Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Freedom can be a sticky notion, let alone a word.  We all want it for ourselves and others we love, in particular.  We, as Americans, purport to want it for all the world, (although our reasons are not always altruistic, unfortunately.)  What exactly do I mean by the word, though? It can be a very confusing idea if you stand freedom off by itself, and don't blend it liberally with self-control, and responsibility.  I remember hearing for the first time when I was in high school the axiom:  "The right (freedom) of a person to swing his/her arm ends where another person's nose begins."  So, am I really free?

I answer to myself, "Of course I am, because I have no desire to swing my arm into another person's nose!"  But what about someone else?  If they do have such a desire, then are they more free than I?  The answer, in a way, is also "yes."  Pure freedom is the ability to dream, be and do what you want, how you want, when you want, where you want . But is that what freedom, for all practical purposes, really is?  Perhaps we could define it more closely as the choice to behave and do as you please.  Therein lies the rub, so to speak!  Most of us in fact do have the choice to be and do whatever, but the consequences of choice are always in force, and cannot be avoided.  Those consequences can affect our choices for the remainder of our lives, and also the choices of others, so that the scope/freedom of our choices gradually becomes more and more restricted as time and our lives march on. 

Galatians 5:13 -"It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself." 

Even in nations where individual freedoms are tightly controlled (is that an oxymoron?), the choice is still there; the consequences are different, however, and perhaps more immediate and perceivable.  So the question is perhaps not so much "Are we free?" but "How free are we?"
Best answer:  It depends!  First of all there are laws.  Natural laws of the universe/creation apply, which keep us, among many other things, (to date anyway) from just flapping our arms and flying about, or eating anything and as much as our hearts desire with no affect on our girth or health, or never aging - no matter how much we might want to - because they relate to our abilities, rather than our choices.  While we might dream those things freely, we cannot accomplish them at will.  (This opens up a whole other can of worms dealing with "What the heart can conceive, the mind can achieve (or vice-versa)," but we'll keep this discussion to our present, closed-minded conceptions of natural laws.)

Besides natural laws, there are our man-made laws.  Those kind of laws affect our personal freedoms more in the realm of choice.  My choice to sock another in the nose results (hopefully), through that infraction of the law, in some sort of legal or penal action/punishment.  Sometimes the infraction of a man-made law intersects directly with a natural law.  Not only has my choice to harm another  affected my future choices, but it has affected the ability of the victim to be uninjured, and consequently some other choices s/he might wish to make.

I believe in God, in the core of my being.  I believe also that God gave us freedom of choice and also of ability (which can change over time a we become more skilled at unlocking the secrets of creation).  Because humanity often chooses to act without regard to consequences, I know that God grieves over us.  I firmly believe that God desires our wholeness and happiness, but that God has given us the options in how to achieve that.  By giving us those options, God restricted God's self.  There is nothing, in other words, that God cannot do.  There are, however, because of God's gift of freedom, things that God will not do.

The question, "Where is God when all the killing, destruction, and suffering in and of this world is going on?  How can a merciful God allow such things to happen?"  I don't know the answers to all those questions.  If I did, then my God would be too small.  I am absolutely convinced that God exists right along side of us as we suffer, and God endures with us and inspires us to reach out and put an end to as much of the desecration as we will.  God always hopes that we choose to do the right things.  That we treat one another as we would wish to be treated, because that is the way to true joy, peace and freedom.

If we were to follow this great commandment, there would be no need for man-made laws, and no concern over the natural ones.  The Gulf oil "geyser" (it is certainly no "spill!") disaster would not have occurred through our own selfish choices, and if it had occurred by natural means, then we all would have reached out in such a way as to alleviate the consequences upon all affected (therefore all of us), and channeled all our resources to end and repair the damage.  God gave us the freedom and the equipment to do all these things.  It is our freedom.  It is our choice.  Let us exercise it with responsibility and love.

There is a wonderful musical called "Shenandoah," which was made of  the James Stewart movie.  It takes place during the American Civil War, and concerns the Anderson family of Virginia, which had made the choice to remain out of the war completely, and to concentrate all their energies on their own family and farm.  They have black laborers on their farm, but pay them a living wage, and no slaves.  In spite of their choices, because of the choices and actions of others they are inevitably drawn into the war despite their own wishes.  One of the songs from that musical is called "Freedom."  It is a song sung by one of the Anderson daughters-in-law and a black child, a slave from a neighboring farm.   After hearing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the child inquires of his friend if he is really free, and can he go somewhere else to a place called Freedom?.  Here are the lyrics:

(from "Shenandoah,"  lyrics by Peter Udell)

Freedom ain't a state like Maine or Virginia
Freedom ain't across some county line
Freedom is a flame that burns within ya
Freedom's in the state of mind

(Chorus) Freedom, freedom,
Freedom, freedom
Freedom is a flame that burns within ya
Freedom's in the state of mind

Freedom ain't a boat that's leaving without ya
Freedom ain't a place ya float to find
Freedom's in the how ya think about ya
Freedom's in the state of mind


You can't get to freedom by riding on a train
The only way to freedom is right on through your brain

Freedom is a notion sweeping the nation
Freedom is the right of all mankind
Freedom is a body's imagination
Freedom is a state of mind

Freedom, freedom
Freedom, freedom
Freedom is a notion sweeping the nation
Freedom is a body's imagination
Freedom is a full-time occupation
Freedom's in the state of mind

In the young boy's case, if he wanted somewhere to go, perhaps freedom really was a place, but in truth, the real essence of freedom is available to all of us, no matter where we are; the secret is knowing that the path to freedom is found on the map of love.

Gentle Reader, I wish for you all, enough. . .


  1. Enjoyed your post.

    I tend to agree with you, believing that freedom is both a right and a responsibility:

    In my view, we are here to be happy.
    If we want to be happy, we must exercise our freedom wisely.
    By living "in the moment," not for the moment, and practicing compassion for ourselves and others:

    If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. ~ The Dalai Lama


  2. We are free to do whatever we choose, however we are not free to choose the consequences. Why is this so hard for people to understand!

  3. Jodi: You got me! As the Geoffrey Rush character in "Shakespeare in Love" frequently said: "It's a mystery!"

  4. Beautiful. And you know, the concept that "If I did, then my God would be too small" is something that I've always found interesting and yet difficult. I wish I could understand God and so often I feel that I need to understand in order to not doubt, but then at the same time I agree with you...so difficult...