Archive for the ‘Freedom’ Category

Freedom From and Freedom For

July 11, 2022

A long time ago in a galaxy far away I found myself in Louisiana researching freedom in graduate school thinking I’d earn a PhD in political philosophy and write on that topic. Many bad choices there. I watched the professors and decided I didn’t want to be one of them. Then there was the fact that the department discontinued the graduate program when I was at the half-way mark of courses toward an MA.

I looked into a couple of other graduate programs and was accepted into one, but I had lost interest in the system. I’m much happier studying on my own.

I explored two sides of freedom. There is freedom from constraints–think John Locke. There is freedom for fulfilling worthwhile ends–think Jean-Jacques Rousseau. An eminent philosopher had studied this paradox. Isaiah Berlin wrote Liberty exploring these topics.

A couple of thousand years before Berlin, some Eastern Mediterranean religious thinkers and leaders also pondered freedom. One was Jesus of Nazareth who lived out that freedom. Another was his disciple Paul. Others also touched on these topics including James and Peter and John.

A contemporary leader and preacher striving mightily to capture the interest of the younger generations globally, John Fischer (at Catch John Fischer), recently summarized the essence of this liberty argument.

Freedom operates alongside other qualities, most of them more important that freedom itself. We are not set free so we can enslave others; we are set free to serve. We are not set free to break the law, but to follow it. We are not set free to indulge ourselves, but to consider others as more important than ourselves. 

Many think freedom means I can do whatever I want whenever I want to whomever I want. That sounds more like a 2-year-old than an adult to me. The Apostle Paul tried in several of his letters to explain freedom. Maybe it was just the way you wrote in ancient Greek and then got translated into modern English. I don’t think he was as successful as he wished getting the point across clearly.

Yes, I have certain freedom from constraints. Yet, I also have the responsibility to use that freedom for good.

Become the Master Over Anger and Lust

September 30, 2021

Evagrius teaches us, “The man who strives after true prayer must learn to master not only anger and his lust, but must free himself from every thought that is colored by passion.”

Evagrius was writing to monks in the 4th Century–to those who chose to separate from society in order to deeply seek after the spirit of God. True prayer meant that deep meditation where ones soul meets with the spirit of God and becomes transformed.

I’m not writing to male monks in the desert. You all are from different cultures and countries and religious backgrounds. But we all, American or Chinese or European, male and female, young and old, business people or technologists or retired, we all have in common the desire for God’s spirit to infuse and change us.

Some people in America think not wearing a surgical mask to protect themselves and others is true freedom. That is not what Paul was describing in his letter to the Galatians when he attempted to describe true freedom that comes from letting Jesus lead us into the kingdom of heaven.

True freedom is for those who live with-God and together master the turbulence of unmastered passions.

Beyond Freedom

May 14, 2021

Freedom is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

When I was in grad school, I studied freedom. I looked at it from various angles. However, every angle was from the point of view of an adolescent, privileged, white guy. Viktor Frankl, whom I had read as an undergraduate, was a Jewish psychotherapist who studied freedom from within a Nazi concentration camp.

Privileged, white, adolescent guys lived for freedom. We hated the other side of the coin Frankl discusses–responsibleness. I wonder how many of us Baby Boomers still around continue to harbor those feelings.

Jesus talked about freedom. I was puzzled. Then I realized–he meant freedom from a social system that was built upon following rules. And those who studied the rules could play the power game of “gotcha” over those who merely were trying to survive until another day. It was something like someone said in a movie or novel once, “I practice the Golden Rule; he who has the gold makes the rules.”

Paul wrote an entire letter on this topic. The letter to the Galatians is all about freedom. Throwing off the shackles of the old Laws (rules) left you free to live in the Spirit.

Living in the Spirit is freedom. It is also responsibility. We are responsible to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself.

You don’t get either/or. You get both/and as a follower of Jesus.

Thinking of Freedom

January 20, 2021

I was about 500 words into this post when I realized I was writing the introduction to a book I should have written in graduate school. Going from Jesus and Paul through Locke and Rousseau. Continuing on until today. So, I deleted the whole thing.

You’re welcome 😉

Jesus (and Paul and John and Peter and more) were as much concerned about freedom as many writers and activists today.

Jesus rightly pointed out that the Jewish religious leaders were trying to enslave the people to the Law–with themselves as the teachers, interpreters, judges of that Law. And how they found ways to circumvent the Law to their own benefit while piling it on to ordinary people. (Sounds pretty contemporary, doesn’t it?)

Jesus and his followers also devoted teaching to the problem of being enslaved by our passions, our unbridled emotions.

What was his solution? The Kingdom of God. Not a kingdom based upon fear of transgressing the Law. No, it would be a Kingdom based on God’s grace and our love–You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself.

That kingdom would overturn every value of Rome’s kingdom of power and the Jewish kingdom of (the) Law.

We still struggle with those same forces. Some want to enforce all the old laws. Some seek political and economic power over others.

Some of us simply seek Jesus and his Kingdom of love where freedom from both Law and passion are found. And we can live with the fruit of the spirit–love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Rights and Responsibilities

January 12, 2021

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment to the US Constitution

People seem to get confused about what the First Amendment actually says. It is a restriction upon the government.

It doesn’t address how we use this “freedom of speech”.

I keep having flashbacks to my university years when talk of responsibilities over rights sounded like the mutterings of old, crabby, conservative people trying to shut up young people with ideas. Well, those young Baby Boomers grew up to screw up a lot of stuff. But I learned the value of responsibility. Although I am now “old”, I am decidedly not conservative and hopefully not crabby. Well, in most regards. Maybe I just grew up.

Try these bits of Wisdom literature mostly 3,000 years old and just as relevant today.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.

Proverbs 10

Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a ruler.

Proverbs 17

Better the poor walking in integrity than one perverse of speech who is a fool.

Proverbs 19

Do you see someone hasty in speech? There is more hope for a fool than someone like that.

Proverbs 29

I can take a hint. I have no more to say today. Peace.

Discipline Restrains Dissipation

October 30, 2020

Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions about how difficult were his Greek studies when a student. He wrote many times of the cruelty of his teachers who were quick to strike him with ruler or rod when he did not apply himself diligently or learn quickly enough.

With the freedom of curiosity, he thoroughly learned Latin, the everyday language of his time. Later when he appreciated Greek literature, he pondered why he hated learning it so much. He blamed his teachers.

Still later as he looked back on his life he realized a couple of things from this episode: “…free curiosity is a more powerful aid to the learning of languages than a forced discipline. Yet this discipline restrains the dissipation of that freedom.”

He then points to God’s laws as a discipline that prevents his straying into the dissipation of an excess of freedom.

Similarly the men who wrote the documents that formed the USA were concerned even back in the 1780s that people would forget that responsibility and discipline are a necessary complement to freedom.

We have teachers and preachers and politicians who perhaps veer too far toward discipline and adolescents in their 20s and 30s who still try to live too much into freedom without the balance of discipline.

Each of us must seek and find that balance of freedom and curiosity with discipline and responsibility.

Watch Out For Your Tongue (and Fingers)

May 2, 2018

Our mentor, James, brother of Jesus and author of one letter that we still have, advised us to watch out for our tongue. If he knew about keyboards and social media, he’d no doubt include your fingers.

You know the person from elementary (grammar) school. The person who says pointed and even hateful things about someone else thinking they are funny. Sadly, they are not. But they get a following from those who pray that they won’t become a target.

Today’s political climate in many countries breeds the popularity of such people broadly. And across the political spectrum.

It matters not what “side” you’re on, there is no excuse for hateful speech. The First Amendment, which I adore, gives us “freedom of speech” but it does not absolve us from responsibility. You could also check what the writers of the constitution and the first 10 amendments (the Bill of Rights, in case you forgot) wrote in the Federalist Papers. But consider also the words of James.

Shall we follow our good guide, James, and be responsible in our speech?

Leading When Things Are Going Well

March 20, 2018

He was the leader of his organization.

In this case, the plant manager of a manufacturing company. He was responsible for overseeing 650 people producing the company’s products.

He was bored. Wandering around aimlessly. Unsure what to do. There were no emergencies. No one was calling about parts shortages or quality problems or production behind schedule.

What do you do when things seem to be going well? His assistant, the plant engineer, told him, “Just relax. When there are no problems, just enjoy it.”

This could have been any organization.

What if you are the leader? You’ve organized the project or process and things are proceeding according to plan. What do you do?

Ah, but we are talking human endeavors. When we begin involving many people–could be 6, could be 600–circumstances become complex. We could bet that somewhere, sometime, the process will begin to drift from stable to unstable. Something to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

At this stage of a project or process, there are things we had best be doing or we’ll soon find ourselves under water.


In Lean thinking, we call it Gemba. A 1980s guru called it “Managing by Wandering Around.” Go out to the scene. Check the data.


Study what other people are doing. Read about current technology trends. Are there ideas from somewhere that would make the product, process, or people better? Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can save us from a disintegrating situation.


Gather some people together from an area of the plant or process. Encourage thinking about how to improve. Hint: things can always be improved.


A leader’s job isn’t just “putting out fires.” Leaders must be looking ahead and behind. Observing people and process.

Freedom Must Be Lived In Terms of Responsibleness

November 8, 2016

Freedom is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl knew something about freedom–and being deprived of it. He was incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp in World War II.

He watched people react in the face of great deprivation and facing death. He discovered that the key to survival from a mental health perspective was having meaning in life.

He also saw the reaction to freedom.

I’d have to imagine he’d be cringing at the attitudes of people over the past few years who keep screaming for freedom–as in leave me alone so I can do what I want to do–with no companion thought of responsibility. Or to paraphrase an old movie, “Responsibility? I don’t need no stinkin’ responsibility.”

Jesus often set people free. And usually he gave them something to do, some responsibility.

He was walking one day and ten guys with very serious and debilitating skin diseases approached him. Jesus had sympathy. He said, “Go and show yourself to the priests and you will be made clean.” (You had to have a priest certify your ritual cleanliness so that you could be admitted back to the community.)

They did this with great joy and were healed. Healing… responsibility.

That story has a peculiar ending for us to ponder in this racially charged era we find ourselves in.

One of the ten came back to thank and praise Jesus. One! And that one–he was a Samaritan, a person of a different “race.” That story was designed to rock the world of the Jewish listeners. What!? The good guy is not one of us?

Unless we become responsible people, our freedom degenerates into self-absorption.


Freedom But Not Opportunity For Self-Indulgence

November 2, 2016

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. –Paul (Letter to the Galatians)

Three sentences. So much wisdom packed into them.

For those who wished to get right with God or the gods at the time of Paul, the work was all on you. You had to do things to make the gods happy with you. If you were Jewish, that meant following each one of the 600+ laws. Every minute of every day. You had to be worried about breaking a law. Other gods had their requirements.

Then Jesus came and set us free from worrying about following laws and doing things to earn God’s favor. In fact,  we can’t earn it, he said. But, God will grant us his grace if we but believe.

So, we have gained freedom. To this day, people everywhere are hoping to gain their freedom however it is defined in their culture.

But Paul knew. Like little children who first taste freedom, we take that freedom as permission to do whatever will satisfy our desires. That is why Paul teaches not to use freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.

We see results around us. Jails and prisons are full of people who went too far and then lost their physical freedom. Therapists and counselors are kept busy with the emotional/psychological results of too much freedom spent too freely.

People throughout the centuries have hated that word “slave.” They thought it taught weakness. Loss of freedom. They are wrong.

Paul shows us the alternative. To be successful at life, we use our freedom to help others. It is the spiritual lifestyle.

It is also practical. We know–and teach–in business and marketing to focus on solving a problem for our customers. Make the customer’s problem our problem. In that sense, we are becoming a “slave” to our customer.

If we are in a family, group, organization where everyone is a servant, then we have a successful experience. Life in the Spirit trumps living in self-indulgence.