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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Death of Liberty

More and more, we live, work, play and serve every day in a world of blind mistrust. The unknown pedestrian on the street has suffered the loss of many rungs on the common courtesy ladder. A good example to prove this happened a few months ago when a friend asked me to fill in for them at a church youth Bible study. I welcomed the opportunity to share how I had used my art career to glorify God’s creation in numerous schools throughout the region, including all of the schools in our town. I scrounged up a lesson and an old game I had used in a previous ministry, and went to the store and got the refreshments. I waddled into the church with a large bag of stuff, ready to face the unknown and expecting to introduce myself.

“Excuse me Sir, what are you looking for?” A very firm voice stopped me in my tracks. A pleasant young woman apologized as she assured me the children would be attending another class and I would not be leading them… after all, she had never seen me before. No amount of explanation would suffice. All I could do was commend her for her very astute protection of the children. But I was rattled to be sure… I was after all an active co-pastor of a small church, an elected City Councilman, a popular Texas painter and sculptor, and an occasional contributor to the Navasota Examiner! What was I going to do with all of these cookies? Still, the young woman was absolutely right. We are living in times of suspicion, and everyone is or should be on the alert. How silly of me to think... I was special.

Which brings me to my visits recently to the Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport, where I was installing a sculpture at a store in Terminal D. Each day I was escorted in, and my wanderings were limited to the space where I was working. I had to be escorted to the restroom, or to get something to eat or drink. I had to be escorted out when I wanted to leave. The airport is crawling with security personnel whose main job is to shadow any non-ticket holding intruders. If you look around, there is a lot of construction and commerce going on. No telling what escorting all of that activity costs all of us. No matter how wonderful or fascinating the various airport authorities might find my project, every day, for a workweek, I was chaperoned just as if I were a suspicious person, a possible, shall I dare say it? A terrorist! Had I mentioned or joked about it there, frequent recordings reminded me that I would be arrested. There is no freedom of speech, or at least humor anywhere near an airport. I know, I know, times of suspicion…

My last example is the short visit I had at a local hospital to run some routine tests. I went early, so as not to use up too much of my day there. Got in, gave the blood and other stuff. The nice lady told me I was through… But walking down the hall, another firm voice stopped me in my tracks. “Where are you going?”
“I’m leaving.” I stated with great confidence, only to be told that I could, just as soon as the hospital administration lifted the “Code Pink Alert.” In the meantime I was to sit down, as I watched the hospital staff search for a MISSING BABY! Code Pink apparently means infant abduction. For a moment I believed I might actually be suspect! Oh boy. Soon I and the other detainee, a hapless construction worker from outside looking for an electrical switch, found out that the whole emergency was only pretend, a baby abduction drill so to speak, and we were allowed to leave. “Thanks for playing along” the nurse said. More signs of our tragic times of alarm and suspicion.

Perhaps these are times of fear and needed preparation for our protection, and perhaps necessary alertness for the bad guys. But certainly now these are times as well of inconvenience and reduced efficiency, as everyone spends a great deal of our productivity sharpening our defenses against an enemy most of us will never see. We are a nation at war… with the horrors of yesterday’s newscasts. In some way we have all become prisoners of our new national state of heightened readiness. The words, for almost two hundred years have been LIBERTY and JUSTICE for all. Our new pledge is restriction and suspicion for everyone. And fear and distrust respects no one. We surely have the enemy in our crosshairs… and he is us.

My ego can take it. We can all adjust to this new paradigm. But I am sad at the loss of the peace and innocence we took for granted before we knew so much about evil and got so good at protecting those things we consider precious to us. It looks like freedom and relative joy were not some of those things. Once the “land of the free and home of the brave” has devolved into the land of fear and the home of the barricade. We have found out that constant vigilance is the price for perceived security, and we have willingly sacrificed much freedom to attain it. And we have lost untold riches of bliss, laughter, inquiry, exploration and discovery in the process. Never in the history of man has such a small number of unknown, even non-existent persons controlled and punished so many. From now on, our enemy is really institutionalized terror prevention, that is guaranteed to methodically smother our liberty, our friendly, open society, and even our profitability. This newborn American Inquisition will inevitably, irrevocably, hurt all of us. We used to smugly say “God bless America.” Now that we are obviously in a different age… it is way past time to pray ”God Save America!”

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