A talk on Freedom at the 31st Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast
As delivered, 24 November 2015
Thank you so much for the invitation to be with you this morning. As a new member in your community, it is such an honor to have been asked to celebrate this Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast with you. Thank you. And thanks to those of you here today who have opened up your arms and hearts in peacebuilding efforts with me over the last year.
This morning I have been invited to talk about one of the most important challenges of our time: Freedom.
When we think of freedom, we often think about our own personal freedom.
Yet, freedom – as it was for the Pilgrims – is largely dependent and linked to community: to family, to friends, to strangers and our greater humanity.
As I drive into my office on the Augsburg campus I drive past a sign that says “We are Called” and “Through Truth: Freedom”.
As individuals in the pursuit of Freedom, we are each called to ethical interrelationships that require moral agency – in a world where our individual actions are connected to the life circumstances and fate of others – those we know, those we do not know and might never know.
Facing unprecedented global challenges to Freedom, in 1941, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a State of the Union address that put forward a vision of a future world founded on Four Fundamental Human Freedoms:
– Freedom of Speech and Expression. Everywhere in the World.
– Freedom to Worship God in his or her own way. Everywhere in the World.
– Freedom from Want. Everywhere in the World.
– Freedom from Fear. Everywhere in the World.
President Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt took these Four Fundamental Human Freedoms to the United Nations where they eventually formed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN today defines Human Security – as Freedom from Fear and Freedom from Want.
Conflict, violence and war break out for a lack of these Freedoms. For reasons related to hunger, poverty and economic insecurity. Reasons related to religious or political persecution. Reasons related to methods and tactics of conflict that go on unabated and with impunity.
I would like to tell you a story about the consequences of what happens when just TWO of those fundamental human freedoms – Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear – are absent.
In 2012, I was doing some work in the Central African Republic. I saw it as part of my job to find the armed groups who were signatories to the ceasefire agreement and talk to them.
Through contacts I heard that two large contingents from both armed groups were in a small town south of the border of Chad called N’dele. I was also told that the leader of one of these groups, notorious for burning villages, conscripting children and more, was also in the area.
It was unclear why they were there. The second phase of the Disarmament process was about to begin in that part of the country and so it was speculated that this might be the reason both groups were gathered.
A colleague managed to arrange for me to meet them in a town-hall style discussion with leaders in the village. About 60 soldiers from both sides showed up – as did one of the rebel group leaders who made an entrance – fashionably late – with a truck-load of men wielding automatic weapons.
I spent a few days there seeing things I couldn’t explain – a build up of men and arms that did not seem to be related to disarmament process. Roads that were blocked with soldiers preventing movement or commerce. A week after I left, this village was the first town sieged by the then newly formed rebel group Seleka.
Seleka eventually made their way down the country, seizing the capital city. Today, there is still an ongoing conflict and crisis of epic proportion CAR and acts that the UN has described as potential acts of genocide.
During my meeting with these fighters – I met with the absence of Freedom: Men emaciated and pale from years of hunger, disease and poverty. Men who were once children, without access to schools or teachers or health care. Men who had spent their whole lives without Freedom from Fear or Freedom from Want.
An entire lifetime and existence absent of Human Security.
One fighter who shook my hand after the town-hall talk looked deep into my eyes in a way that made me think that the weapon slung over his shoulder was the last thing, he as a human being, wanted to be carrying.
The pursuit and promotion of Freedom requires Compassion: a globalized and radical compassion that is not just caring, but taking action together. Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi has called for a revolution in Global Compassion.
Even when others do not know or recognize us, even when others refuse to answer ethical calls, and even when others resort to the use of violence – the ethical call in ourselves remains. Are we free if violence forces us into violence? The pursuit of Freedom calls for us to stand up and exercise courageous and radical compassion.
Compassion can start at home – with family, with friends, with children. I know I am grateful to my mother for her belief in service and the compassion she exercises in the everyday world around her.
Let us be conduits of Freedom through radical compassion whose hearts and hands take in the weary from the road. Whose hearts and hands refuse the poison of hatred and revenge. Whose hearts and hands work in pursuit of President Roosevelt’s Four Fundamental Freedoms we have still yet to achieve in our world, but must strive for in our lifetimes.
Through radical compassion and unyielding optimism: Freedom