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Independence and Freedom

Happy America Day!

July 4th, the day we celebrate our independence from those rotten English types. It’s the perfect day to work your way through the Mel Gibson trilogy of anti-England movies: Gallipoli (all Aussies should hate England), Braveheart (all Scots and everyone else in the U.K. should hate England), and The Patriot (all Americans should hate England).

Ok, don’t really do that. I’m sure we all have enough issues to work through with our own therapists without making Mel’s issues our own. Sorry, England and English friends and family. I do actually love you all.

In all honesty, living [as a white person] in America is awesome. I have an amazing life.

But in the middle of that amazingness, I think that it is possible to get some of our categories confused. It is possible to confuse independence with freedom.

I’m getting ready to give a series of talks on Freedom in Sydney. The mantra ringing through my ears has been Paul’s proclamation, “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.”

Freedom is one of those abstract nouns that stands ready to be filled with whatever we bring to it. So we need to listen carefully to how it’s worked out.

Paul says in Galatians, “You were called to freedom, sisters and brothers, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Did you catch that?

Freedom might mean that for the first time we are not independent, but rightly interdependent on one another.

Freedom might mean having the capacity to give life to my neighbor, through love, in a way that was not previously available to me.

I have taken this idea back to the Jesus story and asked, “If the life of Jesus demonstrates perfect freedom, how do I get that?”

I beg your forgiveness for this, but I went sermonic and landed on this:

  1. Identity: Jesus knew who he was (God’s anointed son/king), and lived accordingly.
  2. Mission: Jesus knew what he had to do, and did not allow himself to get sidetracked by suggestions to the contrary.
  3. Trust: Jesus entrusted himself to God as he engaged in the paradoxical dimensions of his mission, such as leaving places of popularity, sending away the gathered crowds, going to death on the cross.

Jesus was free, but it would be hard to argue that he was independent.

His freedom consisted in assuming a calling that made him interdependent with people whom he was gathering, shaping, and sending. It involved identifying himself with certain members of society (children, tax collectors, sinners). It involved dependence on and entrusting himself into the hands of God.

Too often we think of freedom as being able to do anything we want to. This can create an enslaving individualism that leaves us more hollow than fulfilled.

I am thankful for what an “independent” United States has meant for my life. I truly am. But in the perpetual battle to maintain a Christian vision of the good, I think it is also important to articulate “freedom” in a way that honors the Christ story more than it lionizes our national narrative.

We were called to freedom, so that we might discover life-giving interdependence.

We were called to freedom through Christ’s free mission of love, so that we might be sent on that same mission of love to one another.

No less than Christ, we too are called God’s beloved sons and daughters, for the purpose of making God’s redemptive love known in the world, a calling that will demand that we entrust ourselves to the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

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