freedom

If People Are Free, Then We Will Preach Bondage

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The wonderful and always worth listening to MockingCast had a recent episode that in part highlighted why the Gospel message is one of freedom. One of the co-hosts, RJ, stated that if you believe that people are in bondage then you will preach liberation and if you believe that people are free you will preach bondage.

Sit with this little insight for a moment. Consider the Container Store. It is an entire store profiting on the idea that you and I are so free in our lives that we are willing to pay for some plastic containers that can bind up our cabinets and closets. We pay for calendars and schedules that bind us to our commitments and responsibilities. How many diets are preached that are built around binding you from eating certain things? In a land of plenty of food where we are free to eat whatever and whenever we want, we do not know how to handle it. So we pay for some binding. Sometimes freedom is so open that we are prone to wander, prone to leave that which we love.

The gospel of binding is all around us because we are under the impression that we are too free.

This bleeds into church messages. Often churches will craft messages in ways that assume that people are too free and what people need is to be bound up. They need to be bound in what to believe. Bound to follow laws or rules. Bound to action and inaction. If our messages are help bind people, it could be that we believe that people are too free.

Conversely, if we craft messages that are meant to liberate people it is because it is assumed that people are not free at all. Jesus preaches and teaches in such a way that assumes that people are bound and they need liberation. He does not give more rules to follow - in fact he speaks of only two. He preaches release of the captives and the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus preaches and teaches one of liberation because he knows the people are too bound. But it not just humans that are too bound. When given the choice to liberate or bind the demons living in a man in Mark 5, Jesus liberates the demons to go into the swine. Jesus saw that even the demons were bound and needed liberation, and so he extends mercy to allow them to enter into the swine.

This does not mean Jesus’ message is without binding. Far from it. In the moment of glory, Jesus allows himself to handed over to a people who believed he was too free, and they tried to silence him by binding him to the cross.

If we believe that people are bound then we will preach liberation. When we preach liberation, the powers and principality that are dependent upon our bondage will come for us. These powers will seek to discredit, shame, bind and even kill the one who assumes that people are in bondage.

No wonder so many of us would rather wave flags and banners proclaiming how free we all are. In our chants of freedom we are blind to the ways we are in bondage. In our assumptions that people are free our messages become binding and restrictive.

In a bit of tragic irony, when we assume people are free, we have liberated ourselves from receiving the True freedom that comes from God in Christ. And we remain in bondage, assuming we are free.

Treating Conditions as Problems

In the winter we all know that the days run a bit shorter on sunshine. It is the way the whole rotation and tilt of the Earth works. It is something we all know is the condition of the planet, something we all learn to live with. We don't try to fix it because we know it is not a problem as it is a condition. 

This is not to say that shorter days in the winter is not something we all enjoy. I like sunshine and I prefer summer to winter largely because of the amount of sun that is available. But I know that winter is not a problem but a condition that we all live with, so I don't try to "fix" it.

There are so many things in our lives that are conditions that we refuse to see as conditions but problems. For instance, I struggle with anger and frustration. It does not take much to get me to "pissed off". I have addressed this in so many ways from counseling to meditation to journaling to breathing while counting to ten. I have tried self medicating with substances like wine and beer, I have tired to punch a pillow. Nothing has worked, I still get angry and I feel guilty that I get so mad.

It was not until I worked with a spiritual mentor that I came to understand that my anger and frustration are not problems that need to be solved, but conditions that I ought to learn to live with. And I can tell you, the more I embrace my anger as a condition rather than a problem the less frequent I experience anger. 

I understand there are real problems in our lives, however we may be too quick to diagnose a condition as a problem. 

What would it look like if you re-diagnosed the problem in your life as a condition that you need to learn to live with? Can you discover the freedom that comes from embracing this condition rather than trying to "solve" it? Can you come to see that the problem may not only be a condition but may also be the very thing you need in order to live a whole life? 

The Irony of Independence

Every July 4th, the United States celebrates "Independence Day". It is your typical celebration whereby we remember the foundational values of the country and the things that bring us together. There is also a good amount of pie baking, meat consumed, and paper blown up. Perhaps one of the most "Merica" stories shared this week was the bald eagle (now named Freedom) that was ensnared by a tree limb but was freed when a U.S. military veteran used 150 rounds to shoot down the tree limb and liberate the eagle.

Of the values celebrated on the 4th is the value of independence. This value is cherished when we applaud any myth of a person who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, applauded when the loan leader goes ahead, encouraged when the entrepreneur starts their business, and is used as the proxy for failed parenting if your child is not able to be independent. Independence is so valued and idolized that it fuels the myth of meritocracy which is perhaps the creation myth of America. 

The irony is that INDEpendence is built upon a foundation of INTERdependence. It is not possible for one person to be independent without the very real interdependence of creation. Independent businesses built from the ground up are interdependent on the infrastructure of roads and power grids. Even those who live off the grid and are even more independent from the world become even more interdependent on the ebbs and flows of the seasons, weather and nature. 

We like to think we are independent and in many ways we are. However, lest we forget that the very reality that anyone can be independent is because of a true and full understanding of the interdependence we all have with one another. 

This is the tragedy of much of the talk about nations taking their "county back." The desire to take a country back, as it is currently expressed, is by building walls and cutting connections. These isolationist movements on the surface look like movements toward independence but because they undercut the interdependence we share it keeps independence a pipe dream.

True independence is like that of a soccer game. There are rules and boundaries, there is an interdependence on the officials, teammates and opponents. The more one understands this interdependence the more one is able to express beauty and freedom. Isolationist behavior in soccer leads to anarchy on the field where the game of soccer is unrecognizable. Isolationism in the world affairs leads to anarchy where there is no trust of another and the culture no longer flourishes (see the Dark Ages of Europe). 

Freedom from and for

Christianity teaches that Christ as set the world free from sin and death. That in Christ the world was liberated from the heavy burden of the "flesh" or "law". We are people who are free and no longer live under the oppression of guilt, worry, fear or anxiety.

Being set free from something is an amazing thing. I cannot imagine what it is like to be set free from something like slavery or being held hostage. Being set free is something that most of the time we cannot do on our own. If we were able to be free from what holds us captive on our own, then are we really held captive? Being set free is something that requires the assistance of a source outside of the person.

Being set free from something and being set free for something are related but also different. While being set free from something requires the action of an outside source, being set free for something can come from within. Once we are free from, we can decide what we are going to be free for. 

Many people upon being free from, take full advantage of this freedom and focus on living for themselves. It makes sense and I do not condemn this position. If I were held under the rule of someone or something it is very tempting to live the rest of my life living for my own self interest and desires. Having no desire to go back to oppression, it makes some logical sense that I would not want to take orders from anyone but from me. 

Many people upon being free from, take full advantage of this freedom and focus on living for others. For instance the tradition of the Bodhisattva in Mahāyāna Buddhism, in which a person reaches enlightenment (free from the cycles of death and birth) and then uses that freedom to help others also break the cycle.

This is the mandate of the Christian. Christians believe we are set free from sin and death, not so that we can live for ourselves but that we live for others.

Being free from is a miracle. Being free for is a choice.