Sunday, March 13, 2016

After the Ashes: Freedom

I’ve been watching public forays on the fragile fringe of freedom.

Listening to the outcries about freedom of speech and wondering whose freedom of speech is endangered.

Freedom: the right to speak of punching critics in the face or of shooting people in the street or of killing whole families of alleged, untried enemies?

The right to publicly describe people as fat pigs, dogs, disgusting animals or worse?

The right to have staff manhandle journalists?

The right to defraud, defame, demean?

Yes, let’s talk about freedom.

Look in another direction and there are other freedoms, other rights:

The right to carry a gun that can kill dozens in seconds. 

To siphon money from poor to rich without paying any taxes. 

To end an unborn or newly born life rather than face unexpected hardship 

To shatter the very earth beneath our feet.  

We all have rights.

Lots of rights.

Some precious. Some recently invented.

None of them make us free.

Bob Dylan, at one stop on his spiritual pilgrimage, sang
“you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
 You’re gonna have to serve somebody
 Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
 But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
He had a good time stringing out the possibilities 
 You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
 You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
 You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
 They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.
 You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
 You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
 You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
 You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
 But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
 You’re gonna have to serve somebody
 Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
 But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
I see lots of people serving anger, pride, stupidity, selfishness, greed.



Longing for power.

I see others serving a vision of unshackled identity lived in constant reaction to any hint of limits.

Serving a delusional vision of unencumbered selfhood.

There’s no limit to what we can serve.

No end to the arguments over rights.

But real freedom seems in short supply.

It’s interesting to see how topics near and dear to Paul, the apostle, in the decades after Christ’s death, are still just as relevant on the other side of the globe, two thousand years later.

Freedom: in the shadow of the Roman empire, the Jews longed to be free.

Slaves served their masters, women served men.  Many served idols, gods of every description, paid taxes to prefects or procurators, tried on sexual or philosophical identities, reveled in uncensored pleasures.

In his letters to believers in Corinth, living in the shadow of the brothels of Aphrodite’s temple, Paul probed the meaning of the freedom Christ had promised:

Were they free to do what they wanted? Free of the law? Of guilt? Of sin?

Free to assert their own rights in every situation?

Free to seek rights at the expense of others? 
I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.  I Corinthians 10:23  
The freedom Paul described was not the freedom to do or eat or say what he wanted, not the freedom to put his own rights first, or to enjoy the pleasures of the pagan world around him.

It was the freedom to become fully what he was made to be: 
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17) 
This Lent I’ve been trying to focus on things that will last: values that extend beyond this strange time we’re living in.

I find myself drawn to the freedom Paul wrote of, a freedom that comes not at the expense of others, but in service to others; not in opposition to God’s plan, but in deep obedience to his purposes.

Somehow our current culture has come to believe that freedom and discipline are in some way opposed, yet in the most basic, practical ways that idea is full of contradiction. When my children were small, I had to restrict their freedom to roam to keep them safe and make sure they didn’t wander into danger. As they became more reliably obedient, more willing to follow direction, I let them go further, then further. Their own self-discipline, then and in the decades since, has opened doors of opportunity and given them great freedom.

Tim Keller, well-loved pastor of Redeemer Church in New York, explains it like this:
In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions. Those that fit with the reality of our nature and the world produce greater power and scope for our abilities and a deeper joy and fulfillment. Experimentation, risk, and making mistakes bring growth only if, over time, they show us our limits as well as our abilities. If we only grow intellectually, vocationally, and physically through judicious constraints–why would it not also be true for spiritual and moral growth? Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn’t we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it?  (The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism) 
For too long we've naively celebrated lack of restraint as somehow akin to freedom, and now we are seeing the consequence as unrestrained enthusiasm for an unrestrained candidate stirs racial unrest, nativist fervor, and mounting, unrestrained anger.

I'm looking for leaders with a different kind of freedom: the freedom to say what needs to be said with dignity, grace, and gentle good humor. The freedom to put the needs of the weakest first, to stand firm for the common good in a way that unites rather than divides.

In Romans Paul wrote: 
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.    Romans 8:18-21  
That passage is too big to get my head around: it suggests that the pain of the world is tied to human behavior, that the healing of the world is tied to liberating freedom demonstrated by God’s children.

I find myself wondering how to live in that glorious freedom now, today, and find that freedom is realized in small, incremental steps: small daily choices that ripple out.

Freedom from anxiety and anger, even if that means turning off the radio, limiting my exposure to sources of news that stir unrestrained emotion.

Freedom to say what needs to be said, or do what needs to be done, without second guessing, or wondering what others will think.  

Freedom from too much stuff, too much spending, too much consumption.

Freedom from needing recognition, or safety, or comfort, or my own way.

Freedom to live as a much-loved child of God.

This is the fourth in a Lenten series.

Other Lenten posts:




From 2013: