Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom is a gift, but it’s a gift that comes with certain responsibilities. It requires us to be accountable for ourselves. On the one hand, we don’t want anything to get in the way of our freedoms, but on the other hand, some folks can’t handle their freedom. In America, we want the right (and have the dream) to work and supply for ourselves, without government not as supervening mommy. Leave me alone and let me make my own decisions. Yet already we’re seeing breathalyzers built into cell phones to prevent drunk-dialing or cars to prevent drunk driving. We’ve seen the demise of super sizes because McDonald’s made us fat. Not us. We didn’t drink too much or eat too much. Other people were responsible for that.

It’s a vicious cycle: we want options, freedoms, choices; but when things go wrong, we blame others, be they government, church, or our circle of friends. In the larger scheme of things, society tends to over react and, as a consequence limit (or at least encroach on our) freedoms in order to protect the few that can’t handle their choices. We have this fear of ourselves, of others, of community, of government, religion, and of the unknown. We definitely have a fear of taking chances, making mistakes, and being held accountable.

Truth be told, too many people want to be told what to do; that’s why there is such a comfort to rules, that’s the draw of becoming legalistic or fundamentalist. They want the black and white picture of reality and hate (or at least distrust) anything that smacks of gray. And they don’t mind the encroachment of their freedoms in order to secure their vision of safety.

The price of true freedom is personal accountability. Freedom goes against our sense of control, and ultimately, that’s what the extra rules that make up our walk boil down to. Freedom means challenging yourself and exploring new ideas, not sealing yourself away from everything that you might consider an evil influences. No amount of rules or intervention by the government in the name of safety and security is going to keep everyone from abusing the freedom that they have been given. Or being abused by it. There are simply consequences to our choices. With great freedom comes great responsibility.


Guarding Yourself

In Christ we have freedom, yet we keep choking it off with our own brands of legalism. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) We don’t trust freedom and we certainly aren’t comfortable with this whole idea of liberation. Most people want to be told, they want the black and white picture and hate (or at least distrust) anything that smacks of gray. That’s why there is such a comfort to rules and why fundamentalism has its draw. We have this fear of ourselves, of others, of community and church, and of the unknown. We definitely have this fear of taking chances and making mistakes.

So what does it mean to be “in the world but not of the world”? Practically speaking, the answer to this question has been a form of isolationism prevalent in too many Christian circles. A quasi-monk lifestyle with the church as some sort of abbey, which if people truly practiced monastic lifestyles and lived in monastic communities, I’d be cool with. Instead what we get is this us vs. them mentality (as we cut ourselves off from any one or thing that may “taint” us with their “worldliness”) and Christian ghettos (where everything we do or participate in has to have the adjective “Christian” in front of it: “Christian” music, “Christian” karate, “Christian” candy, etc.).

Actually, it doesn’t matter what my answer to this question is because I’m going to take a stab at addressing I think what is at the heart of what people “really” mean when they start tossing that phrase around. So let’s phrase the question in a way that expresses the heart of our concern as we go about trying to lead missional lives: “how can we protect ourselves, our own spiritual integrity, while still functioning within the world?”

The big, and valid, concern is one of influences. The fear that we will get caught up in stuff that will throw us from our Christian walks, messy or not, and derail us from a life of pursuing holiness. We don’t live in a vacuum. We’ve been given guidelines and parameters (the Bible describes itself as being “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). While there is great freedom in Christ, we can’t just do whatever you feel like doing. And frankly, we won’t always get why there are certain restrictions. We won’t don’t always understand why we have to study and pray, for example, but hopefully our understanding comes in our participation.

All this to give you three tips in “guarding yourself. One, know your truth. Keep returning to that well of knowledge. It is the discipline of believers. We must constantly immerse ourselves in Scriptures not just for remembrance of God, but also to remember who we are and why we do whatever we do. Two, think for yourselves. Think through your faith, your beliefs, and keep stretching yourselves. In other words, keep asking questions. One of the hardest things for pastors and teachers to do is train their people how to critically think. Three, know your limits. When Christians ask me “how can you be around all of that horror stuff?” one of the presumptions is that reading/writing horror is one step on the path to the occult. (I guess we glorify the occult, make it fascination, and then little Johnny goes off to worship Satan.) Yeah, well the occult has no hold over and little interest for me outside of crafting a story. That will happen when you come from a family of obeah practitioners. So I have no problem being the “sinister minister.” However, you won’t see me being a part of the xxxchurch ministry. You get me within sniffing distance of them and I’d give Ted Haggerty a scandal target to shoot for.

Here’s the thing, we can’t live in fear of “the world”. We’ve been given a mission and have a job to do. A job that doesn’t always allow us to remain “safe” and “comfortable.” Either we believe that we have the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us or we don’t. For some, that may mean a time within the protective bubble of the Christian ghetto. However, that doesn’t mean stay there.

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