Peter Bruce & Brigid Benson
Intro music - I'm on my my to freedom land (crossing over - first 3min30) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7XiUxsOoHM&ab_channel=VocalEssence
That performance was about a particular energy of Freedom that is very alive today – The legacy of Slavery. The realities of the freedom of the slave owner to buy slaves is starkly contrasted with the lack of freedom of the slave who is subjected to physical control and mental abuse. The need to take responsibility to balance Freedoms of one with another is the subject of today’s service.
Welcome here today
The title for the service is Paths to Freedom, identifying blockers and enablers on this road to equitable freedom.
I apologise that there are no hymns in the service from our Unitarian hymn books as I don’t have the copies or the music but hopefully there are songs you know and can sing along to as you like.
In lighting the chalice candle, we ask for the light, wisdom and love that goes
alongside our will to balance our world for the benefit of us and all. Help us to
find the balance as individuals and as one community.
We also light this candle for the first Sunday in Advent. Advent means literally, ‘the coming’. This time leads up to the Christmas festival of the birth or the ‘coming’ of Jesus but there are many pagan associations too with the ‘Hanging of the Greens’ done for Advent.
So, to our topic of Paths to Freedom which in more stable times is usually seen as a balance between Freedom and Responsibility. Exercising too much freedom in our personal whims can harm the freedoms of others and too little freedom means we cannot express who we really are, blighting our individual lives. The Greek philosophers saw that Nature leads us towards a balance point that optimises freedom and benefit for all.
However Freedom is powerfully projected today in the instability of current western culture as THE ‘Great Good’ that we should have or take for ourselves. The phrases of America First or Me First have found resonance amongst a population in pain, although excessive power of the few can also be seen as one of the primary causes of the problems of inequality and unhappiness too. Freedom is at the centre of political debate and lifestyle that has become so divisive in society today.
For Jean Paul Sartre, existence precedes essence, freedom is the nature & condition of humanity. It brings both responsibility & anguish but how we use our freedom defines us.
His way of discussing what freedom means in practice. Is still very relevant today in the 21st century. We will talk later about the history of freedom but for now, consider this. When modern man/person discovers they are free, it can be both liberating & frightening but we soon realize that there is no such thing as absolute freedom because it is not absolute, it exists only in relation to others. If we value our own freedom & that of others, then it leads to a kind of morality, not seeking to do harm or restrict the freedom of others.
Live and let live. Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
Freedom of mind, belief, without fear of repression, means free to decide what you believe, it may or may not lead to a belief in God or a superior being. The important thing is to forge your own path and own your choices, respect the different paths of others, as long as they in turn, leave you in peace to follow your own path. .
The word Free comes from from Proto-Germanic Frijaz meaning ‘Beloved’ or
‘not in Bondage’. This carries both the opposite concepts of personal freedom of not in bondage, as well as the community responsibility of loving each other. So old wisdom ties this balance together at source. However History is written by the winner to suit their messages for power and control in society. These repeated stories seep into our psyche over generations and it is perhaps time we shook off some of those shackles.
In medieval times even Physical Freedom to move or do your own thing was limited under the Lord of the Manor. The Magna Carta of 1215 was really only about freedom of the Barons vs the King but with an emerging middle class, freedoms and protections slowly grew with rights for justice.
The Reformation gradually freed Europe from the idea that there was only one dominating version of Christianity, shaped by a feudal system. This created the space for movements like Unitarianism to emerge, where leaders sacrificed threats to their personal physical freedom for the right to think & believe freely. The Civil War was triggered by the King claiming divine power over Parliament, but the MPs were mostly voted in from ‘Rotten Borough’ politics at the time.
In modern times, Advertising and increasingly personally directed social media have created the consumer society, this gets us to buy things we don't really need, with money we don’t have? They persuade us we should have ALL we want.
But we know ‘inside’ us that there is a hidden cost for too much individual freedom over community values. One person’s freedom is another’s pain. The age-old need for balance between Freedom and Responsibility come to the fore. We need to understand how to access this balance if we are to find ‘desireable’ Freedom.
The question for us is what should we believe, there was distorted truth in the past but today Fake News has gone rampant with people ‘selling’ all sorts of interpretations and link conspiracies.
There are so many different interpretations of what freedom means to any group nowadays it can get exhausting! This diversity reflects the complexity of human beings & different cultures across the world. Remember You have the Freedom to decide what You believe! We are at a time to see this as unity.
This song ‘Freedom’ by Pharrell Williams shows that Freedom can be high energy like an adrenalin rush and shake us up. The clips and lyrics represent our desires for free choice and the chaotic impacts of the extremes it can cause others and nature who lose their freedom or habitats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlY90lG_Fuw&ab_channel=PharrellWilliamsVEVO
(with lyrics below). In this way it is difficult to say if Freedom is selfish or altruistic.
It is useful to consider the impacts of the Lack of Freedom to others caused by choices of us all when we buy cheap clothes, or hide money from others, or destroy our environment.
Too many want the Freedom to buy without worry, the crops that often cause deforestation. We want the freedom to travel the world when we have a climate emergency. Where is the balance in this. Many are not sufficiently aware of the impact of our choices on others & the planet, but don’t we have a responsibility to consider this before we make the choice?
As individuals we like the freedom of speech to say what we feel or want to believe, even if its not true.
Freedom of speech is heralded today even when it promotes offence, division and fear. We seem to have forgotten what Buddha said to consider before speaking: It is true, is it kind, is it helpful?
The greatest symbol though of loss of freedom is perhaps the Prison.
Cry, Freedom was a film about Steve Biko and the Apartheid regime in South Africa with its lack of political freedom for the majority. The famous freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was a prisoner for 27years but said “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”
He understood what true freedom means, that it has two sides to it. As President, with all the power and control that brings, he lived a life that tried to empower holistic balanced freedom to others, not taking out retribution on the white minority.
Mandela’s wisdom demonstrates the phrase: ‘The most powerful prison is the boundaries and judgements you hold in your mind.’ He rose above that to forgive from his inner soul and live from the ‘Beloved’ part of Freedom we referred to earlier.
Even in our normal lives, Most of the stories and beliefs in our heads came from our parents, our peers, our culture and the groups we chose to get involved with when we were young. It is a lot to undo to find your true self! Are we really free and what is our true self?
Music – Freedom and Responsibility – song by Dan Tanz who sings with his daughter alongside,
distractingly and beautifully in total freedom of the moment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0_SwBBdouM&ab_channel=SongwriterCircle (with Lyrics)
Conflicting Choices in Freedoms
Let’s get personal now. Recently we have had some of our Freedoms starkly taken away:- the right to roam freely during coronavirus, the right to meet in person, shake hands or hug each other. How do you feel about it? We all have changed our habits through choice - Why do you do what you do? – and Do you feel free in those decisions?
Perhaps like me you are of two minds: No, I don’t want to stop seeing my friends and family or Yes its good to be responsible and protect others, particularly the vulnerable, from Covid.
All our actions have implications and we should be mindful of this through peace rather than anger. The heart knows this path of freedom better than the head.
People who lack freedoms in their countries (from hunger, illness, oppression, from marital
bondage or FGM, and freedom for gender choice, political rights and safety), fairly obviously, want to escape this. They desire the freedom to move to a safe country as refugees. Others want the freedom to reject them from entry. Some want to escape tax despite living here but this pays for the common good of education and health that we want.
We can see that Freedom is both a complex and a very powerful concept. So what are the rights and wrongs? It is clear that we can’t have all the freedom we want to decide without affecting other peoples freedoms.
Freedoms are often in conflict. Freedom is at the heart of many of the tensions in our society today. One person’s power over another and also a battle for the truth over fake news.
We can feel very disempowered and even depressed by all these issues that seem to control our lives these days, but there is good news!
We are more free and have more opportunities to information and a free voice than ever before in history.
More importantly, You can empower yourself by taking control of your own thoughts and speaking your own mind. You have always had and still have the freedom to stop believing false information you were ‘taught’ by experiences, parents, friends or by media/culture/society. You can choose the path less travelled and the higher one. Although it is not as easy as we think to rid ourselves or habits or habitual thinking as you’ll know if you’ve tried. These rivers in us run deep. Moving forwards is usually easier together and as Unitarians we have the freedom to develop our inner lives of reflection, sharing that light beneficially with others.
Let’s now use this point of appreciation of the benefits and trials of freedom as a backdrop for our Candles of Joy and Concern. Particularly sharing freedoms people have lost, new freedoms we personally have found and how we can help each other in this journey.
Music - Sing a song of Freedom (time for liberation) Cliff Richard with his positive message of changing for the better starting with you and me.
So homing in on Paths to Freedom now,
I) One extreme is - We allow ourselves the feeling of being free to think anything and do anything, but we find this has impacts on others that are unacceptable (to them and us if we are attuned in compassion).
II) At the opposite extreme, We can have the care to be so fearful of doing harm to others that we daren’t do anything, but this case leads to us not really having lived!
III) A key problem to overcome is that ‘Fear’ is a trigger of the ‘mind hijack’ in our amygdala that switches off our rational brain and feeds in old memories of other associated fears. To stay Free thinking we need to be alert to others controlling us through this in gaslighting or collective fears such as being overrun by migrants.
IV) A practical solution -”When someone tries to trigger you by insulting you or by doing or saying something that irritates you, take a deep breath and switch off your ego. Remember that if you are easily offended, you are easily manipulated.”
V) Always be curious about who you are, where you are and the choices you have in Life’s journey. Discuss with others and ensure the choice is yours not from others.
We are theoretically the most free generation ever in history! So why do people not feel free?
Do you feel free? Reflect on what might be holding you back?
New heart-centred Awareness helps us let go of old beliefs.
This piece by Leo Babauta on the www.ZenHabits.net is a Guide for letting go of attachments:-
“I’ve been finding more and more that the Buddha had it right: pretty much all of our struggles, from frustrations to anxiety, from anger to sadness, from grief to worry, all stem from the same thing …
The struggles come from being too tightly attached to something. [belief,thought, pain or physical thing]
When we’re worried, we are tightly attached to how we want things to be, rather than relaxing into accepting whatever might happen when we put forth our best effort. When we’re frustrated with someone, it’s because we’re attached to how we want them to be, rather than accepting them as the wonderful flawed human they are. When we procrastinate, we are attached to things being easy and comfortable (like distractions) rather than accepting that to do something important, we have to push into discomfort. And so on.
OK, if you’re ready to accept that being too attached, clinging too tightly, is the cause of our struggles … then the answer is simple, right? Just loosen the attachments. Just let go.”
In summary Buddha said ‘You only lose what you cling to’.
Joyce Meyer encourages us in freedom too with ‘Our Past experiences may have made us the way we are but we don’t have to stay that way.’
So hopefully you can see that Freedom is not a ‘good’ in itself but part of a landscape for wellbeing choices. And that the highest freedom for ourselves needs ‘the other’ to be free too, with a balance needed of both Inner and Outer world Freedoms.
In this journey vulnerability is a strength not a weakness as we become more heart-centred
Getting into the holistic
Rumi prose (Afghan C13th refugee) -
“When I run after what I think I want, my days are a furnace of stress and anxiety; if I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without pain. From this I understand
that what I want also wants me, is looking for me and attracting me. There is a great secret here for anyone who
can grasp it.
Someone who found freedom in hardship was Albert Camus
“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against
me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
Perhaps this is true Freedom, Letting go, to be free.
We can be too tough on ourselves sometimes and we need to give ourselves some space so this song is to remind us of the time for some Peace and Freedom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70IVhTus6mE&ab_channel=Ivo-Topic by IVO
Meditation, breathing exercises, being in nature and just wondering at some aspect of the universe are all ways to find our Freedom nourishing us from our inner being, our soul as that’s whence it originates. When we have ‘turned down’ our busy mind, we can be in tune with the quiet voice of our inner being where we have no dissonance, no frustration, fear or anger; we are at peace with the universe.
The Healthy Freedom
Some thoughts from others on how to find this peace and freedom:
The Rev Angel Kyodo Williams says - ‘I teach only liberation and the path to Liberation.
Love and Justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change; without
collective change no change matters.’
To encourage us how to find freedom in peace and awareness, a saying from James Thurber -“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
And to be free in our judgements of the world, this is from a book The Mind-Made Prison: Overcoming Limiting Beliefs and Manifesting Personal Transformation ― by Mateo Tabatabai,
“Soon you will see that there is no good or bad, only an interpretation of what is. You will realize that
your whole experience is based solely on your interpretation of external events that are completely
neutral. You will understand that you have nothing figured out and that all the things you thought you
knew are only imaginary constructs of your mind. You have so much talent and potential inside you
that is not coming through because your mind has imprisoned you.”
So Freedom can feel like something that can be given to us, but it only exists if
we work to receive or give gracefully it in return, to all creation.
Freedom poem by Jack Ellison
I’ll leave you with one word – atone. Atone today means making amends to ‘the other’ which represents our part in the responsibility of achieving balance with another. But the old meaning of Atone is actually achieving At-one with the other– finding ultimate freedom.
May you continue to develop a healthy sense of Freedom,
Growing appropriate responsibility,
Feeling more at one with the universe
and finding your true authentic self.
Closing music to end on a high of attuned energy:- Freedom is coming – Unitarians of Baltimore
Music – by Tina Fire Wolf who has been struggling on this journey of ‘Balancing Freedom &
Responsibility ‘ for 20years, its a lifelong task but gets easier as you progress, and so her personal energy is why this is chosen https://www.youtube.com/watch?
How do you achieve Responsible Freedom in your life - inspirational video by Tahira
Freedom duo instrumental by JRRhodes from 3min26 https://vimeo.com/454463200
Think (Freedom) by Aretha Franklin says you
Aretha Franklin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mSn4-szhus&ab_channel=NicolaVernizzi