In his January 1941 State of the Union address delivered to Congress, Franklin Delano Roosevelt shared these words, as he spoke about national security and a proposed change from America’s traditional stance of non-intervention.
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.
As we celebrate Independence Day today, many of us find time to reflect upon our nation and the lofty goals of democracy and freedom. On significant holidays, I often wander through a couple of my anthologies to see what words from years past still speak to us today. What struck me about FDR’s words was the altruistic spirit of them. The freedoms of speech and worship … the freedom from want and fear. These are realities that cannot be co-opted and owned by one nation over and against another. They are goals which in order to be successful, must be shared. Because if they are not shared completely and fully by all, by definition, they have not been achieved. I do not know a great deal about FDR, but the little I do suggests that he understood the elusive reality of trying to achieve these goals, while also understanding the need to aspire to them. For those of us who proclaim ourselves to be Christians, these are the kinds of goals that one can embrace as part of both the civic life and also the faith life. For they are not so parochial nor narrow as to necessarily leave others out of the picture. They have a universal character to them. They have an ethical quality to them. They have a communal quality to them.
Thinking about the words invited me to reflect on the communal goals that I aspire to in the communities of which I am a part. And I would invite you to do the same. To what do you aspire to in your life? What are the ethical callings that inspire you in your daily living? What are the experiences that instill in you a sense of connectedness to those around you? What are the realities that create for you a sense of universal responsibility and accountability towards others? Sometimes when we look too closely at the specific problems that confront society, we forget that there are broader forces of good also at work. We can get discouraged by the bad news that exists, without recognizing the good foundations of life that these problematic pieces can never completely eliminate, even when they temporarily tarnish our highest values.
So as you pray and meditate this week, think about those places where you can be more in touch the broad themes of community and mutual responsibility in our world, and where that reflection might invite you to volunteer your time talent of treasure. It is the surest way to broaden your view of the goodness in the world, minimize the frustration over the problems that we all face, and sense the presence of God working through many different people on this good earth.