(Author’s Note: In July of 2020 we were visiting our daughter and her husband at their home in North Carolina. I was processing the culture in which I was raised–the Jim Crow South–hoping to see that some progress had been made. Several of the articles on this website on this issue came from this time of re-evaluation.)
A Symphony of Freedom
I sit this July 4th on a lovely wooden deck surrounding a wonderful dwelling on a moderate mountaintop in North Carolina. The more demanding mountains of the range called the Blue Ridge grace the far horizon drawing my eye and then releasing it in an oft-repeated dance of admiration. Mist shrouds the one farthest away, as if scripted to do so. In the thick summer woods surrounding me, birds of many sizes and methods sing their appointed songs. One is even pitched in a human like scale. He is in D Major this morning so we will call this the Avian Symphony in D.
“Free as a bird,” we say when we want to express the ultimate in liberty. Free they are. No one scores their music–they freely improvise. No human conductor cues them; their rhythms are a mystery beyond our theoretical bar lines and downbeats.
We Americans are free but not so free as the birds of the forest. Our hearts are more complex than those of doves and sparrows. Along with compassion, mercy, industry and creativity, wickedness also dwells in the human heart. Sometimes it is hidden in thoughts and stories beneath manners and sincere intentions and sometimes it boils to the surface in wicked deeds like theft, rape and murder.
So, unlike the birds of the mountain forests, people need laws and with laws, those who enforce the laws. If the human heart were free of wickedness, we could perform a human symphony of peace and productivity every day. But such is not the case.
This human condition has brought about the laws, rules and opportunities of civilization, an unspoken contract of agreement among citizens–“You can drive more than 70 miles an hour in this lane and in this direction but stay in your lane!” The power of this covenant makes the traffic flow. Order produces safety, progress and opportunity.
Justice is a function of this societal order. When injustice is not dealt with and eliminated, the wound festers instead of healing, building a legacy of resentment that eventually boils out of the wounded human heart into the streets, disturbing any peace built on such a false foundation. The human symphony goes off the score, improvising chaos and violence. Damage and death roam the streets until order is restored. As we all retreat into our homes and then back into the recovering society, we must all, from these safe confines, reenter our lives with solutions to neglected injustice.
What is the new music? Simply justice, a new beginning that re-tunes our human hearts to sing music that we can all perform together. America needs a song we can all sing and a day we can all celebrate.
This new human symphony is what I hear in the birds today and long for in my homeland. For this reason, I continually tell the Jesus Story. No stranger Himself to official injustice, He is the one who can change hearts.
Dr. Stephen Phifer
July 4, 2020