Freedom for

At the Atlantic School of Theology there is one lecture on theology I remember more than any other. Father Tom Mabey, our Systematic Theology Professor, explained that in 1988 (the date of the class) the religious and political conversation we’d been having for a generation was about freedom, specifically what we were/are free from. As the 1960’s turned into the 70’s and 80’s we were reacting to a time when we all knew what we were for, we were for stable, decent, virtuous, organized and caring families, churches, communities. To get there every institution emphasized the “ties that bind”; loyalty, honour, duty, fidelity, patriotism, integrity, and institutions did everything they could to double down on these virtues.

But along the way, as knowledge grew, as awareness grew, as people became aware of the unfairness of sexism and racism, people began to yearn to break free of the restraints of unity. If one was young and questioning the standard responses “because I said so”, “because that is the way it’s always been” and “because if we undermine these values what else is there?” were ineffective at best, inflammatory at worst. There was a generational revolt as younger people and all ages of groups previously relegated to secondary status in society began to rebel against what was, asking what could/should be. As Bruce Cockburn sings “the trouble with normal is that it only gets worse.”

I felt the passion, the rightness, and justice, of these efforts to expand the notion of who and what was “normal”. This is what Tom meant when he said we had been working for freedom from injustice, poverty, sexism, racism, etc. for a generation.

I am indebted to those voices of liberation, those voices that pushed us to expand the circle of justice and love. I do not, we do not, want to go back to the very narrow vision of what was “normal”.

If you want to know what those who wanted freedom from were working to escape listen to the lyrics of Pete Seeger’s Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes made of ticky tacky

Little boxes

Little boxes

Little boxes all the same

There's a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they're all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same

And the people in the houses all go to the university

And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same

And there's doctors and there's lawyers

And business executives

And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martini dry

And they all have pretty children and the children go to school

And the children go to summer camp

And then to the university

And they all get put in boxes, and they all come out the same

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family

And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same

There's a green one, and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they're all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same

But Tom Mabey predicted there would come a time when our society would begin to turn to the question, what is freedom for. Once a generation had enjoyed the fruits of freedom, to move beyond the little boxes what then? You see this today, there is a nostalgia for the past, families trying to replicate the past so their children have more stability and embrace a virtue that while not without flaws still produces people like their grandparents, people who seemed to know right from wrong. But that nostalgia can be compromised when these children become aware of being gay or lesbian or transgendered. What then?

One of the most positive things to come from the shrinking of the mainline Church is a search to understand what the church is apart from being an institution that helps to creates normalcy. For many church is no longer the only institution intending to shape the young and old to be decent and kind. Given that what else does the church offer?

Tom Maybe speculated, back in 1988, there would be many who would turn to the church to fashion a unity between the freedom to be whoever and whatever we wanted with a passion to mend a broken world. That the stories of Jesus would focus less on duty, loyalty and honour and more on an imagining of making a world that could be, that should be. Jesus was never a great fit for the little boxes vision, remember his critical comments on families and social conformity. Perhaps Jesus’ freedom as the incarnation of the Divine and his choice to be with and for those in need of healing was as clear a message of freedom for as opposed to freedom from as we have seen/heard. It’s worthy of consideration.