those) polling place. But a couple of things became real to me as I shivered in line this morning.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
– Victor Frankl
It occurred to me, once again, that freedom exists on two levels, positional and practical. There will be many people today who have been born in this country, or have gained citizenship, and despite the opportunity they will opt out of the act of voting. They are indeed free, they enjoy liberty on a daily basis, and they are probably thankful for it when they see news reports from other nations where governments are truly oppressive. But they only know freedom at arm’s length. There is an earthy nature to freedom that cannot be expressed as much in words as it can in jumping into the bowl and getting mixed into the “American Soup”. Until you have stood in line, in the elements, chatted with strangers and friends, and then stood in the voting stall and felt just how heavy one vote really is – until then, you are experiencing freedom vicariously. In an ironic twist of things, liberty requires commitment. In fact, without dedication and work, no one will ever be free. We see this in the lives that have been lost in wars we’ve fought, and perhaps most profoundly we as Christians see it plainly in the Gospel narrative. Jesus committed His life completely to purchase our freedom. We commit our lives to Him to actually engage and “walk in” this freedom.
The other thing that occurred to me as I stood in line this morning was the stark contrast that voting brought to my day when compared to almost everything else I do. Standing in those lines this morning was the most diverse thing I’ve done in quite some time. The other chilled souls that bravely stood with me were all over the categorical landscape of American life. Democrats, Republicans, Greenies, Libertarians, independents, old, young, sick, healthy, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, wealthy, poor, sports fan, readers, cowboys, thugs, men women, marrieds, singles, parents, workers, retirees, Christians, agnostics, atheists, Muslims, undecideds, lovers fighters, and any other socially improper category you can think of. We all stood together. We were all cold. We all simultaneously wished the line was shorter and prayed that the line would grow longer. And all of this farrago of humanity, that had been seemingly dumped onto the sidewalk of a poor elementary school, hadn’t been beamed in from the corners of the earth or even the corners of the nation. We all live together in the same community. We make up South Carolina District 24. Some of us proud, some of us desperate to move, some of us trapped.
I caught myself at one point trying to guess who had voted for which candidates as people exited the polling place simply by the standard demarcations: skin color, clothing style, age, etc… And in that moment of innocent reverie I felt as dirty as I’d felt in quite some time. Wasn’t it Paul, one of the authors whose words I scrutinize as instructions for life, that said that after Christ the standard walls of division were no more? No more Greeks or Jews or barbarians or Scythians or left handers or right handers or Yankees fans or Red Sox fans – isn’t that what he said? And it wasn’t that he meant we’d all like the same things or look the same way, but he meant that we would only really line up into two categories: lost and found. How many people had I made assumptions about that would sit next to me at the first meal in heaven?
It was in this last realization that the nefarious side of freedom whispered to me. The light of freedom always comes with the potential for darkness. There is no protagonist without an antagonist. Every hero becomes a hero because a villain is looming. I was free to think whatever I wanted, but the rub of it was that the less I held my thoughts in check, and the less I looked at myself through eyes of scrutiny, the more apt I was to creating my own bondage and my own slavery. Wasn’t it that same Paul who offered, by example, the God-ordained words, “I take every thought captive”? Freedom abused will always lead to the loss of that freedom. Better to willfully starve my foolish desires and live in liberty than allow my carnal passions to make gluttons of themselves and enslave me forever.
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
– Mark Twain