Like me, you may have a stack of books by your bed – gifts, old favorites, new interests and perhaps a journal or diary. My current favorite read is Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery. It covers the period from his birth (1856) as an illiterate slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation, through his emancipation in 1863 and on through the chaotic reconstruction period to his founding and becoming the first President of Tuskegee Institute. Washington also rose to become a racial representative in national politics during the time of Roosevelt. It is an impressive story of a young man learning the discipline of freedom in an exceptionally turbulent time.
After the initial joy of being free, most former slaves struggled mightily to learn the skills of living with their unaccustomed freedom. From learning to use bedsheets, silverware, a toothbrush or a bathtub to the more pressing tasks of choosing a last name (Mr. Washington had ever only been called “Booker”), reading, writing and general self-management, Washington and his peers were inventing their free lives day by day. Some rose, step by step, to the occasion. Others (often the aged and disabled) relied on government programs to get by. Some defeated themselves in the attempt to obtain a living which they hadn’t earned. In brief, living with freedom was not as straight-forward as might have been imagined.
Booker Washington was a Christian and used the example of Christ as his compass in navigating freedom. He chose love as his guiding principle as reflected in his saying “I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”
As Christians, freed by Christ, we walk a similar path – day by day learning to walk in freedom with integrity and purpose. How will we use our freedom? To what end? What does freedom require of us? A verse from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (3:17) is relevant to these questions. St. Paul says, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Since we know that our triune God is love and knowing the absolute priority which Jesus placed on love, it’s not a stretch to say that St. Paul is teaching that where there is love there is true freedom and where there is freedom there must be love. In Galatians 5:13-14, St. Paul again connects freedom with the command to love. He says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” St. Paul is teaching Christians, as Jesus did, that the discipline required by freedom is love.