Happy Independence Day.
240 years ago a group of British Colonists in the colonies of New England became frustrated by unfair taxes. They tried to reason with the Kingdom of England, but was shut down. Eventually, this led to a revolution. The Continental Congress declared its independence from England on July 4th, 1776. A war ensued, and between 1776 and 1783 France and Spain joined the war against Britain. It is estimated that nearly 70,000 Americans died during that war. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed and England granted independence to the United States of America.
Independence. It is such a powerful concept.
Let me tell you right now. I am very grateful that I was born in the United States. I reread the Constitution this week, and I have to say that it is definitely the best human system going. The first amendment protects our freedom. It says,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That is amazing, especially considering that every other government in the world was run by the tyranny of one person or an elite group.
I like my independence.
Here’s the weird thing about this weekend.
We are committed to following the Narrative Lectionary, which I really like. It encourages us to spend one month out of the summer looking at a piece of the catechism. This year we are looking at the Lord’s Prayer from Luke’s Gospel in Luke 11:2-4.
I find this to be a fascinating juxtaposition of ideas.
Here we are, as United States citizens, blowing up gunpowder in the sky, waving the flag, and celebrating our independence while Jesus teaches his disciples that they are dependent upon God; that they can call out to God as Father and ask for help and protection.
How de we reconcile an ethos of independence with a dependence on Father God?
Here are two thoughts:
First, Independence is not the ultimate goal of society.
The path of maturity for human development moves through three basic stages. And, I have hand motions for each of them.
- Dependence. Put your hands like this: one reaching down and grabbing the other, like it’s lifting it up. An infant will die if left alone. A child is completely dependent upon a more mature human for survival. The child is not able—physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually—to survive and thrive.
- Independence. Put your hands like this: two fists facing each other. The adolescent must go through a process of weaning from the dependence phase. She must learn that she is now physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually able to encounter life as an individual and make choices without the supervision of those upon whom she depended as a child. This is good and right, and often very painful for the family system.
- Interdependence. Put your hands like this: two hands, side by side, fingers interlaced. While the process of learning independence is good and healthy, it is not reality. The truth of the universe is that nothing exists completely alone and nothing has everything within itself to survive. All things are interdependent upon other things for survival. The mature human recognizes the truth of Genesis 3:18 when God said that it was not good for the man to be alone. We were created for community and we must learn to rely upon each other, offering our strengths and allowing other’s strengths to complement our weaknesses.
Here’s the second thought.
Jesus calls God “Father” in the prayer.
The significance of the term Father when referring to God is not the masculinity of it, but the relationality of it. Think about that.
You can talk to God.
God listens to you.
Like a loving parent, God desires to be in relationship with you.
The goal of our spiritual formation is the same as the rest of our developmental process. And, God is the Father through all of it.
We begin in total dependence on God,
because we don’t know anything about being a child of God. My Dad set clear rules and enforced those rules with reward and punishment when I was a child. Yet, through it all, I never questioned whether he loved me. But, he was big man and a healthy “fear” of his disapproval or correction definitely kept me in line. Likewise, a spiritually immature person needs a Father who shows unconditional love, but also operates with concrete rules and swift reward and punishment. The Law dominates the season of dependence.
As we mature, we begin to question our black and white theology.
We encounter theological systems that are radically different than our own, but somehow seem right. Sometimes, this cognitive dissonance even leads us to rebel against our father and storm out of the the family system for a while. This breaks our father’s heart, but it never shuts off the love.
So, God waits for the independent, arrogant, child to learn the next lesson.
We all need our Dads.
When I was thirty-nine years old my world fell apart. I was broken. I was beaten. My arrogance and self-reliance had reached its end. Where did I turn? To Mom and Dad.
I came home.
Now I sit across the table at the coffee shop with my Dad once a week. And we talk. We are friends. I have my own ideas and I share them with him. He is my Dad and always will be. I desperately need his advice on a weekly basis.
Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends.”
The goal of spiritual formation is a mature, interdependent relationship with God and with each other.
So, as we celebrate our Independence as a nation this weekend, may we never forget our ultimate goal to be interdependent in this world.
I hope you can talk to your Heavenly Father every day.