freedom and community

I’ve been working on the music for my friend Seth’s new album. We’ll be in the studio soon, so there’s a lot of practicing going on. Lots of dreaming. And lots of freedom.

For those of us playing in the band, the process begins with scratch tracks of the songs. The scratch tracks are recordings of just Seth singing and playing acoustic guitar. We listen to those and work on our own to be ready to record. Everything else about what those songs will eventually be is undetermined. We get to create it together. There’s a lot of freedom there. 

The options are endless. In theory that may sound exhilarating, but in practice it can be daunting, too. If you’ve ever been intimidated by a blank piece of paper, you know this kind of freedom can be difficult. Even if you’ve just found yourself with an unexpected day off (maybe a snow day recently), all those unscripted hours present so much opportunity and so much pressure. At first you’re delighted at the thought of all that freedom. Then you’re frustrated. Then you face the prospect of getting to the end of the day and not having done anything particularly beautiful or joyful or good. 

I was despairing over all this freedom with Seth’s music the other day when a comforting thought struck me: 

I don’t have to deal with all this freedom alone. 

We’ll do a big rehearsal before the recording, and then we’re actually recording this project together as a band. (A lot of music these days is made with individual musicians laying down their tracks apart from the other guys in the band. It creates a lot of clean, sterile music. But we’re taking a different approach.) All of this freedom will be supported by a whole lot of community as we create the music together. 

We’ll try out ideas and give each other feedback. One of us will lay down a lead that sparks an idea for someone else. The guys on drums and bass may give us a groove that the rest of us can lay our parts on top of. We’ll make the music together, and that’s a good thing. 

Freedom and community make good partners. 

I’m not married and I own my home (well, me and the bank). So I have a lot of freedom in my living situation. When I’m home, I can spend my time however I want. I can use the space however I want. But I learned in college how good it is to live in community. It’s joyful and it keeps some things from going stale. It keeps away a certain kind of rot in my soul. I’ve had a couple of seasons without roommates, but I’d rather have the house full, because freedom and community make good partners. I may be able to live how I want, but it’s good to exercise that freedom with others, not alone. 

Freedom is one of the things Jesus promises us. Freedom from sin, and freedom from shame and religious obligation. But community is part of the package, too. 

I’ve seen community that tries to eliminate your freedom. This is what happens when people are threatened by your freedom, and legalism ensues. And I’ve seen community that comes alongside you in your freedom and helps you think about how best to steward it. This is life-giving and soul-preserving. 

I’ve seen people who used their freedom to demolish community. They assert their freedom at the expense of others, and it makes things ugly. And I’ve seen people use their freedom to bless their community. Their family. Their church. Their neighborhood. Their friends. It’s beautiful. 

So here’s my question: how are freedom and community getting along in your life? Are you stifled by the freedom in front of you? Education and vocation and romance and business, all full of possibility. All so daunting. Maybe it’s time for more community, time to share your life.

And if you’re looking for community, consider how the people around you steward their freedom. If they’re your band, are you all making something beautiful? 

The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

I can't think of a more beautiful expression of my freedom than love. And creating something as beautiful as love requires some community.