Liberty. Independence. Freedom. We heard those words mentioned this past weekend. But often, something vital was left out of the conversation.
While freedom matters greatly – it’s a divine gift and individual right – how we use our freedom is the measure of our faith and our lives. Our independence must be grounded within our interdependence.
Our culture promotes the myth of the self-made person, though nobody ever is. We’re lectured to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and be responsible for ourselves alone. We’re told that God helps those who help themselves – words preached not by Jesus but by Benjamin Franklin.
We worship zealous individualism: Don’t tread on me or limit my rights for any reason. I’m free to do anything I want regardless how it affects anyone or anything else. The person bleeding by the side of the road isn’t my concern.
Our faith presents an opposite way of living. It centers the “me” within the “we”, places the “I” within the “us”, locates our individuality within our mutuality.
When we lose that focus, we end up in very dark places. Look at us now! In a society with so much, we have so little joy and peace. Instead, we overflow with anger, hate, disillusionment, lying, divisiveness and unhappiness.
Mother Teresa reminds us that if we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
And we often forget. It’s a tale as old as time.
Consider Paul’s letter to the Galatians reminding them that their ongoing problems — hostilities, bickering, jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy – are the result of forgetting their interconnectedness. It was true then, and now.
You end up in mutual destruction
“Remember that you have been called to live in freedom – but not a freedom that gives free rein” to selfish living, Paul says. “Out of love, place yourselves at one another’s service. The whole law has found its fulfillment in this one saying: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
“If you go on biting and tearing one another to pieces, take care! You will end up in mutual destruction.”
It’s important to work for justice so all God’s children may have the freedom they deserve. But it’s equally important to remind ourselves that freedom isn’t meant to be used only for ourselves.
When we use our liberty selfishly, we put ourselves in a prison. Our egos, our fears, our self-absorption become the bars to our individual cells. Our lives become very small, narrow, and unfulfilling.
By contrast, love liberates us – love and love alone.
We’re liberated when we recognize that yes, I am a child of God, but I’m not the only child; I’m part of God’s family where everyone is loved equally and must be treated with dignity and respect and compassion. And yes, we‘re part of an incredible creation, but we’re not the only part of creation that matters.
Love liberates us
Jesus invites us into this way of living – help the person bleeding by the side of the road, care for the needy, heal the hurting, love everyone the same way you love yourself, be compassionate and connected.
We can experience life in abundance when we ground ourselves within God’s inescapable web of creation. We’re fulfilled by joy, peace and love when we live within this Spirit of mutuality.
We experience God and our true selves when we use our freedom to serve and our liberty to love.
(Image courtesy of CrittentonSoCal @ creativecommons.org)