Some years ago a middle-aged man in my office reported a lifetime series of failed relationships with his several wives, children and business partners. He had lived life to the fullest, he said, and though he should probably feel more guilt than he did, he wasn’t entirely displeased with what he had experienced. Interesting experience, after all, is what gave zest to his life. He loved the freedom to do whatever he pleased, whenever he pleased. He was a true libertarian, he claimed.
I asked what brought him to my door, then. With that he fell silent and eventually offered that he had this growing, gnawing emptiness inside. He wanted a relationship with his children, for instance, but they despised him. He knew he needed help, yet he didn’t want to give up his “freedom.”
Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb tweaked an old saying this way: “Absolute liberty may also corrupt absolutely.” Freedom without responsible commitments has no meaning. That’s a simple truth that takes many a lifetime to learn.
But I’m aware this observation runs counter to our present moment where “commitment” seems an old-fashioned word. Relationships are fast and fleeting, in all arenas, personal and professional and everything in between. Hard to say where this trending behavior will take us, but I know for certain it doesn’t bode well for the health of sustaining institutions like church and government (not to mention marriage and family).
At Christ Church we say love holds the largest meaning. But love necessitates commitment as well as resilience and fidelity. Closing in on 40 years of experience in my line of work, I am surprised to discover that the most basic fundamentals of faith seem astonishingly radical.
The Reverend Dr. Stephen Bauman