Before we dive into this, here’s my fair warning. This is probably going to go places that I can’t ever foresee. You are warned. Enjoy!
The word freedom gets tossed around quite easily for my own personal preference. When something gets tossed around that easily, it often happens because there is an assumption that everyone agrees with the definition.
I don’t think that exists for freedom. At least not in the current state of society.
I can’t venture to guess all the definitions that people assume when they refer to freedom. Some people mean voting. Some people mean license (as in I do whatever the hell I want to do, don’t tell me what to do!!!). Some mean citizenship and its responsibilities. Some equate freedom with military service and/or sacrifice for country. Some equate freedom with choice – choice of work, travel, who you marry, etc. And some equate freedom with money and/or time.
Freedom also has a theological dimension to it. Martin Luther wrote about the freedom of a Christian. He said that a Christian if free of all, and is subject to all at the same time. Scripture’s reference towards freedom often has to do with being free from bondage and sin and death.
Freedom can mean many different things depending on the circumstances as well as the people you are in conversation and activities with.
I don’t think there is a uniform way to define freedom. Which makes the idea of freedom really complex and difficult to talk about. But I think that’s a good thing. Simplifying freedom doesn’t really help much. It turns freedom into some abstract issue that gets debated just like everything else. That’s when the rhetoric comes out and the conversation shifts from talking to a partisan argument to see who is right and who can get in the best one-liner and “own” the other person. I’ve never understood how that benefits anyone beyond making yourself feel good about yourself. But if you have to tear down someone else to feel good about yourself, I wonder how good you really feel anyway.
I wonder if there ought to be different words for what we mean when we say freedom. Maybe we should be qualifying the term more often, like I did in the title. Even the qualification I have leaves much open for interpretation.
In the end, the point here is that I wish we would take more time to really dig into the concepts we throw around so easily. I think it would force us to slow down in our arguments, to really think about the words that we use and what they really mean. So many words contain such great weight and meaning.
Take the title of this blog post for example. I can imagine that many people read the title and jumped to a conclusion about what I would be writing about and what the arguments would be. Maybe you thought I was going to pit American freedom against Christian freedom. Maybe you thought I was going to compare and contrast. Maybe you thought I was going to rank them somehow. Maybe there was an assumption about the word freedom.
The point of my post is for us to most past the assumptions and to really think about the words and what they actually mean, how they influence us, bring us together and separate us, and their impact on our lives, communities, churches, and society.
That’s a hefty load to carry – I recognize this. But I think putting in this type of work will pay off. It means that we are willing to invest more time and attention into what is being said, to listening to others and what they mean, to really thinking through the impacts. And this is counter-cultural because so often we have a short attention span and reduce everything down to a pithy slogan or tweet. There is very little opportunity for deep meeting in those things. There is very little opportunity to build relationships or community either. Slogans and tweets allow us to think we are right without really thinking. They allow us to quickly label and determine who is friend and who is foe. But life is so much more richer when we move beyond the simple to the more complex, perplexing, and seeing the actual unity that underlies it all if we are willing to invest in it.
The beauty is that you and I have the freedom to do this, or not. I choose to. Will you join me?f