Holding Freedom Up

Mt. Rushmore with family standing in front, President Washington

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.

Thomas Paine

Freedom keeping is fatiguing. I fear we won’t long reap her blessings because we weary. We weary of holding freedom up. We trade the spangled banner and wave a paler flag. The strain is tiring so we walk away and throw the towel and forfeit freedom’s blessings. 

I’m no expert on our nation’s founding fathers. But the little I know assures me of this: It was a ton of work to get this country off the ground. Had it not been for the fathers’ strength to support the burden, we’d not be singing, O Say Can You See? but God Bless The Queen.

And as goes the individual, so goes the family. As goes the family, so goes the nation. Our nation cannot be stronger, cannot be better than its constituent parts. On this 242nd anniversary of our Independence Day, I’m fixed on two big ways our founding fathers were stronger than so many of their native sons.

Our fathers bore two immensely fatiguing weights of freedom that today we can scarcely bear.


Weight #1: Virtuous To The Core

And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

It’s wearisome to be virtuous. The Spirit’s fruit is free, but it takes great effort to pull the weeds.

Virtue is effortful. The strongest battles I face are the ones I fight inside my soul. The ones I fight between submission and self, between forgiveness and grudge, between self-control or glut. Victory with those weeds makes me strong.

Benjamin Franklin nailed the need for personal virtue when he said, It is a grand mistake to thing of being great without goodness and I pronounce it as a certain that there was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous. 

Patrick Henry, knew it too. Bad men cannot make good citizens, he said. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.

Liberty cannot exist without virtue

Our founders well knew this.

George Washington said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” 

James Madison stated: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.” 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.” 

Samuel Adams said: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.  He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.” 

John Adams stated: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. We will reap, we do reap, fruit of our founding fathers’ virtue. We reap the fruit of Washington’s integrity and Hamilton’s fortitude. Of Jefferson’s high sense of justice and Adams’ unflagging perseverance. 

They fought the fatiguing battles for personal virtue that raged within their souls. And because they won their soul’s battles, our nation grew. Their virtue supported freedom’s fruit. 

Do we bear such fruit? Or has it fallen from the vine?

Weight #2: Civil When In Conflict

Let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Ephesians 5:25-26

Beyond the daily weight of striving to be men of virtue, they bore this other massive weight. One doesn’t need to read too broadly on the fathers to see a lot of conflict. Drafting and ratifying documents like the Declaration and the Constitution required the immense strength of civility.

The term isn’t used much anymore, and a newer term, tolerance has muddied the waters. Civility, writes Gregory Koukl,

[C]an be loosely equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think are false. We respect those who hold different beliefs from our own by treating such people courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in the public square, but we still show respect to their persons despite our differences. Classic tolerance requires that every person be treated courteously with the freedom to express his or her ideas without fear of reprisal no matter what the view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.

With a few notable exceptions, while the fathers didn’t all see eye to eye on every idea, they refused to walk away. Or at least to be gone for very long.

Our fathers stayed engaged when ideas clashed. They believed better was in their grasp and they were willing to work for it. They bore that heavy weight of disagreement with ideas while showing respect for persons.

And that, probably more than virtue, is a weight we don’t much care to bear. We crumble under the slightest weight of disagreement. Our “right” to feel comfortable trumps the right to free expression.

Don’t Disengage

When our ideas conflict with another’s we often disengage. We wander off and find Facebook groups for folks who think like us. We say, You have your ideas and I have mine and never the twain shall meet and dialogue’s done right there. And we are the weaker for it.

Staying civil in disagreement is taxing. Representing oneself lovingly and well with those who oppose our ideas is exhausting. Staying engaged when you’re misunderstood is soul-wearying. Civility is a heavy weight. It requires persevering and persisting and caring. For those with whom we disagree.

Thomas Jefferson was John Adams’ greatest political rival. And 50 year-long friends. The two met at the First Continental Congress in 1775. It waned when the two faced off in the 1800 presidential race. In a truly amazing grace story, their friendship was rekindled with help from their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush suggested Jefferson write Adams and he did and Adams wrote back and their friendship endured to the day they both died in 1826.

Bearing Freedom’s Weight

I’m no expert. But I know that what makes makes muscles strong is bearing lots of weight. And I know that what makes a marriage or friendship or a church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time. What makes us great is working side by side, staying engaged, in relationship, when we don’t see eye to eye. Pressing on and plowing through and virtuously, civilly moving right along.

I do this feebly and sluggishly and sometimes when I disagree, I press too hard or disengage too long. But this is where I want to be. It’s where Jefferson and Adams were.

Fifteen years after Dr. Rush helped the two reconcile, Jefferson and Adams’ friendship ended.

[O]n July 4, 1826, Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other. Their deaths occurred — perhaps appropriately — on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Unaware that his friend had died hours earlier, Adams’ family later recalled that his last spoken words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

The written words of Jefferson and Adams, however, survive to this day, preserving the rich legacy of their friendship, thoughts, and ideas. In their later years, Jefferson responded to a reflective question from Adams: “You ask if I would agree to live my 70. or rather 73. years over again? To which I say Yea. I think with you that it is a good world on the whole, that it has been framed on a principle of benevolence . . . . I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern.”

Our founders bore these two weights: the weight of civility when big, founding-of-a-nation ideas were in conflict and the weight of virtuous living.

Pressing On Imperfectly

They did not do either perfectly. There were defeats along the way. Personal virtue flagged. For all his pursuing frugality and virtue, Jefferson’s Monticello was sold for debt upon his passing. Hamilton never resolved his differences with Burr and Jefferson grew so frustrated by the sometime lack of civility that he did resign from Washington’s cabinet. 

General Washington suffered a few defeats along the way, like the one at Brandywine Creek. But the war would still be won. The day after Washington’s defeat by the British, under General Howe at Brandywine, Thomas Paine wrote these timeless words. The first line of his speech began this post. Here is how Paine ended his “short address to [British] General Howe,”

You, sir, are only lingering out the period that shall bring with it your defeat. You have yet scarce began upon the war, and the further you enter, the faster will your troubles thicken. What you now enjoy is only a respite from ruin; an invitation to destruction; something that will lead on to our deliverance at your expense. We know the cause which we are engaged in, and though a passionate fondness for it may make us grieve at every injury which threatens it, yet, when the moment of concern is over, the determination to duty returns.

So we are not moved by the gloomy smile of a worthless king, but by the ardent glow of generous patriotism. We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in. In such a case we are sure that we are right; and we leave to you the despairing reflection of being the tool of a miserable tyrant.  

And so we say to our strongest foe, who threatens daily to undo us- who tempts us to lapse in virtue and be uncivil in conflict-we say to him,

We know the cause which we are engaged in. We are and by right ought to be free. We fight not to enslave, but so that we may live as Christ made us to be. We live with these weights and weary ourselves to make room for honest men to live. We now declare ourselves free. 

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13

Firm Core, Soft Edges

Kathy is not usually confrontational. And I used to think she was nice. 

By nice, I mean sweet and agreeable. Maybe a tiny bit superficial. Sunny and seventies and no clouds in the sky. I like your shirt and Have a great weekend. Sugar cookies and sweet tea. That nice.

But one conversation with Kathy last week confirms it. Now I know better.

Kathy is not nice.

Not Necessarily Nice

Niceness isn’t bad, per se. But in an age when conviction’s sharp edges cut down bridges and at the same time truth mutes itself and neuters love, we really must get to know kindness. 
In his praise for Barry Corey’s new book, Love KindnessRandy Alcorn nails it. There shouldn’t be this dichotomy. Grace can coexist with truth. But, writes Alcorn, 

Too many Christians choose between standing for truth and demonstrating grace, and the result is self-righteous meanness disguised as truth or indifferent tolerance disguised as grace…The church today desperately needs the humility that rejects mean-spirited religion and exemplifies kindness while upholding biblical truth. 

Many of us equate kindness with niceness. I did. We think kind means spongy and soft and never upsetting. We see nice as milquetoast and mild-mannered and never hurt a fly.

But it’s not that.

It’s a firm core of truth and soft edges of grace. Kind of like a Koosh ball. Remember those?

My brother would dangle it by its stretchy rubber strings. Sometimes, I’d fumble around with the filaments until my fingers found where they connected.

Flexible met firm at the core. Kind of like kindness.

Firm Core, Soft Edges

Corey doesn’t mention Koosh balls. But they kept tossing around my mind as I raced through Love Kindness. I saw them first in the book’s introduction, where Corey explains,

In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme of the other, soft centers or hard edges…Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges. 

Kindness enables us to negotiate in a time when negotiating is dying and friendly discussions are yielding to rancor.  

Whereas aggression has a firm center and hard edges, niceness has soft edges and a spongy center. Niceness may be pleasant but it lacks conviction. It has no soul. 

Kindness is strong yet humble. Kindness is honesty and looks like truth with love. David believed this, writing, “Let a righteous man strike me-that is a kindness.”

In short, kindness is living life with a firm center and soft edges. It has real power to influence others for good, because it deals in that precious, divine currency-grace joined to truth. 

Useful And Profitable

Kindness in Greek is chrestotesIt means useful and profitable. It’s more than sentiment. It’s a quality of being helpful and beneficial, of seeking to improve and bless others. It’s much more “Let me carry that for you,” and “Need a shoulder rub?” than “What a tough load,” and “I’m sorry you’re stressed.” Kindness is more like Let me watch your kids than I’m thinking of you while John travels this week.

Not that tender-hearts and sympathy aren’t good and healing. They are. But they’re not kindness. They’re not chrestotes. When Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden,” he appealed with kindness. His yoke, he said, was easy- chrestos, kind- and his load was light.

Soft edges anchored to a firm core sounds a lot like Paul’s becoming all things to all men that [he] might save someAnd like conversations full of grace and seasoned with salt, and doing good to all men and a being quick to listen. It is an others-focused way of life that spills out of a Christ-centered, rock-solid core of biblical conviction.

It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And the promotion of his own kindness is the very grounds of our salvation. The very reason God made us alive with Christ, Paul wrote, was so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Who was overflowingly full of grace and truth.

This is kindness. 

Being Receivable

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. Matthew 10:40
Being receivable, for God’s sake, was front-burner for Hugh Corey. In Love Kindness, Corey recounts just how close this uncommon concept was to his dad’s heart.

“Barry,” he said, “if the lives God intersects with mine don’t have the opportunity to receive me, how will they ever know the love God has for them? I’ve got to live my life so strangers, friends, aching, lonely, family-they receive me,” he said. “And through me they see God’s inexhaustible love.” 

Clearly, Corey’s father was a very kind man. He is quick to clarify, though, that living to be receivable is not the same as living to be received. Being received is out of our control. But we can make ourselves receivable.

This is living kindly. This is aiming to remove, or at least reduce, the obstacles those around us have to faith. This is pre-eminent in my parenting prayers: Lord, help me live so that the boys see you for who you are. Help me not to be a stumbling block to their seeking you. The Apostle Paul lived to be receivable. We endure all things so we cause no obstacle to the gospel of Christ

The way of kindness, explains Corey is often self-effacing, Koosh-strand flexibility, receivable kindness, does not get hung up on looking perfect. People are far more receivable, Corey writes, when they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Even so, living a humble, receivable life is no guarantee we will be received.  In fact, Jesus promises that his own will be rejected and hated. “Whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). There’s union with Christ even then.

Conversing With Kindness 

When kindness walks into a room it isn’t thinking, Here I am. Instead it’s thinking, There you are. That is the way of kindness. Kindness listens to understand rather than waits to interject self. 
Kindness, writes Corey, calls us to enter conversations with those whose perspectives differ from ours. He details a candid conversation he shared with a lesbian friend, and adds,

Sometimes in our zeal for a firm center, we default to lectures from the sidelines rather than initiating gracious conversation with those whose standards are different from our own. When we respond this way, our edges calcify, and grace is lost in a fight for truth (p. 54).

This builds walls not bridges. Bony-hard edges don’t make for a good hug.

But soft centers with soft edges aren’t biblically kind either. In Jesus’ way of kindness, we can be confident in our beliefs and be comfortable listening to those with differing views.

The point isn’t to be respected or even to become friends. It’s also not to avoid awkwardness or to avoid making someone feel uncomfortable. Sometimes discomfort is just what the doctor ordered to set things right.

The point of kindness
, says Corey, is to represent Jesus. When we are genuine and winsome, we are able to point them to their greatest good, which is found only in the gospel (p. 54). Love is patient and kind and true love, John Piper asserts, is doing whatever you have to do to help people see and treasure the glory of God as their supreme joy. 

Which means that conversations borne of kindness are not simply for shooting the breeze. Instead, with patience and humility, we do aim to convince.

But that after listening and learning what we didn’t understand.

Why Kindness?

As President of Biola University, Barry Corey walks this talk. In 2012 some Biola alumni formed the Biola Queer Underground (BQU). Its goals were to raise awareness about same-sex attracted Biola grads and to pressure the university to change its sexual behavior policy. 
Talk about a prime-time for Corey’s receivable kindness to shine.
And shine it did. Barry Corey called some of the more vocal gay alumni a few weeks after the BQU rocked the Biola world, even placing it, and him, in the national news. Over lunch one day, thousands of miles from his home, they talked. And Barry Corey listened and learned. 
Corey was so moved by the conversation that he invited a same-sex group of alumni to share their stories with Biola’s faculty a few months later. They did. And there were tears and pleas, he writes, but no fists or raised voices. Biola did not change its stance on sexuality. It did express kindness. 
Corey explains, 

Kindness does not mean we assent to cultural norms or that we give people a pass to feed their own moral appetites under the guise of individual choice or because, “God loves us anyway.” God’s kind of kindness is far different from niceness or tolerance because it leads us to see his holiness and purity and from there, to see our own depravity (p. 66). 

In short, God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. As imitators of God, ours should too.

Humility, Not Dichotomy

Kindness is not anything goes. And it’s also not talk ‘atcha and fly. Kindness is way harder than both of those– way more supernatural. It is our job to keep a firm core, which strangely accentuates soft edges. External flexibility, writes Corey, does not have to equate to internal weakness. 

But kindness that bends to accept as valid everyone else’s viewpoint is not kindness. We can be kind and assured of truth. We can be kind and encourage one another toward righteousness.

Kindness pairs well with humility. Paul puts the two together in Colossians 2, Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility.

Like kindness, humility is often confused.

Jon Bloom explains how,

[H]umble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They are disagreeable when truth must be valued over relational harmony. They are un-submissive when conformity mars God’s glory. And their company can be unpleasant, even undesired, when their wounding words are kinder than selfish flattery or silence.

Which brings me back to Kathy. Kathy who was kind enough to me to hold out the truth in love to help me grow up in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Hard Core Kindness

Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness. Let him rebuke me- it is oil on my head; let my head not refuse it. Psalm 141:5

Kathy is a gentlewoman through and through. In the decade I’ve known her, her words have never wounded. They only ever nurture. Kathy is ever calm, never loud, always and forever gracious. I only ever enjoyed brushing against her Kooshy soft edges when we walk and talk.

Kathy listened. She was, as she always is, soft on the edges and truly present when we walked and I talked last week.

Oh, was I angry! He knew that Friday is Gabe’s party. We wrote it on our calendars a month ago. Then last night he told me he’s got a golf outing with his friends all day. Which means he’ll miss most of the party. The whole family’s coming at four and he won’t get home until six or seven o’clock. It just burns me. 

When came up for air and sweet Kathy caught me by surprise.

Abbi, can I give you a challenge?  

Gulp. Oh, dear. Of course. Firm core incoming.

When you get home tonight, why don’t you tell Jim to go golfing as planned and to have fun with the guys? Tell him you’ll be just fine without him. And the days he goes to golf, give him a big kiss as he heads out and a warm hug when he gets home. 

These words were not nice. Implicit in Kathy’s challenge was the truth that I was in the wrong, that I was not acting in love. And her willingness to challenge me-that’s the firm core of kindness. 

Nice doesn’t speak truth so boldly. Nice doesn’t call out sinful, selfish attitudes so plainly. Nice doesn’t rebuke and dump much-needed, healing oil on my head.

Centuries ago, Matthew Henry wrote, of this precious oil,

This oil shall be as an excellent oil to a wound, to mollify it and close it up; it shall not break my head, as some reckon it to do, who could as well bear to have their heads broken as to be told of their faults; but, says David, “I am not of that mind; it is my sin that has broken my head, that has broken my bones,” The reproof is an excellent oil, to cure the bruises sin has given me. It shall not break my head, if it may but help to break my heart.

Now you know why. My friend Kathy is not merely nice. She is not just a great listener and a sweet friend. She is something way more courageous and influential, way more strong and loving.

Kathy is kind.

He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 
Micah 6:8