I choose to write on the Fourth of July for two reasons. One is that I celebrate my father, Col. Jerome Henry Lentz, who liberated the first concentration camp. He taught me with his life what it means to fight for freedom and to honor the American flag. The second is vitally important this year. It is this: No matter what our politics or religion or position in life, we are never free from consequences. What we do makes a difference in our own lives and in the lives connected to us.
So, I remember my first encounter with consequence. I was sixteen years old and had recently passed my driver’s test. As was common in South Denver at the time, teenagers would hang out at the local drive in and see who else was there. So, that Friday, I drove my mother’s car, an Anglia, to the Holiday Drive In. I circled several times and thought I saw my wanna-be boyfriend with someone. At that moment, I drove straight into a light-pole, then watched the speedometer of this little car fall into my lap. My escapade for a few moments had months of consequence. I had to work all summer and fall to pay for the accident and the all-too-brief “indulgence” in “freedom.”
What we face now is far more serious, but the lesson is the same. With COVID 19 we cannot pretend that we live in a world without consequence. If we are protecting ourselves, we are protecting others as well. It is a human kindness. The virus keeps teaching us to be aware—not just of what we want but what we can do as part of a web of interconnections. Our lives are part of a greater whole and the ripples from our actions extend beyond us.
That’s what I learned as I pastored families who grieved a suicide. I remember the loss of others, like Mike McMurray and Robin Williams. I would have said to them a truth I have seen with my own eyes: “Suicide is the worst thing you can do to others.” The consequences live on in multiple ways as families struggle with inner pain.
This Fourth of July, we must understand that there’s more to freedom than waving a flag, or getting involved in the political debate. There is the way we constantly choose to think about our actions in a world that is shaped by consequence.
In part, our freedom has become confusion and we are drowning in a sea of choices. And, we tend to put ourselves in the center. If we want it, we find a way explain it.
But, we have a choice to think about matters of life and death, and to choose life so that others might live. Wearing a mask isn’t political, it’s just a sign that we’re doing the best we can to be “free” in a world that survives by the forces of nature and the joy of being connected to one another.
Rev. Dr. Sally Palmer is a former pastor of St. Paul’s UCC, and educator in religious studies. Now, she is teaches Contemplative Prayer and leads the “On Sacred Ground Team” of the Wyoming Interfaith Network.