Monday, July 4, 2011


Today is a day that commemorates the United States’ independence and celebrates its commitment to freedom.  I am humbled and grateful for the privilege of living here... truly, truly thankful.  With everything and everyone so focused on our political freedom, though, I’m reminded of the many other ways that we and our brothers and sisters around the world can still be enslaved.  I’m haunted by the chains that threaten to bind us and them again and again--some a result of our own decisions and choices, some a result of circumstances that are no fault of our own.  Injustice, poverty, depression, bitterness, addiction, withheld forgiveness, past regrets, oppression, pride... so, so many chains.  

I was thinking of these chains when I remembered a similar internal conversation I had with myself a few years ago while working in a poor area outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I had been there for a couple of months helping with community development work, and I was feeling overwhelmed by the unspeakable physical need and the constant threat of gang violence I saw in the colonia where I was working...overwhelmed by the poverty and oppression that threatened to imprison the people who lived there.  Anyway, the conversation went something like this (excerpted from my journal... it’s a bit of a roundabout journey, inspired by a time of worship I’d had that day with my new Honduran friends, so bear with me): 
Portrait of joy sprung from 
despair in Villa Franca
“....God gave us an amazing blessing when he gave us the gift of music.  It’s such a wonderful gift, because whether you can sing or play an instrument or not, music has a way of touching souls and speaking to hearts in a way that not many other things can.  This morning I was reading about Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Acts 16.  After being stripped and beaten severely, they were bound and thrown into prison with hardened criminals.  And there, trapped in a dark, dank, gray, hopeless prison cell, they began ‘praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them’ (16:25).  In the midst of those disheartening, discouraging circumstances, with the eminent threat of death or, at the least, additional beatings, Paul and Silas found joy and peace in singing songs that declared the glory of their Lord.
My friend S____, in her awesomeness, sent me a letter today with some quotes from Shawshank Redemption (a movie that takes place in a prison... if you haven’t seen it, then stop reading right now--seriously, stop--and go watch it.  Amazing movie).  One character, Red, is remembering a day when another prisoner somehow managed to get his hands on an Italian record, which he played over the loudspeaker.  Red says, ‘I have no idea to this day what them two Italian ladies were singin’ about.  I like to think they were singin’ about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.  I tell you, those voices soared.  Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream.  It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away...and for the briefest of moments--every last man at Shawshank felt free.’
I imagine that’s what it was like when Paul and Silas were in prison, only the feeling lasted more than ‘the briefest of moments’ because they knew, and I think the other prisoners could sense, that their freedom was eternal. 
Friends in Villa Franca
I want the same thing for Villa Franca, and I felt a piece of it today while singing with my new friends. It’s not a literal prison, of course, but surely it must feel like it to live there sometimes...struggling to survive, living amidst gangs and constant violence, oppressed by poverty, trapped in a life in which there seems to be no rest.... The people of Villa Franca need the kind of music that can set them free forever.  They need a sweet melody to come and free them to dream.  That song is coming, and indeed, it’s already here, growing louder and stronger, piercing those  crumbling gray walls and echoing off the scrap-metal ceilings.  That song is moving through Villa Franca, bringing hope and helping hearts soar ‘higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream’....”
Freedom's rising, one changed
life at a time.  
Sitting here in a comfortable house on a beautiful Independence Day, Villa Franca seems words away.  But you know, I want the same thing today as I wanted then.  I want it for this city as much as I want it for Villa Franca.  And we *need* it just as much as Villa Franca.  Our chains may be different, but they’re there nonetheless--able to be bind, but able to be broken.  
I want the intensely beautiful melody of real, lasting freedom to pierce the walls of my heart, and I want to join in a song that grows louder and stronger until it is heard, felt, and experienced by this city, this region, this nation.  Let us thirst for real liberation.  Let us desire and pursue freedom that can’t be given or taken away by anything or anyone in this world.  Let us experience it, and let us share it.  
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” -Acts 16:25-26
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” -John 8:36

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yolk?" -Isaiah 58:6

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