June 19, 2020

On Juneteenth

But not all of our choices and freedoms are ceded for good reasons. Sometimes we give up the right to choose because we don't want to be held responsible for the outcomes, or we'd rather not take any risk.

On Juneteenth

Friday Reflection: Juneteenth

One hundred and fifty-five years ago this day, the enslaved men and women in the state of Texas finally received word that they had been granted freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation - which had been signed *two and a half years earlier* by President Abraham Lincoln.

Freedom is so very precious, and those of us born with it often take it for granted. The thing that people cried and died for over hundreds of years - many of us waste on apathy and temporal pursuits.

Absolute freedom is extremely rare, of course. We often cede our agency to all manner of people and ideas. Some of that is as it should be. The ability for people to work and live together in society depends on it.

As free people, we willingly subject ourselves to laws and rules that make for a greater good. When, for example, we see that we can prevent the spread of an infectious disease by wearing a mask in public - we listen to the rules made by our elected officials (yes, the ones we used our freedom to install) - not because we love wearing a mask. But because it makes sense. Because people will be hurt if we don't.

But not all of our choices and freedoms are ceded for good reasons. Sometimes we give up the right to choose because we don't want to be held responsible for the outcomes, or we'd rather not take any personal risk.

Because even if we know (or it is brought to our attention) that the laws we live by are hurting people; the religious edicts we practice are dehumanizing; or the choices about who is included and excluded in community-building are unfair, we often allow our voices to be silenced and our choices to be made for us by people we deem to have 'authority.'

We don't want to 'get in trouble with the law' or 'have people think badly of us'. We don't want to 'ruin our kids' prospects' or 'be labeled a troublemaker.' Some of us are actually scared that God is going to punish us for making sure everyone has the same rights.

Out of fear? Self-preservation? Uncertainty? Cowardice?

Why else would we accept state laws, religious doctrines, or communal rules that don't give each and every person the same inherent rights and privileges? Why else would we allow hate and dehumanizing speech to be preached from pulpits, bimas and minbars?

Is it because in our heart of hearts, we really believe that some people deserve more protection? That some people's inclusion is natural while others should be grateful just to be allowed to sit and watch alongside?

When it comes down to it, do we *actually* think that some people have more inherent value than others? That there's only one 'right religion', one 'superior race' or one 'best way' to live?

Anyway, these are questions each of us can only answer for ourselves. But I think they deserve more than just a passing thought and a Juneteenth meme.

Freedom comes with responsibility - for ourselves and for the world we want to leave to future generations. Perhaps the world you are hoping for doesn't include people that don't look, act, speak or worship like you? (If so, you should know that this puts you in some pretty awful company.)

But if your vision for the future does reflect the spectacular diversity of human existence, we must be *compelled* to use what freedom we have on behalf of those not like us.

Simply by virtue of them being human.

Peace.