For the Sake of Freedom

flag bannerThis past week we celebrated Independence Day, and like me, I’m wondering if you took things a bit too far?IMG_1661 (2)

No. I’m not talking about taking things too far by drinking too much, adding too much bacon to a burger already bursting with copious additives, nor getting too much sun. I’m not interested in an indictment over lighting too many fireworks or whether or not it is really necessary to have every article of clothing, even undergarments, boast some derivative of red, white, and blue.

I’m wondering if our notion of “Freedom” has been taken too far?

In today’s culture, there is a tendency to define “freedom” not by what it is (positive definition), but by what it is not (negative definition). It is common to define “freedom” as “not having any rules,” “not having anyone tell you what to do,” “not having someone control you.”

Not only do I believe these definitions fail the standards of a Christian, but this way of defining “freedom” doesn’t exactly tell us what freedom is. All these statements really do is transfer the burden of authority from one despotic agency to another. The implied notion of “not having anyone tell me what to do” transfers the role of dominance from a foreign power to my own power, thereby making myself a slave to my own thoughts, ideas, limitations, and defects. This isn’t freedom, at least not truly.

Jesus offers a different idea of freedom. Saint Paul writes in Galatians 5:1  – “For freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

If you read on in Galatians, you will find that Saint Paul defines the fruits of the freedom offered through Christ as something that enables the self to be the fullest version of itself. This is freedom defined in the positive, not the negative. When the self is fully actualized, fully realized, and has complete integrity and capacity, this is freedom. It’s a much better definition than the sometimes overdone “ode to freedom” that can engulf us like a deluge on any given July 4.

It is helpful to demonstrate what true freedom means through an example.

I have always loved playing the piano. At a young age, I would bang at the keys and make sounds that delighted my young year. I guess I was “free” to do so and was not held to any stricture of foreign dominance however, I would hardly call what came out of the piano “music.” It wasn’t until I learned about pitches, notes, and rhythm that I could understand what music could actually be, and even at that, it wasn’t until I had practiced playing scales for months that I truly had the strength and skill in my hands to “make music.” Only then I could be free to express myself through the piano. It wasn’t the absence of rules that made music making possible, but the discipline and wisdom offered by my teachers that gave me the freedom to make music.iStock_000005131069Small

The same example could be drawn over multiple fields of study and leisure. It is the drills on the football field that give a team the freedom to march the football toward a touchdown. It is years of reading and debating legal briefs that gives a lawyer the freedom to excel in the courtroom. It is through mastering complex formulas and applying them that the astro-physicist has the freedom to design a flight plan to launch a probe to Mars or Jupiter. All of these involve work. All of these involved discipline. Paradoxically, in any field of art, science, or life that you can think of, freedom arrives through a kind of submission – to teachers and rules and structure that lie beyond an individual’s mere fancy. Through the surrender to liberating rubrics, an individual’s greatest flourishing is empowered.

So in the aftermath of a holiday that commemorates freedom, it is a good time to reflect and see if maybe we took things too far. If St. Paul informs us that we have been set free from the “yolk of slavery” through Christ, it is worthwhile asking in our life if we haven’t taken the slavery of one master and replaced it with another. Does freedom truly come from “Independence,” or does our freedom come from being children of God who are called to be the fullest and most verdant versions of who God created us to be?

For the Christian, it comes from our dependency on God.

 

-David Heimann, M.Div

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