05/28/2014 10:50 am ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

Freedom Rules

And an orator said, "Speak to us of Freedom."
And he answered:
At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself
and worship your own freedom,
Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them.
Ay, in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel
I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff.
And my heart bled within me;
for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom
becomes a harness to you,
and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfillment.

(From Freedom XVI by Khalil Gibran)

We want freedom - but what is true freedom and what's its price? Security is what we also want - but what does that cost us? And when security costs us freedom, is that the
price we'll gladly pay? Or when freedom can't provide security for all - what then can we do? Freedom and security seem locked in perpetual tug of war.

There was celebration in the streets when South Sudan became the newest nation in 2011.
After a long and bloody civil war, the people of the South finally were free. With peace and freedom finally at hand their expectations knew no bounds. But in two short years neither independence nor freedom seemed that beautiful. Reality set in, for there wasn't much a tiny devastated nation could really do to ensure security of food and income and to provide a better life for all. In recent months the fighting that once raged between North and South is now a war within the South, a complicated war where people blame each other and fight and kill in hopes of wresting a better freedom from the rubble.

The Arab spring began in 2010 and gave new life to long desired freedom and democracy; to people long suppressed by leaders who thought that they knew best what their nations and the people needed to succeed. But the passions of those who yearned for freedom prevailed against the forces of security. Freedom was at hand, and the promise of democracy. But the price exacted for such freedom came with insecurity, and expectations that were no match for the reality of economics, political and religious division. And so the tender leaves of springtime have seemed to wither on the vine.

Hope was in the air and cause for celebration in Ukraine when independence and freedom came as Soviet communism collapsed in 1991, and hope stirred yet again in the Orange Revolution of 2004 when the call for democracy was heard. But neither freedom nor democracy gratified the expectation of prosperity for all. Now that peace is fractured as people are divided against that revolution and there is yet another revolution to return to the security of Russia. Maybe that's all revolutions ever are - revolving and revolving - ever spinning ever seeking without securing peace, and freedom and justice for all.

I've seen it all in prison with men and women who have lost their freedom for violating the peace and security of their victims and community, for satisfying their wants and needs without regard, without respecting freedom. And then in the confinement of imprisonment they ache and wait to be freed, counting down the days and hours and minutes for the gates to open. But when freedom comes the exhilaration of that moment soon is overtaken by the harsh and painful realities of homelessness, joblessness, friendlessness, and emptiness. Then all too often the unquenched desire to survive and have a better life, or any life at all causes far too many to breech the security of others once again trading freedom for attempting satisfaction in the moment.

Freedom is as universal a desire among humans as the need for air, and so is the desire and need for safety and security. Without security, freedom doesn't seem to flourish. Without freedom, security becomes oppressive. Freedom is always open to the possibility of some people taking license to violate the common good of the community, the security of others. Security offers safety to people whose safety and peace is threatened by those who abuse their freedom at the expense of others.

Security and freedom are a tender balance, and sometimes in a tension. Some people choose security over freedom - for a time - because security is the god who promises to protect them. At other times some people choose freedom over security because security has actually turned out to become a tyrannical god of oppression and control. Then the god of promised freedom takes its place within the public square.

People and societies only thrive in freedom when they have a clear and strong moral compass by which they chart their course. Without that moral compass libertinism and anarchy inevitably result. With this, the god of security must once again be invoked.

Like grace, freedom itself is not God but is God's gift to us so that we can live and flourish and become all we are meant to be. And like moral laws and legalisms, security also is not God but is God's gift for the common good, the peace and flourishing of people in community. We cannot have one without the other, for without the moral compass of the law, freedom leads to excess and abuse; and without freedom the law becomes a controlling tyrant that cannot be satisfied. Grace and law are meant to be in harmony - as are freedom and security.

For the law indeed was given through Moses;
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

(John 1:17 RSV)
Jesus said...
If the Son, then, sets you free, you are really free!
(John 8:36 Phillips)