Reflections on the Meaning of Freedom
While walking with my son as he rode his bike through the neighborhood, he suddenly stopped. When I noticed he stopped, I looked at him to see if anything was wrong. Nothing was wrong, but I noticed that he was looking up in the sky. I said, "What's going on son? What are you doing?" In his amazed toddler voice he said to me, "Look, the birds." I looked up and a childlike mesmerization struck me. I pulled out my phone and went to the camera app, as we 21st Century, smart phone era humans tend to do. With my amateur photography skills I snapped a few pictures and commented back to him that this was a beautiful scene of nature.
Even though I recognized the beauty of this moment, my mind wandered to another place. When we eventually got back home, I reflected even further on where my mind had gone.
In one of my doctoral classes last year I remember a classmate mentioning a scholar or philosopher (a real thinking type) commenting on a person's observation about the freedom of birds. I don't remember the context, and I shol' (certainly) don't remember who the philosopher was. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me for that, I believe you will appreciate where I am going. The person's observation that triggered a comment by this philosopher was that birds were so free. They fly high in the sky at heights most of us creatures are unable to naturally go.
On the surface, that comment seems legitimate. Many would probably agree with that observation, especially when they begin to think about their own perceived limitations especially when compared to another creature that can seemingly soar above the clouds to anywhere. One might agree with this when considering the pressures, dysfunctions, and inconvenient, untimely circumstances of life. The philosopher's retort was fascinating though. They said something to the effect of, "Birds aren't free. They are ruled by instinctual habit telling them where to go, when to go, what to eat, when to mate, and more. That's not freedom. Freedom is the option to choose."
Being that I am a preacher I am reminded of so many scriptures in the Bible that speak about chose (two of my favorite, Joshua 24:15 and Revelation 3:20). In fact I would argue that a recurring theme throughout the entirety of the Bible is idea that we are given a choice. Nothing is forced on us. Of course, in that context the choice is between God or something else. And later, it's a choice to follow Jesus or the way of the world, in the layered way that that can occur. We often talk in our common cultural language about people having a choice between the right or the wrong thing, or the good or bad option. Regardless of what it is, there is always a choice.
I want to add to the philosopher's response to the observation about the freedom of birds. The birds from afar seem to be free, but we don't see everything. We primarily see birds when they are gracefully flying above our heads. If you're like me, you're also looking up to avoid the direction of their flight just in case they decided to drop a load (yikes!). But I digress. In addition, since that is the case, we are always viewing them from afar (as evidenced by my camera phone photo above). We're not close enough to their situation.
Here's the thing. . .
In our culture today, which is exacerbated by social media, influencers, blogs, and folks famous for being famous, we do what the person who shared their observation of birds does. We compare our circumstances to that of another. We don't see everything that is going on. We're not close enough to their situations. Without a greater level of intimacy, we are limited in our view. That makes our understanding limited and any reality derived from that is faulty at best.
Curated images, stories, and profiles are easier to come by than fast food joints. But just as we have the choice to eat fast food or a healthier option, we have the freedom to choose whether or not we're going to consume these images, stories, and profiles as reality . We have the freedom to choose whether or not we will give into feelings of envy. We have the freedom to choose whether or not we will allow these to undermine our self-confidence and self-worth. We have the freedom to embrace the uniqueness of our journey because there has been and will never again be another one of us.
Freedom is choice. We can choose better.