with july 4th having just past, i pause to reflect on the meaning of freedom. according to the dictionary freedom means: to be at liberty rather than in confinement or under restraint, to be exempt from external control or regulation, the power to determine for oneself and the opportunity to exercise that power. so we could say that freedom is the ability to say and live the old revolutionary motto “don’t tread on me”.
we can say “don’t tread on me”, “don’t box me in”, “don’t impose your rules on me" because we recognize freedom as a natural right. yet we can only recognize the right to freedom, because we have come to the realization that freedom is a gift given to us by God.
there is a popular song from the 60’s that goes like this - “born free, as free as the grass grows, as free as the wind blows, born free to follow your heart”. and that’s the truth, we are born free. this innate gift of freedom includes the ability to make choices. not simply choices like “do i want vanilla or chocolate ice cream” but much greater choices, choices that truly matter – that is the ability to make ethical choices, to be moral agents, the expression of our God-given “free will”. moral choices, unlike choosing between vanilla or chocolate ice cream, affect our lives and the lives of others in deeply meaningful and lasting ways.
one primary moral choice we make is to allow others their right to be free. this is an important point of understanding for those who choose to follow Jesus. in the gospel of luke Jesus reads from the prophet isaiah telling us He is the one anointed "to bring the good news to the poor and to let the oppressed go free", and He tell us “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” in proclaiming this good news Jesus is telling us that we are free, and that no one has the right to oppress God's children or deny our birthright.
this is contrary to the ways of the world, where the powerful and privileged do as they please regardless of how it affects others. it is contrary to popular notions of freedom, which confuse freedom with simply doing your own thing without regard to others. so the freedom Jesus brings is dangerous to cultural assumptions, because Jesus defines freedom, true freedom, as something very different. He is not simply restating the often misunderstood revolutionary motto “don’t tread on me”, rather Jesus is proclaiming that true freedom is found in the motto “don’t tread on others”. because freedom isn’t just recognizing our individual right to make choices for our selves, rather freedom, if its real, allows others the right to determine for themselves which path they will follow.
if in my freedom I am treading on another, than I have become the oppressor, robbing the other of the good news that the Messiah has come to release us from all bondage: including the bondage to customs, and the bondage to self. think about what paul wrote in Galatians “for you were called to freedom but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for selfish indulgence”, because real freedom is found in, and expressed through, making moral choices. we live in a world filled with other creatures, human and animal. we live in a world where every person has been born free, a world where every creature is a child of God. real freedom means recognizing that truth and acting accordingly; “don’t tread on others” because it’s really not all about you.
to our contemporary american ears that might sound a bit off since everything in our consumer culture tells us – "yes freedom is all about you", well all about your indulging yourself in whatever pleasures or pursuits you wish, without regard to there impact on others. typically because someone is making a nice profit off our self-absorption. we have been duped into believing that freedom is the ability to indulge ourselves in whatever external pleasures we will. “don’t tread on me” becomes “I’ll do whatever I wish regardless of how it affects other people or the earth”.
so many of our seemingly harmless self indulgences do negatively impact on the earth and on other people. but if we don't take the time to look we can remain conveniently unaware of it. so much easier to remain unaware and pretend that absolves us from what we do. and if need be we can always point the finger at someone else and wash our hands of the matter. its nice to have someone else to put the blame on, pontius pilate felt the same way.
paul explains what real freedom is- "for the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. sound familiar? perhaps because Jesus said the same thing. real freedom, freedom from customs and self, is found in loving others as an extension of yourself. a radical thought, at least in context of our contemporary consumer-driven lifestyles. paul goes on to warn us if we choice to use our freedom as a pretext for selfishness we will in the end bring about our own ruin and the ruin of others.
so let's celebrate our freedom, and reflect on the freedom Jesus calls us too. not a right or gift we hold to ourselves, but one that all share in by God-given birthright; and let us reflect on the manner and means by which we are living our lives in context of love, remembering, as paul also writes "the only thing that counts is faith working through love". its the only thing that ultimately matters, the only way to really be free and live freely; for in truth “none are free, till all are free”.
© 2011 Halley Low