Dr. Kristen Barnes-Holiday: Be free, why don’t you?

by Dr. Kristen Barnes-Holiday, Ph.D., Contributing Columnist

As we think about Independence Day, I am reminded of freedom, because the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. And while Independence Day was insignificant for African American people, during this period, America still gained its independence from Great Britain.

However, beyond the historical meaning of this day, July 4th is also personally significant, as my paternal grandmother would have been celebrating her 91st birthday. And synonymous with the meaning of the holiday, my grandmother embodied a spirit of freedom during the last two years of her life. She traveled. She laughed. She wholeheartedly enjoyed life, particularly after living a life filled with sacrifice, some complexities and many, MANY years of mental health work and advocacy. She ended her life free, and honestly, it was a joy to witness firsthand.

As I think about my grandmother, America’s birthday, and the enslaved African Americans who were excluded from America’s celebration, I’m reminded of the Israelite’s freedom, as recollected in Exodus 12: 50-51. As noted in the passage, the children of Israel had departed from Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, and he directly reported to and was held accountable by God.

If we take a close look at the book of Exodus, we’d notice that these people endured a tumultuous journey, filled with great defeat and God was the only Being that remained constant; God’s promise of freedom never seized. But after their multigenerational storm, the Israelites finally gained their independence, and hence Exodus 12:51 says, “And it came to pass, on that very same day, that the LORD brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt according to their armies.” A new nation had been born in what seemed like overnight, but the journey to freedom was a 430-year journey.


Not all folk have to imagine this, because many have heard generational, historical information that vividly captures the days of enslavement, and thus you understand the depth and impact associated with this form of servitude. But let’s be clear. Enslavement comes in many forms; we can be slaves to our thoughts, our past, and even our current circumstances. And freedom, too, comes in many forms, as the idea of being free isn’t monolithic.

Sarai, the wife of Abram, was free—at least according to normative standards of freedom—but she was a slave to the idea of birthing a child.

Lydia is discussed in Acts 16, and she was free—well, as free as she could be given that she was born a woman in a heavily patriarchal society—but I’d imagine that a new level of freedom was unleashed within her when Paul commanded the (evil) spirit to come out of her (Acts 16:17-18) and when she was later baptized. But through Lydia’s lens, I’d bet that she believed that she was free since she was a follower of the Gospel.

I’d also imagine that Job finally felt free when his suffering was over, and his fortunes and family were restored (Job 42:10-11).

Freedom comes in all shapes and sizes and is conceptualized uniquely through our own lenses.

As we are on the precipice of America’s birthday, ponder the idea of freedom through your own lens. How do you view freedom? And as a child of God, how do you envision freedom, placing Christ at the nucleus of your existence?

Have a safe and Happy Independence Day!

Until next time…

Love and blessings.

Dr. Kristen Barnes-Holiday, Ph.D. is a professor of English at Wayne County Community College District, a second-year divinity student at Duke University, and a Christian blogger. In addition, she is a teacher, preacher, and lifelong student of the Word of Jesus Christ.

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