I have lived in Streatham, south London for almost 20 years.
Over this time, I have spent many hundreds of hours on Streatham Common: playing with my kids, running a football club, volunteering on Love Streatham fun days, walking my dog and talking with friends. I even held my 40th birthday there which included a massive hokey-cokey.
Commitment to place
Streatham is my community. Its where we have raised our 3 children and where they have all gone to school. Its where we go to church, where loads of our friends live, its where my favourite pub is.
Sure, much of Streatham is not particularly scenic, the traffic is appalling and like any part of London, it has its fair share of challenges.
But I love Streatham because it’s a place I am committed to and invested in. And it’s an investment that has paid me back and then some. Streatham is my home: the community which I know and where I am known.
Commitment to others
These feelings about where I live are similar to those evoked from relationships with others who know and love you. You feel free to be who you truly are.
Relationships with others are central to what it means to be human. And this is why faithfulness and commitment to others will always be so central to our vision of a good life.
In my speech at my wedding reception I said something like ‘some people think of marriage as being tied down but actually, I see it as liberating’. And so it has proved over the last 21 years.
It does not mean its easy, quite the opposite. But it is through being committed, in good times and bad, that you find a deeper form of freedom.
Commitment in what we believe
Underpinning these commitments is faith that there is ultimate purpose and meaning. Faith in God should deepen our commitment to people and place.
The reason that churches are geographically rooted in parishes is because they exist for the benefit of all who live within that area. Churches should never become just a club for those who mentally assent to certain spiritual beliefs. It is a community where the Christian faith is embodied and lived out.
Genuine faith requires commitment. It is easy to keep your beliefs so flexible and floppy that they make no demands on you. But this leaves us stuck in a cul-de-sac of purpose and missing out on the adventure that committed belief gives us.
The most significant steps in my faith journey have been embodied in concrete commitments: to regularly volunteer in community projects, to move onto a housing estate in my 20s, to apply for jobs I felt called to, to marry someone who shared my beliefs.
These steps have genuinely been the best decisions I have made. Freedom has come through commitment.
This is in direct contradiction to many of the messages we receive. Freedom is often presented in contemporary culture as keeping your options open, being detached and not committing yourself. Freedom is to stay above the ties that bind you to any one person or to any clear set of beliefs.
Words like ‘duty’, ‘dogma’ and ‘obligation’ are not just unfashionable, they have become offensive. They are often cast simply as tools of the patriarchy or coercive authoritarianism. They are sins against the belief in individual choice and self-determination.
Love that matters
But in an age of deconstruction, we need to appreciate and value the freedom that commitment brings us.
Committed relationships, whether in family, friendship and community, are a crucible in which we develop our true selves. This is the love that matters. They provide the truth and grace we need.
In discussions on issues of homelessness, I have seen an increase in people talking about the importance of love. People are acknowledging that homelessness is driven as much by a poverty of relationships as it is a poverty of resources. As my colleague Simon Dwight has powerfully written Homelessness Ends in Community.
The 12 Step recovery movement teaches us that freedom from addictions does not come from an individualistic path of what you can ‘get’. Rather, freedom is found through commitment to a relational programme which requires you to give and contribute to others.
This reflects our spiritual needs of what makes us truly human. Freedom is found in relationship with others: to give and receive love, to know and be known.
And this understanding of personhood reflects the nature of God.
For the Christian understanding of God is not as a solitary monad who we seek on a lone journey. But that God is a community of Father, Son and Spirit. There is freedom in commitment because it reflects the God in whose image we are all created.