May 02 2014
Freedom and Responsibility:
A Year of Shifting the Balance
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
A year ago, when the annual Worship Survey asks me about this month’s theme, Freedom and Responsibility, I type out this (slightly edited) stream of consciousness:
“More and more, I realize how much I value freedom. My fundamental focus—on how much choice we have no matter what our limited circumstances, on how much agency we have to effect change in our lives and in the world—implies enormous freedom. How much does this focus reflect an assumption that comes from my own unearned privilege, especially in my younger years growing up in an economically and socially comfortable family? And how much does it spring from my fundamental love for and faith in human beings and in life itself? I also heard an ‘On Being’ podcast recently about creativity brain research and how we need FREEDOM, we need space, to be creative!
“I LIKE responsibility, too—those ‘ties that bind,’ like our March 2014 theme, Covenant. Yet I know what discipline-compassion-responsibility fatigue feels like. I think of the research in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, about how we must use self-control in every single moment—in every decision—and how our self-control can grow weary, so we become less able to make the best choices. Eating those brownies instead of choosing the fruit, for example! … Is all this related?”
When I read those words from a year ago, I see a snapshot of myself then: nearing the end of the church year, hungering for freedom, space, creativity, rest, for hope and faith in our human capacities to change and in my own capacity to make a difference. I hear a struggle with “responsibility”—with how hard and persistent its call can be.
I still wrestle with those questions—yet the balance has shifted for me over the course of this year. Today, as I write, it is April 22, 2014: Earth Day. Today I would start my stream of consciousness with those “ties that bind” rather than with “freedom of choice.” I still have faith in our capacity and our freedom to choose the good, the life-giving, the compassionate—but I feel the urgent call of our responsibilities to each other and to this earth in my very bones, and I know that these responsibilities require some very hard choices. I have come to see how huge and complex are the adaptations we need to make in order to support life, all life, in our radically changing world. I can’t—I don’t want to—“lay this burden down.” Today my stream of consciousness begins: “More and more I realize how much I value and really feel our interconnectedness. It hurts, and it brings me joy.” Today my focus is not so much on “What do we want freedom from?” (from others’ control, from too many demands) but rather on “What do we have freedom for?” Toward what great purpose can we put our capacities for choice, for creativity, for love and connection? That’s my question, my friends, this May and as we move forward. Our answers will be so much wiser, so much more effective, more nuanced and beautiful because we seek them together. Let us dive in!
With love and commitment,
Listen to the On Being podcast at http://www.onbeing.org/program/creativity-and-everyday-brain/1879/audio?embed=1.
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