A series of events stirred my soul this week.
Four, to be exact.
When they all came together I sat with them for a day, my insides swirling and burning.
I’m not one of those people who easily throws around ‘God told me’ – those people are usually dangerous.
But God told me this.
how we think
Freedom is a hot topic these days. It’s something that is birthed deep inside us and it’s universally accepted as one of the most important human pursuits. But why? What is it about freedom that actually makes it such a passionate pursuit? It’s a serious question.
Right now, millions in Ukraine are not free because they face the prospect of invasion, while in the Horn of Africa thirteen million others are on the brink of starvation … basic freedoms are absent. The teenager in the gang, the woman being trafficked, a child soldier in Yemen, the person with a terminal illness … I dare say their idea of freedom is more nuanced than ours.
New democracies in the last couple of centuries found it trendy to cluster the principles of freedom into catchy mottos. Canada’s was predictably benign with our “Peace, order and good government”, while the United States was predictably individualistic with “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
I have to admit the French did it best when they finally got around to clarifying their notion of freedom. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” provides a mature formula: the liberty to pursue our passions, equal justice for every person, a moral commitment to the harmony and safety of the community. It confirms the value of both the individual and the collective; the child and the village.
it is complicated
As I said in my last post, “It’s impossible for every individual to be fully free all the time – that’s a concession we make every morning when we pull on underwear.”
Freedom is good when it is defined as autonomy of movement and expression but it becomes hazardous if it restricts or excludes others. When freedom means only my right to make my own choices, there is someone else who has to accommodate me by surrendering theirs.
Last week Derek Nepinak, a First Nation chief in Manitoba, said: “If your freedom is built on the denial of freedom to others, then you didn’t actually have freedom at all. You had privilege.” He added, “How can I put energy into supporting a ‘Freedom Convoy’ when we’re still trying to find our lost children?”
There are some freedoms that seem to be reserved only for those with the time and resources to fight for them.
But wait … I’m privileged too. Vaccine mandates are no problem for healthy, retired introverts who own a country home and have reliable incomes. My freedom shouldn’t be weighted more heavily simply because of my lot in life either.
It is exhausting and frustrating when others don’t live up to our expectations. That contrasts starkly with stories we have all heard of people in prison, in poverty, in the grip of loss, who discovered freedom was not outward actions but inner tranquility.
If you think about it, we crave freedom most when we are concerned about losing control: fear the unknown, fear being trapped, fear losing, fear being wrong, fear change, fear the other.
Fear and hate are easy – that’s why they are so common, but when we seek God we are always led to deeper, wider expressions of love. Christians take this notion from biblical wisdom, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”¹
Our longing for freedom is simply confirmation of who we are; the revelation that we are made in the image of God.
Did I mention that a series of events stirred my soul this week?
Four, to be exact.
First, I had to fight through the usual despondence I feel every time I check the news. It seems everyone has hard questions and easy answers to every problem in every corner of the nation. From road blockages to opportunistic politicians to militant christians, our culture is seething with anger and selfishness.
Second, I read a letter on Facebook that had been posted by a friend. The letter was (allegedly) written by someone who lives near the blockade in Ottawa who became curious about who the protesters were. The author described wandering among the trucks, getting to know several protesters and the discovery that these were good citizens with genuine concerns.
Sadly, it is true that our fearful beliefs make emotional enemies of good people on all sides. Of course there are radicals mixed up in our politics but it is important to see the humanness and hurt in others.
Third, my new practice of Lectio Divina focused on John 4:12. In other words I spent every evening meditating on the words, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
Fourth, The old rock band The Hollies showed up on the classic vinyl station we listen to in the car. Their hit song ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ has been stuck on repeat in my head ever since … playing over and over and over and over and … Even old rockers get it.
Check out the lyrics for yourself but here’s a sample.²
It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share?
And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
Those four voices converged on me and I sat with them for awhile, my insides swirling and burning. Some of you might think of it as wrestling with an uncomfortable truth; others will understand it as the convicting voice of the Spirit.
god told me
True freedom is emotional and spiritual liberty that can only be found beyond ourselves. It is an openness that allows me to imagine what can be gained rather than focusing on what has to be given up.
It’s also an elementary christian principle: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”³
Do you know the world grows enough food to feed every person on the planet? Do you realize we have the ability to provide gainful employment and health care for all people? Can you imagine a scenario where we all cooperate for the best resolution to a pandemic? Would you be surprised to know that universal shalom is God’s ultimate intention for his entire creation?
It’s very freeing to do the hard work of loving and being loved. It’s holy work and even God does it. And while we’re on the subject, love is the definition of a follower of Jesus Christ. Or to turn it around, lack of love is the definition of anti-christ.
God told me the only way to escape our cycle of conflict and resentment is to learn to see others with eyes of love. It is a wellness that says “I’m so loved by God that I have room to love and accept you.”
You can’t find freedom while staring into a mirror; it only happens through open windows.
~ ~ ~
PS: As I am finishing this blog, police have been given the mandate to begin disassembling blockades in Ontario. Let’s all love peace.
¹ 1 John 4:18, NAB
² Source: Musixmatch.com; Songwriters: B. Russell / B. Scott;
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother lyrics © Music Sales Corporation, Music Sales Corp.
³ Galatians 5:13, NIV
(A later version of The Hollies’ song mentioned above.)