Friday, September 30, 2011

Freedom is as Freedom does.

What is Freedom?

It was my third hour in the less-than glamorous La Guardia Airport just outside New York City. After exhausting all installed distractions and attractions in the single corridor of the LGA terminal, I found my departure gate and dipped in to my “Mary Poppins Bag” to find some distractions of my own. After MadLibs got old by my lonesome, I had wasted enough doodles on my 3-D notepad, and the malfunctioning fire alarm system siren had kept me from reading, I gave up my activity-driven occupiers, and settled in with some thumb-twiddling and people-watching. But with over an hour left before Elite and Assisted boarding began—which I was not--I used a lifeline and “phoned a friend.”

The conversation turned rapidly from a brief recap of my trip to a consideration and appreciation for my ability to travel with such freedom. And there it was. The word. Freedom.

I should be grateful for the freedom to travel?

For some reason, the verbiage struck me as odd.

Of course, by law I am granted liberty to travel—but pending my adherence to certain documents, fees and rules. There is an awful lot I have to comply with if I am going to have the "freedom" to take a trip to New York that I am not quite sure I feel comfotable toggling to my association of freedom. For example, I need a government ID to board a plane; I need a way to make money to pay for my airfare; I need to understand the rules of aviation travel and go through certain security measures in order to be allowed access through the airport
. I also must hope that the pilot shows up, that the flight isn’t overbooked, and that there isn’t too much traffic on my way to the airport. So there are quite a few contingencies to this “freedom” that I arguably possess in order to travel--and some of them are completely beyond my control.

And then I begin to wonder—is this really freedom at all?

Sure—my questions may set us on a bit of a rabbit-hole race through Semantics Grove. And perhaps a pointless pursuit, but I do believe there is something profound beneath the conventions of our cultural freedoms which allude to our assumptions of the idea. And even more so, such usage and associations shed light on our conceptions of Freedom (capital “F” on this one, for those less-than-OCD readers--ME!).

Words such as these: Love, Goodness, Truth—the words that are really ideas—are quite precarious in our modern culture. The versatility in the application of even the word "Love" ranges from the candied lips of a pre-adolescent mall rat expressing her enthusiasm for the Hello Kitty bracelet at Claire’s, to the tender, profound look between the seasoned wrinkled eyes of the golden-anniversary lovers.

And me?  Well--I love my phone. I love your shirt. I love that song. I love my friends. I love my mom. I love the Lord.

Notice a problem?

We do not have a linguistic distinction between how we feel about our cell phone and how we care for our parents. Admittedly, I think we all recognize the variant nature of the word love, and no one really asserts that one’s love for a technological device and the love for a mother are really even that similar. We are cognitively aware of the difference, but my question of distinction would point more to the reciprocal relationship—do we ever “love” our mothers like we “love” our cell phones? When our cell phone saves us, we love it! When our cell phone works normally, we often forget about it. And when our cell phone breaks, or isn’t working properly, or is the vessel of an unappreciated conversation or interaction, we despise it and sometimes mistreat it.

So is this really “love”? And I do not intend to infer that if we had a different word for cell phone and mother-love that we would always treat our mothers with the Love that we should bestow upon them, but perhaps our idea of love would be a little less murky and a lot more meaningful.

And I regress to the idea of freedom. Perhaps we have done similar damage in our cultural exploitation of the idea. Our country was established on the premise and promise of freedom. But is freedom really freedom if there are things we have to do—or even more devastatingly, things that must be done—in order to remain a beneficiary?

I would venture to say that freedom and compliance are mutually exclusive. I could get myself in to some trouble here, so allow me to preface my thoughts—I believe with all of my heart that Freedom is absolute dominion, but within our will, we can choose freely to comply. Thus, freedom can often turn to bondage, masquerading as religion or righteousness, if we do not first understand the nature of freedom. And I may not at all understand Freedom today as it will one-day be revealed to me, but I see no circumstance that could entail any form of requirement. Otherwise, such prerequisites would contradict the very essence of Freedom—complete dominion. But I will explicate this idea at a later point.

My primary concern is that the colloquial usage of the word freedom carries certain requisites or contingencies that should not be attached to the true idea of Freedom. Notably, the conceptual application of Freedom to freedom does not construct such compromise as the unintended consequences incurred by the application of freedom to Freedom.

True Freedom does not have strings.

And God repeatedly emphasizes this in His Word. But we still somehow miss it. And I think part of this is because there is nothing, apart from Freedom in Christ, that is really Freedom at all. Our ideas of freedom are limited and distorted by the experiences we associate with the idea of Freedom. Our perception is instructed by how we classify our experience. We have municipal freedoms, social freedoms, financial freedoms (which many of us understand more in relationship to its opposite) and religious freedoms. We even hold strong mental images of freedom with white doves, broken shackles, unbolted cages, and whimsical winds.

But none of these are the Freedom God offers.

There is nothing we could ever do, nothing we could ever find, and nothing that we could ever truly compare to what Absolute Freedom must look like.

So how can we begin to understand freedom?

Well, I read a book once about a woman’s experience in Rwanda, Africa during the civil war between two tribes—the Hutu and Tutsis. The woman was a Tutsi, and was hiding in a bathroom with seven other women for 91 days. The women—over the three-month period—had to sit on top of each other just to fit in the tiny space, rotating positions throughout the day and experiencing all of the issues of normal women throughout the months. Her situation seems to me, something like Hell. But in her book, Immaculee tells one story that floored me. After she was freed from hiding, she came in to contact with the person that killed her family and then left her to hide in a bathroom for three months—she looked him in the eyes and said, “I forgive you.” And I believe her. But more than my vote of confidence towards the woman’s display of grace, and incredible sense of lightness overcame me when I considered the beauty in her words and her heart.

I remember thinking to myself—“This is Freedom.”

Yet such a picture of freedom would seem so contradictory to traditional interpretations. The woman was locked in a bathroom. She was being persecuted. She barely had room to sneeze, much less the ability to take a trip to visit her sister or buy a car. Even her sister had been taken from her. Nothing really was within her control. Not even her own life. She would either die in that bathroom, or be there until she was set free. And there is it—the word free again. Something she seemingly did not have. But when I reflect on this story, my heart fixates on her Freedom, and I would imagine her heart would sing a profound sense of Freedom, as well.

Therefore, Freedom cannot be contingent upon anything. Our Freedom is a gift, to elect or reject.

When we understand Freedom in this context, the implications can be profound.

To begin at the beginning, God’s story records, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” And then, he assigns His Good Creation to rule “everything that has the breath of life in it” (Gen 1). If we have been given dominion over all that breathes, we are also given dominion over ourselves. We are, in a sense, our own principalities. So this should be enough for freedom, right?

But then we somehow compromise our freedom when we take advantage of freedom in a way that God did not intend for His Creation. We again found ourselves in bondage. In order to re-discover Freedom, we needed salvation.

And this is where the story of the Cross becomes incredible.

People always question the difference between the story of God and our Messiah Christ and all of the other religions. I can be the first to admit that there are a lot (a LOT) of similarities. This prospect used to threaten me, but I know say, “Of course.” My heart finds such consolation when I recognize that we are all searching for the same thing. God even promises us that there is enough of Him in everything for every man to witness to the Creator. In our attempts to satisfy our insatiable inner magnetism towards God, we find ourselves at variant points along the continuum of understanding. I do not think any one of us have “arrived,” so I rest with the peace that God is moving each of us along within the unique circumstances of his evolutionary Creation. But I digress. The difference in our story is that our Freedom, our Salvation, is contingent upon nothing other than the sacrifice of Christ that has already been made—that God foresaw at the establishment of the Universe. The only true Freedom is in Christ.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5.1).
And when we really understand—I mean really, really try to grasp—that we could do absolutely nothing to earn this gift of Freedom, I think we finally merge the great divide to something like accessing it.

We give up all self-righteousness when we find true freedom. We give up on pride when we find true freedom. We eliminate all sense of insecurity, self-hate and envy when we discover true freedom. And when we are no longer bound by the patterns of this world, we become a whole lot more like Christ. We adopt His mind and His will when we live within the freedom that has always been available to us.

Freedom is as Freedom does.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay Dusty.