Freedom and Responsibility

by Clint Baldwin, Executive Director We had included this reflection in a monthly newsletter to our staff but wanted to make it available to friends of Word Made Flesh as well. Thank you for partnering with WMF and being a part of God’s work to bring healing, hope, and peace to our neighbors in need around the world.

The other day we were participating in a session of centering prayer in the International Office and I sensed the Spirit leading me to consider aspects of freedom and responsibility.

Certainly, as the Scriptures offer, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Yes. Amen. However, it is important to consider what we mean and what we don’t mean when we think of freedom.

As I was sitting in my chair praying, two pieces of artwork that hang on the walls of the office caught my eye. One of the pieces, viewed from behind, showcases women and children all grouped together, some holding hands with one another, in a staggered semi-line as they all walk on the beach wetting their feet in the ocean. The large art piece has the word “community” emblazoned upon it in the bottom right hand corner. It’s a beautiful piece.

The other art piece has the word “freedom” written on the bottom left-hand portion of the picture and portrays four raised arms and hands shown closely together and focused on in the midst of a much larger group.  One is immediately struck with the sense that the group is a congregation in a church and they are praising God together.

We walk together hand-in-hand and heart-in-heart.  For the sake of the maintenance and flourishing of community, at various times and in various ways, we voluntarily re-view – we look again and understand anew – personal freedoms. Personal freedom is housed within communal relationality. Cooperation and collaboration (as opposed to competition [in the negative sense]) are vital practices for the Christian.

Really, at various levels, cooperation and collaboration are vital practices for anyone wishing to promote healthy, cohesive functioning of any form of community. Lacking partnering, healthy stability devolves to forms of hatred and harm. Without partnering, violence ensues and social structure dissolves.

All of this could be quite a long, philosophical discussion, but suffice it to be offered that relationally disconnected freedom, rather than exemplifying the ultimate form of freedom, actually showcases license. License is a working out of narcissism that can look like freedom, but instead is rooted in enslavement that is driven by addictions and addictive tendencies. Such a way of living is untrustworthy and abusive.

Instead of being trapped in forms of narcissism, part of the freedom that the Spirit of the Lord offers us is the ability to see the plight of others and to have compassion for them.  The Lord offers us the grace to “consider others above ourselves. (Phil. 2:3) The Lord sets about freeing us from vain conceits and selfish ambitions. (again, Phil. 2:3) As John’s Gospel tells us, the Lord frees us from being a slave to sin. (John 8)

Instead of unhealthy independence on one end and unhealthy codependence on the other end, the Lord frees us to embark upon responsible interdependence.  Philippians 2:4 succinctly showcases this healthy middle road,  “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  We are not called to nor should we abdicate personal freedom; we do not forget our own selves. We simply choose to offer our personal freedom in service of others, as a piece of a larger mosaic that creates greater good both for our own selves and greater good for all.

Martin Luther wrote in “The Freedom of the Christian”, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”  As Christians, we are free to serve. And, “whom the Lord sets free, is free indeed!” (John 8:36)

There is no singular right way to enact the above.  There is certainly freedom in recognizing that there are a multiplicity of ways to live into our being “freely responsible” with our “responsible freedom.”  But we do know that in the midst of all of our possible healthy variations, the Lord desires our unity. We read in the very first part of Philippians chapter 2, “Therefore if you have any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, then make my joy complete by being of one mind, having the same love, being united in spirit and purpose.” However we choose to live out our freedoms together, the key is that it should all be so that we might shine like stars before others for the sake of the Lord. (Phil. 2:14-16; Mat. 5:13-16)

I recently encountered a wonderful short video that I find exemplifies the above discussion about freedom and responsibility as it relates to community/relationality in a neat way.  It is a video (6:34 total time) from QuakerSpeak that hosts a woman – Ayesha Imani – sharing her journey into worshipping with and among Quakers.  I find that the video healthily and maturely shows “responsible freedom.” It shows how to respectfully advocate both for self and others. Ayesha recognizes the good that her particular Quaker meeting offered her and does not fault them for their limitations even as she came to recognize that there were limitations for her.  Instead, she continues to celebrate their good as she responsibly seeks to enact further freedom for herself and others through creating yet another communal expression of love of God and others by forming a new meeting of “Quakers of African descent.”

I think that you will find this video enjoyable and helpful. I am especially including it as it deals with encountering and navigating cultural variations in worship of God.

You can link to the video by clicking here.

-How might we make sure that we are not unduly emphasizing one form or set of forms over the more important core orientation of maintaining and promoting the right meaning?

-How might we be okay with maintaining and promoting one form or set of forms as our particularly finite expression of good in the broader Kingdom of God – while we still seek to invite and make room for others who might need to find a different way to express their love of God and others?

-How might we take care of ourselves in a way that honors God, honors ourselves, and honors others?

-How might we take care of others in a way that honors God, honors ourselves, and honors others?

-How might we avoid unhealthy independence and unhealthy codependence and instead walk in healthy interdependence?

The Lord bless and keep you, friends.

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