Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Freedom. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

Imagine a busy city street stripped of all markings, barriers, traffic lights and even kerbs. The "naked street" idea has won rave reviews in Europe, so now itís to be tried on the busy Exhibition Road in London. Instead of the standard array of road markings to tell drivers and pedestrians what they should be doing, they will be encouraged to use their own reactions in a "shared space" to take greater responsibility for their behaviour.

Roadside instructions can be frustrating but they also give a sense of security. We assume that others will obey the same rules as we are following and that this will make everything run safely. Anyone who ignores a one-way sign, or fails to give way where they should, incurs the often noisy wrath of other road users. Busy roads are no place for people to be doing their own thing.

Thatís what people thought Jesus was doing. He incurred the wrath of his contemporaries because he ignored the conventions of behaviour. His apparently cavalier attitude to Jewish laws made people feel unsafe. It also put pressure on him. Being set free from an obligation to follow the rules sounds freeing, but having to think through every move from scratch is much more demanding.

Letís be grateful today for the freedom to decide for ourselves how to behave. We can choose to do whatís conventional. We can imitate Jesus who shows us a life lived only by the rule of love. But such ďnaked lovingĒ is a demanding choice and wonít always make us popular.

At the New York International Toy Show that starts this weekend, you can buy an 80 cm long Hogwarts Express lovingly crafted in metal. Itís pricey at £175 but Harry Potter fans will love its attention to detail. But the average visitor to Marklinís stand at the show is male, aged 40 and is looking for models of real steam engines or of modern high-speed trains. What inspires people to build their own miniature railway systems and spend such large amounts of money on stocking them? ďItís so exciting,Ē says a fan, ďletting your imagination run wild and creating a little world in which you are in control Ė rather than having the world in control of youĒ.

Controlling the world is normally thought of as Godís job and perhaps God sometimes wishes it was as simple as operating toy trains. Dealing with human beings who have minds and wills of their own isnít quite so simple. But God chose to give us freedom to make our own decisions. The Old Testament story of the creation (Genesis 1:26-31) suggests that God wants us to enjoy using that freedom - he doesn't want us to feel "controlled". Feeling that the ďworld is controlling usĒ is certainly not what God wants.

There are times when we don't feel free. Like the model railway fan, we can feel controlled by the world and other people. If so, itís worth taking time to develop a strategy to deal with the situation. It won't necessarily be easy, but if we take the Bible seriously, we can be sure we are not on our own; God wants our freedom to be real not just experienced through our hobbies.

Errol Muzawazi has delivered the world's longest lecture after talking non-stop for more than three days. He lectured at a university in Krakow, Poland, for 88 hours and four seconds. His subject was democracy. But for the majority of the time he was talking to himself; his audience fell asleep.

The election campaign in the UK has sometimes felt like a marathon talking session. But the aim of the politicians through it all has been to inform us about the issues so that we can effectively exercise our democratic rights.

The freedom to choose has always been integral to Godís plan for the world. In the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had to make the decision whether or not to obey God. The tale represents the biblical writersí conviction that Godís desire for people to decide freely which direction to go in was more important even than Godís longing that their choice should be the right one.

In his 88 hour lecture Mr Muzawazi probably mentioned that democracy depends for its survival on people using it - a clichť that might have contributed to his audienceís somnolence. Perhaps, though, itís even more important than that to vote today. Itís the kind of choosing involved in voting, among many other kinds, which for God defines what it is to be human.

Last year naked rambler Stephen Gough was arrested 14 times on his journey from Land's End to John O'Groats. This year he and his girlfriend, Melanie Roberts, and their companion, Jeffrey Woodhouse, got as far as Shropshire before facing the magistrates. There last week the naked trio brought shocked shoppers and staff flooding out of pubs and businesses and stopped traffic in Wem when they stopped to buy supplies.

Those of us who prefer our rambling clothed might wonder what it is that appeals to Stephen and his friends about this way of life. Perhaps they are in search of primal innocence, of life without all the encumbrance that clothes represent. Perhaps the simplicity of surviving simply out of what you can carry in your rucksack (even lighter without the need to carry a change of clothes) provides welcome refreshment from the complications of ordinary 21st century existence. Maybe theyíd like to be back in the Garden of Eden.

That Paradise might have lasted forever, except, so the story implies, that God wanted to give us freedom. He gave Adam and Eve the choice to eat, or not to eat, of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. The fruit was taken and from that mythological moment, humans have had to deal with all the frustrations and suffering that follow from some of the choices human beings have made.

The nude ramblers will be have to endure a number of frustrations which will undermine any sense of unencumbered freedom - brambles, bracken, sun, flies and so on. Perhaps even police dogs which are apparently sometimes trained on part of the Moors they plan to cross. Their enjoyment of not being encumbered by clothes will be inevitably tainted by such irritations.

Sometimes when life gets very complicated, we long to rid ourselves of everything that burdens us. Itís not as easy as that. But there are certain encumbrances we can refuse to be bullied by. They are often quite minor but if weíre able to let go of them, we are set free to deal with the rest of life with greater energy. Thatís a way to rediscover the freedom to enjoy life that was Godís original intention.

A friend of mine was to be a guest at a wedding and he was invited to look at the coupleís wedding web site. There were links to various stores which held their present list and information about how to get to the wedding venues. But there was also information about how the couple met, where he proposed, what they enjoy about each other and my friend felt this was a little over the top. He didnít want to be invited to look in at the intimacies of their relationship. It felt a bit voyeuristic.

Perhaps today we can celebrate our right to privacy. It is entirely our choice how much we share of what goes on inside us. We can choose who to tell about the personal details of our daily lives. We can keep what we want to ourselves; we can share with a few intimate friends or our partner; we could put it on the web for anyone who wishes to see it.

For the Christian, one of those with whom we choose to share our intimate lives is God. It is sometimes said that God sees and knows everything. But God is no voyeur. God may be capable of knowing everything about us but if we human beings regard respect for the otherís privacy as important in any relationship, the chances are high that God will also regard as important each personís freedom to share with him only what they wish. Those who do open their lives to God find a warm, understanding and loving response but it is our choice whether we're open to God or not.

As we go through today we will be making choices all the time, mostly without really thinking about it, as to what we tell to whom? Isnít it good that we can be as private or as open as we wish?

Buskers on the London Underground now have to be licensed. Gone are the £200 fines for doing it illegally and in are rules: you must have an audition and a licence, must perform where you are told to on a rota basis, and must stop playing temporarily if a crowd forms. Many buskers are not happy.

Institutions often seem to inhibit creativity by the rules they make. Maybe we feel that our creative effectiveness is inhibited by having to operate within the framework of the institutions in which we work. And sometimes too itís easy to blame the institution for any frustration we feel.

Most of us need an external framework to operate at our best. Structures which clarify the focus of our work, provide safe boundaries and supportive colleagues, and require the minimum of maintenance, can set our creativity free.

The framework God provides for our lives has rules. The most important are that we should love God and love each other. The Christian experience is that this structure for our lives helps release each believerís full potential. As a well-known prayer suggests Ď(Godís) service is perfect freedomí. Perhaps today, we could contribute to any institution within which we work by seeking a balance between structure and freedom. Weíll do this best, as with everything else, when we operate within the wider framework of Godís way of doing things.