“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
That is the most memorable line from the song Me and Bobby McGee, which was written by Kris Kristofferson and made famous posthumously by Janis Joplin. The song was inspired by a Fellini movie in which a free-spirited man grows tired of the feeble-minded girl who is traveling with him and sneaks away from her while she is asleep beside the road. Later he learns that the incident causes her death. He goes to a bar, picks a fight, gets drunk, and ends up howling at the stars on the beach.
“To me, that was the feeling at the end of Bobby McGee,” Kristofferson said in an online interview. “The two-edged sword that freedom is. He was free when he left the girl, but it destroyed him. That’s where the line ‘Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose’ came from.”
Freedom. On its own it is powerful, but one-sided. At times freedom seems to connote “freedom from” rather than “freedom to.” In the context of our Baptist Liberties it is easy to focus on freedom from creeds or freedom from hierarchy, but it may be just as easy to move on to freedom from faith or freedom from spirituality.
So we pair “freedom” with “responsibility.” We have a Baptist Liberties poster devoted to Freedom and Responsibility, and it says, “Every Baptist freedom can be undermined by irresponsibility. No freedom gives one license to act without boundaries. Freedom demands individual and collective responsibility.”
I recall a quote from Nelson Mandela that we sang in choir as part of The Peacemakers by Karl Jenkins. “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
I see other examples of freedom and responsibility much closer to home, all around us in our SFBC community. I think of the three people, the family, in the picture with this blog. Russ and Bruce had the freedom to make a family with Spencer. What a wonderful freedom, and what a great responsibility! What a way to practice our faith.
How else might freedom and responsibility come together as we practice our faith? The Apostle Paul had some definite ideas. In I Corinthians 8 he writes about the issue of eating meat that has been offered to an idol, which was a common practice in the First Century. He agreed with his audience that there was no harm in eating the meat when one knows that idols have no actual existence, that there’s nothing to them. But other people might still be struggling with the issue, and seeing someone they respect eating such meat might confuse them, even damage their faith. Paul asks if it is really worth eating the meat when doing so could harm others. Freedom and responsibility.
And how about my own faith? I’ve traveled around and experienced a fair number of churches, and I deeply appreciate how special Seattle First Baptist is. I am free here to be who I really am. I don’t have to hide half of my life to be a part of this congregation. I’m comfortable here. But comfort can lead to complacence, and to a feeling that “we at SFBC have definitely arrived.”
But we know better, don't we? Like President Mandela, I know that in matters of faith there are many more hills to climb. I am deeply grateful for the freedom we have here at Seattle First Baptist, the freedom proclaimed in our Baptist Liberties. But to be truly free I must accept the awesome responsibility that comes with that freedom. I must cultivate and feed my faith, attend to it, challenge it, and keep it vital and growing.
I must pay attention to how I practice my faith, and to the effect that my practice has on those around me.
Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, unless we accept the responsibility that goes with it.