Freedom. Richie Havens sang the word again and again at Woodstock. I wasn't there but I've heard the tape of his exultant shout. It still carries some electricity of excitement. Freedom for some meant freedom of expression, freedom to oppose the establishment, and for many, freedom to indulge in whatever felt good. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," sang Janis Joplin, in Me and Bobbie McGee. Those are troubling words, but they can make a person think about such things especially if you put them with another line from the scriptures of the sixties and seventies, one by Bob Dylan, that said, "if you ain't got nothing, you've got nothing to lose." I recently read an account by Esther Elizabeth in the October 2004 newsletter, "Journey Into Freedom," published by an organization of the same name. Her experience of freedom came at a time when she feared that she had quite a lot to lose. "I felt free the first time I was arrested. On the campus of Antioch College, in nonviolent direct action, a small group gathered outside a restaurant and a barber shop that refused to serve 'people of color.' It was a long time ago and I don't remember all the details or the sequence of events. I do remember the handcuffs and joining others in the back of a paddy-wagon. On our way to the county jail, we broke out in a loud, joyful rendition of 'We are Not Afraid.' A few blocks later the verse changed to 'We are a little bit afraid' and by the time the paddy-wagon rolled into the jail parking lot, we were whispering still another verse, 'We are really afraid.' And I was afraid. I had not walked that path before. But, even though I wondered what my arrest could mean (loss of job, time away from my responsibilities and friends, a large fine), I felt freer than ever before because I did what I knew, for me, was right action. I lived out what I said I believed. I put my life where my mouth was. Freedom, for me, comes when I'm about right action."
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In her essay on freedom, Esther Elizabeth also focused on the words of Jesus in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus is portrayed as being in charge of his destiny, even as he accepts his Father's call to give up his life having everything to lose. "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father." John's Gospel, in chapter eight, also gives us the memorable words, quoted often, that "the truth will make you free." "Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'" Jesus expands on the meaning of freedom: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
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What is your personal experience of freedom? With nothing or everything to lose? If you have children, how would they describe the experience of freedom in your home, at school or among friends? Examine news stories and reports from your city or area. Who has freedom? Who lacks freedom? How is freedom exercised? Freedom of speech? Freedom from fear? Take the time to reflect on your own experiences and on the experiences of those you love. If you have felt freedom, even when you were afraid of the consequences, offer support to others to do what is right.
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