Stop The Madness!! (Part 2)

If you are new to Christianity or know very little about it, here’s the cheat sheet for Christian theology: we are supposed to find our definition in Jesus. His non-violent-Calvary-shaped-life-of-love is the blueprint for his message. He literally lived what he preached. And his politics of love are starkly different from the politics of power that the church has historically wielded over countries, denominations and congregations.

Now, part of the reason the religious aristocrats rose up and clamoured for Jesus’ execution was because he was upsetting the apple cart. He was tearing down their meticulously designed structures of oppression. He was undermining the authorities that were persecuting the people that they were supposed to help. And he was destroying a religious system that claimed to be about grace, but instead bred tyranny.

Jesus was setting out to destroy the asylum once and for all and his call on us to free his church from the asylum that she seems so keen to reconstruct over and over again echoes through history and through the pages of the bible and at a time like this, is ever more poignant.

Matthew 7 is a portrait of Jesus that shows him in all his asylum-busting glory. This passage is part of a much longer message that he is giving as recorded in the gospel of Matthew that starts in chapter 5. We find Jesus coming to the end of this counter cultural message in Chapter 7. Listen to what he says:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Ooooh Boy!

Judge not or you too shall be judged!

You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye!

Ouch!

Has there ever been a more pointed indictment against the asylum-trapped church than those simple phrases? None of us are innocent! All of us are guilty of most egregious sins, AND of classifying them in such a way that our personal ones are minimized, while those of the people that we intend to demonize are maximized. It is only when we recognize that grace has been freely and readily given to us that we not only recognize the planks in our eyes, but we in turn become agents of grace in a world desperate for it.

It is only when we realize that God is on the side of the downtrodden, the orphans, the widows, and the slaves that we stop using them as pawns in our prejudice-driven crusades against sexual minorities. It is only when we realize that the churches we belong to are exhibiting a kind of asylum-worthy behaviour, that we are able to realize the seriousness of the prophetic words of Jesus when he says this:

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

The conclusion that we must all come to, is that whether you are a Christian or not, the numerous good things we do and devote our lives to are mostly powerless to mask the stench of the crazy and hurtful things that we do. As churches we must accept that our lukewarm attempts at trying to re-write the stories of our faith communities are largely unsuccessful because the certifiable things that we do completely unravel all the good we think we’ve done. We are bad trees bearing bad fruit. We are not good trees!

This is why we need Jesus – each and every one of us. Christian or not. Through his life, teaching and his death, we see a man who perfectly embodied his message. He is the template for actions lining up with words without any caveats or explanations. What we see as we gaze on the wonder that is Jesus of Nazareth, is that it is only under his mastery that we are able to become more like him – people whose words line up with their actions.

Ultimately, this Jesus-following thing is not about our works or our displays of piety. It starts and ends with a leap of faith. Breaking out of the asylum in which we are trapped by our botched attempts at righteous living, and entering into the freedom that Christ offers, has nothing to do with what we can do. Instead, it has everything to do with what Jesus has already done by unlocking the gates and breaking down the walls of our prison.

I say this to you very plainly and very frankly. The good things that you do as an individual do not save you because the bad things you do tarnish you irreparably. The good things that your community tries to do are always usurped by the bad things your community does. This is why we are not saved by the things we do, but by something else completely – Jesus’ astonishing grace in his life, death and resurrection, AND our faith in him.

On our own, we are unable to undo the craziness of our history. On our own we are unable to re-write the wrongs of our faith communities. On our own, we callously cast aside 10,000 needy children around the world. On our own, we rebuild the asylums and trap ourselves once again.

Finding freedom and walking in it can only happen when we, by faith, accept the free gift of salvation that is in Christ. Faith is the key that will unlock the door out of the asylum and into the freedom that can only be found in Jesus

So I call on you this afternoon to step out in faith.

I call on you to grab a hold of the keys that will free you.

I call on you to leave the asylum.

I invite you to consider the message, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus

And when you have I invite you and welcome you into your true freedom.

Stop The Madness!! (Part 1)

A couple of months ago the president of World Vision announced that they would be changing their hiring policy to include monogamous, married gay people. A couple of hours later, the firestorm that was whipped up in the evangelical community over this decision rose to such fury that about 10,000 people stopped their sponsorship. The world vision head offices received over 7,000 calls mostly from Christians just taking them to the woodshed, some of them expletive-filled and calling them agents of the devil. In under 48 hours, the president returned with a new statement reversing his decision because of the visceral negative reaction from his key group of supporters – the church.

Many of us inside and outside the church looked on in horror as individuals and leaders discarded the children they were supporting over World Vision’s decision. There were many of us that took to the internet and to whatever platforms we could to plead with people to stop the insanity, but the damage was done. In the end, the collateral over a theological dispute was that about 10,000 desperately needy children around the world would suddenly and swiftly cease to receive the care that they had been receiving.

If you were somehow living under a rock and did not hear about it, I assure you that it is as heartbreaking as it sounds. It is as ashaming as it sounds. It is as CRAZY as it sounds.

But if we are honest, this is not the first time that organized christian religion has done something certifiable. And so I fear that this pattern of disturbing collective behaviour by the church forces a tough question we cannot duck.

Is it at all possible to undo all the craziness of the church?

The history of the so-called followers of christ contains more than just one asylum-worthy horror story. Organized christian religion has been the instigator or perpetuator of massive evils in western and colonial history. Everything from the inquisitions, to slavery, to the expansion of oppressive colonial empires has the fingerprints of Christianity. The forceful subjugation of people with the permission of the church, the martyrdom of people that do not adhere to a prescribed code of beliefs, and the open discrimination against people based on race, religion or sexual orientation has been an ugly calling card of a movement that traces its roots to Jesus of Nazareth and his followers.

Considering the fact that Jesus started his movement while the Jews were under Roman rule and that his first group of followers were among some of the most oppressed of society, it is astonishing that it would mutate so much and become an agent of oppression, but sadly it has.

Even today, the madness has not stopped. In countries around the world, pastors are leading grassroot movements calling for capital punishment of people caught in gay and/or lesbian activities. Probably the best known country in this regard is the country of my heritage – Uganda. While Uganda happens to be the most prominent case of this because of the grandstanding of her president, it is not the only country that has passed these kinds of laws. A simple google search will reveal several other countries that have passed or are in the process of passing similar laws. The absurdity of the situation is that these same pastors calling for the blood of LGBT people shamelessly prop up the governments that blatantly display ever-increasing levels of corruption.

And so, in truth, this latest incident with World Vision is small beans in comparison with some of the more certifiable things that Christianity has had a hand in. In spite of the many great things that Christians are doing all around the world, there seems to be an equal and embarrassingly large number of boneheaded things that we do.

It is no wonder that growing neo-atheist and agnostic movements around the world are calling for Christianity to be put into the looney bin once and for all. As far as they are concerned, not only are Christianity and other organized religions archaic, they are dangerous and they must be abandoned to the asylum once and for all. Lets be honest… if a person behaved in the way the church has historically behaved, they would be put behind bars and the keys thrown away once and for all for the good of society.

One of the loudest voices of neo-atheism, a well known geneticist called Richard Dawkins has gone as far as to suggest that if you are a Christian, you are deluded. To him, it is a form of insanity.

I understand why people like him think this way. I understand why in their minds, this kind of craziness belongs in an asylum. If the core of your message is supposedly grace, mercy and love, why is it that your actions display fear, judgement and condemnation? Where is the grace, mercy and love in racial and sexual discrimination perpetrated by christians all over the world? Where is the grace, mercy and love among christian groups worldwide that have silenced their prophetic voice in the defence of the defenceless? Where is the grace, mercy and love in the silliness of the world vision saga? Fear, judgement and condemnation are on display for all the world to see in spite of the loud protestations of the church.

King Solomon, who is credited for writing most of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, which have some of the smartest common-sense writings of all time says something so simple and so wise as to the reason why the good christian communities do is quickly erased by the bonkers things we do or support. This is what he says at the beginning of the 10th chapter of Ecclesiastes:

dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor

At the church I pastor – Pivot 613 – we talked extensively about setting up pillars – markers – that we feel will ensure that we do not perpetuate the pattern of certifiable behaviour. These pillars are: living simply, acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly, accessibility, creativity and excellence, multiculturalism and theological diversity.

What?

I know. I can’t remember them all if I don’t write them down… which is why we have.

They are many pillars and it will take time to make sure that our processes are aligned around them, but we actually believe that if we are true to these pillars, we will become a community that breaks the cycle of craziness for the most part. We believe that they reveal the heart of Christ. And I believe that more churches should go through the same process to ensure that, as a community, they do not react to external or environmental changes in ways that are less than Christlike.

Now, make no mistake about it… we are not a perfect church because we are filled with, and led by imperfect people. Because of this, we will every once in a while hurt people, but not because we are in the crazy house! And when we know of it, we will not spend energy justifying our actions, but instead be swift to repent and mend fences and bridges as best as we can. Our hope is that by pursuing these pillars, we will not be defined by the messes that we create, but rather by our pursuit of reconciliation and our commitment to building a no-fear zone.

Why have I kept returning to the the no-fear zone refrain on this blog?

If you do not forcefully reject and diligently uproot the seeds of fear, you will build communities that lash out in fear towards or about things that are new or different. You cannot bust out of the asylum, out of the craziness that faith communities around the world have precipitated, if you do not replace these insidious roots. The words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes thousands of years ago still echo hauntingly through history. A few bad actions from a few isolated people can tarnish the charitable, christlike and humanitarian work that millions of others are doing around the world in the name of christ.

You see, the history of Christian faith movements is not just one of extreme craziness. Quite the contrary actually. There are literally millions of people that are currently doing what they can to make the world a better place. Even in the face of the World Vision debacle, there are still hundreds of thousands of kids sponsored through numerous christian organizations around the world. There are those that rose up to try to pick up the world vision children that were so callously discarded. All around the world, there are people that leave the comfort of their homes and lay down their lives for less fortunate people that they know hardly anything about.

Even right now as I speak there are men and women all over the world looking to write a new story. There are people who are trying to build communities of faith whose faces and actions are consistent with the timeless message of Jesus encapsulated in the three words – grace, mercy and love. There are people trying to show that the church is not a certifiable movement filled with crazy people.

Even here at Pivot 613, we are working hard to build a community whose calling card is love first. We want to make sure that the community and individual experience with our group is one of an overwhelming sense of Christ’s love. We want to do our part to remove the dead flies that Solomon speaks of in the passage that we quoted a few moments ago.

Why? Very simply, because of Jesus.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “STOP THE MADNESS!!”

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome (Part 2) – Breaking Free Of Indoctrination

One of the things that I have thought long and hard about for the past few months is the whole issue of freedom. I am sure you would agree with me when I say that freedom is not simply exchanging one set of social rules for another. We can all smell the fear and systems of control behind the unspoken rules of our faith communities and social communities and we know that no matter how attractive the packaging looks, this too is not freedom. And yet in spite of this God-given compass for freedom, we always seem to prefer slavery to rules instead of freedom. Our journey always seems to lead us back to the same place we think we’ve left.

It is into this conflicting construct that we must place Jesus. Jesus brings his message of freedom and liberty to a people that were oppressed on two sides. On one hand, they had the Roman imperial power in all it’s might and terrible glory. Rome was not a benevolent master. Rome was to be feared and would not suffer the rebellion of the people of this notorious part of the empire. On the other hand, they had the Priestly aristocracy, the Torah, and the complicated social and spiritual rules that came with them. For the people in Jesus’ time, it was a question of choice between one oppressor and another and it is into this construct that he starts to present a new construct called “the kingdom of God”.

The Kingdom of God was a marvelous concept – a third option – that Jesus puts before the people in his time to help them see that they could move into a wonderfully new construct that was not simply about the afterlife, but that could be lived out here on earth. No longer did you have to be faced simply with the controls, rules and oppression of either master, but rather, you could find a new path in which he, Jesus, was Lord and in which the yoke was easy and the burden was light.

Isn’t this what freedom truly is? Realizing that your choices are not simply one system of control VS another, but rather a third option in which those that the Son sets free are free indeed. Realizing that even though you are in the world, you are not of this world and so you can rise above the simple constructs that rules create. Realizing that you can abandon the appearance of perfection because you are accepted just the way you are – flawed, broken and yet somehow perfect in the eyes of he that made you.

You know what the true scandal of Jesus’ teachings is? It is the fact that even though he preached freedom, he was crucified. Even his disciples were imprisoned and killed and the Jerusalem church that he established was completely destroyed when every trace of Jerusalem was ground into the dust in 70 AD. But therein lies the true beauty of the freedom that Jesus offers in his proposition about his kingdom.

The beauty is that though it may seem like you are bound by a system of control, freedom is not what appears on the outside, but what is really on the inside. So even though on the outside it may seem like you are bound by your obligations to government or society, the truth is that freedom is not an outward appearance, but an inner persuasion. This why Paul, writing years after his conversion, can tell slaves to obey their masters. He is not promoting slavery as the church has said he might have been. To Paul, the appearance of slavery is not real slavery. Obviously it would be GREAT to not have to be sold from one master to another, but even though you are sold to slavery, you can live free because freedom is inside you and cannot be simply taken away by physical chains.

But sadly, it can be taken away by mental and spiritual chains. It is so easy to remain enslaved and to crave the construct of slavery even when you are set free. You can see this in the stories of humanity – from the Israelites preferring slavery in egypt to freedom in the desert, to the people in Stockholm defending their abductors. You can see it as people spiral back into addiction after working hard to get clean and sober and you can see it as people that are freed from modern-day slavery turn around and become traffickers in an underground global business that put them through hell. The saddest of all, though, has to be in the Church. You can see people come to Jesus and be handed a physical and spiritual freedom that they could have never known and still never truly walk in the breadth and depth of the freedom they have been handed preferring, instead, to willfully enslave themselves through guilt, fear, judgement and condemnation.

However, there is hope. In the face of this, you can see traces of what Jesus was really trying to say about freedom being a matter of the heart. You can see it in the determination of the north american slaves that overcame impossible odds to fight for a concept that only existed in their heads. You can see it in the unbreakable spirit of victims of abuse and addiction that may come out with broken bodies, but astonishingly unbroken spirits. And you can see it in the followers of Jesus and especially in Paul as he writes: we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; cast down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

I believe that as followers of Christ, we have to honestly ask ourselves a couple of deep questions:

Are you really free or have you traded one system of control for another?

Are you a staunch defender of the rules that both you and other people in your faith community find oppressive, baffling and sometimes downright outrageous?

Do you find yourself wracked with guilt over breaking the rules that your faith community has created, but are not really found in scripture?

Are you exhibiting the signs of a spiritual Stockholm Syndrome all the while not realizing that you are defending the same construct that seeks to control you?

Are you still a victim of a rigid matrix offering an illusion of freedom, but not really giving it?

Are you a defender of a system of benevolent legalism rather than a champion for freedom?

I believe that in Christ we can really be free. We can be free from slavery to sin and slavery to our religious indoctrination. There is a third choice ahead of us – true freedom that can only be found in christ. You can really, REALLY be free.

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome (Part 1) – Breaking Free Of Indoctrination

On August 23rd 1973 a man called Jan-Erik Olsson strolled into Kreditbanken in central Stockholm, Sweden, and single-handedly held the place up. After a brief altercation with two policemen, he took four hostages, locked them in a bank vault, and started making demands asking for his friend, money, guns, bullet proof vests and a fast car. Over the course of the next few days, something strange started to happen between the hostages and their captors. The hostages started emotionally bonding with their captors. It was especially noted during a conversation between one of the female hostages and the prime minister of sweden. (Wikipedia)

Other hostages turned sympathetic as well, later saying that they thought Jan was perfectly lovely. One claustrophobic even expressed gratitude that the men allowed her to leave the vault as long as she had a rope tied around her neck like a dog!

This is crazy stuff!

The term “Stockholm syndrome” was coined by a criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot. He coined it based on his observation of this weird bonding of captives and captors that happened from August 23rd to August 28th 1973.

Now, Stockholm syndrome can also be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. So when a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, the aggressor ceases to be a threat.

Ok. Thank you Professor Paulo. What are you rambling on about?

I’ll do my best to explain

I do not know if your reaction to Church and christianity was similar to mine the more I realized the fine print behind what it is I had signed up for. We all know what it is like to come to the realization that a faith movement that claims to be about freedom is actually stifled by an unwritten code that is constantly changing. Many of us start out by resisting the unspoken rules, but more often than not, we give up on the resistance and accept the situation and eventually live in it so much that we start to defend it.

My own experience was that I was baffled by the arbitrary rules that my faith community placed on me. Honestly, sometimes it seemed like I had traded my freedom for slavery. The process of sanctification was not simply worked out by christ in me, but also by my adherence to a strict code of conduct which made room for only a miniscule amount of fun or… anything. For some reason, it seemed like the APPEARANCE of staying on the straight and narrow was more important than dealing with the heart issues that would help facilitate an inward transformation.

The weird thing is that the longer I walked this trajectory, the more I started to drink the koolaid. The more I was oppressed by the arbitrary rules of the faith movement I had signed up for, a weird S&M switch happened in me in which I started to both love and hate the construct. In the end, I became a strong defender of the rules and regulations that I was guilty about failing to keep never realizing the irony of the whole thing. And so like the bank employees in Stockholm, I started to exhibit a weird psychological bonding with the very things that I found so oppressive.

Have you noticed that part of the difficulty of bringing people to christ is the whole issue of freedom? It seems like being outside of Christ is a situation of greater liberty than being a member of his family. You see, the human heart cannot be deceived about freedom. We all know that we are trapped by our desires, by our social and political constructs, by our addictions and by our continued attempts to appear one way or another. So exchanging that construct for another in which we are trapped by a stifling set of rules designed to create in us something that only God can do is, frankly not attractive. This is why we have a hard time gaining traction with a world that has figured us out. They can see through the BS pitch and know that we who claim to have found freedom are, ourselves, not really free.

Lets be honest. How many people have abandoned their faith as they have made the transition from childhood, through teenage years to young adulthood? There are many, many reasons for this, but I think that one of the core reasons why Christianity has no staying power among young people is because many of them get tired of playing the rules game. Not all, but many of those that weather the storm end up buying into the rules game and become just like every one of us; a pseudo moral police imposing our opinion of morality and spirituality on a world that looks on in bewilderment. We’ve developed our own spiritual Stockholm syndrome and not even realized it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.

Can You Really Be Free Or Is It An Illusion? – Part 3

Here is the third and final instalment in the discussion about freedom.

Why is true freedom found in christ? Very simply, because he paid the highest price to purchase it. He gave up his life in the most extravagant display of love – satisfying in his death the penalty for sin and breaking its curse by his resurrection. As we said at our last all-in sunday quoting from the 5th chapter in Paul’s letter to the Roman church that he planted, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

Romans 8: 1 – 17

Paul uses three metaphors in the passage above to help you understand the gravity of what Christ has accomplished. His first metaphor is that of the law court – condemnation and the law. Our conscious or unconscious pursuit of freedom has not only yielded no results, we’ve screwed up the people, countries and situations that we sought to emancipate and our wrongs outweigh the good we have done. As far as the law is concerned, we do not deserve freedom… we are condemned… apart from Jesus

The second metaphor he uses is the tendency in each one of us to serve our basic instincts. He eloquently refers to it as “living according to the flesh”. Our pursuit of the whims of our basic instincts makes us slaves to them and so the freedom that we thought would come by “living according to the flesh” was only an illusion because we simply take our lives out of whatever master they had before and put them squarely under the mastery of our basic instincts making us slaves to them. The only way out of living according to the flesh, enslaved by it, is to live according to the Spirit of Christ. Make no mistake about it, living according to the spirit of Christ is most definitely a situation of living under a master, but the difference is that Christ is a preferable master to our basic instincts because under his mastery, there is no condemnation.

The reason that he is a preferable master is captured in the third and probably most touching metaphor that he uses in this discussion on the nature of freedom. This is the metaphor of  adoption. Living in accordance with the Spirit of Christ elevates you from the status of slavery and vaults you into the assurance of sonship. The relationship between master and slave is what you have with your basic instincts, your noble causes and your physical and mental oppressors. The loving relationship of a parent and child is what you graduate into when you hand your life over to the mastery of Jesus because ultimately, he is not interested in being your MASTER… he wants to be your father. The word that Paul uses here to describe the relationship we graduate into when we leave slavery is “Abba Father” which literally means “daddy”. This ultimately is the nature of freedom that Christ offers us – like my daughter running towards me yelling “DADDY” and launching herself into my arms never doubting for a moment that I will catch her.

If I have a choice between slavery under the mastery of my instincts, causes, physical and mental oppressors AND a freedom characterized by that most intimate relationship between a loving father and his trusting child, it is a no-brainer.

This is why as adults, we talk with great nostalgia about the freedom of childhood. There is freedom in being care-free. There is freedom in trust. There is freedom in unconditional love. There is freedom in knowing that somebody else is taking care of even the most basic needs you have. There is freedom in living under the care and leadership of somebody that you know loves you no matter what.

If our flawed earthly love can provide this kind of freedom, how much more does the unconditional love of a perfect father and a perfect saviour free us? So when, as Christians, we talk about salvation, the salvation that we speak of is a salvation from overt and covert forms of slavery. The salvation that we speak of delivers us into the loving relationship with the person that purchased our salvation. Jesus Christ is the only person that could purchase this salvation and even to this day he offers it to us. Walking in this freedom starts by accepting it. And here is the thing… accepting it will require a leap of faith as your first step, because faith is the key that will unlock the door to the freedom that can be found in Jesus

Will you leap?

Can You Really Be Free Or Is It An Illusion? – Part 2

We continue our discussion about freedom and whether it is a possibility or simply an illusion not worth chasing.

If we are to be truly honest with one another, when we talk about freedom, what we are really talking about is substituting external masters for our own internal, subjective ones.

While this may seem like freedom initially, the truth is that we are not very good masters of ourselves. As we pursue the things that we think are right or noble, or simply what we want, we inadvertently end up recreating a world in which the oppressors we fought so hard to bring down rear their heads in new and more sophisticated ways. The causes that start out as noble or benign can quickly become dictatorial masters with little regard for those that may disagree or have separate causes. The personal whims that seemed so small and harmless when we first started pursuing them can quickly become destructive forces tearing our lives and relationships apart.

In the end, we find ourselves back where we started. And so we must ask a simple, but tough question:

CAN YOU REALLY BE FREE OR IS FREEDOM AN ILLUSION?

As a pastor, here’s where I am supposed to say, “You can find true freedom in the church and in christian community!”. But can you really?

I’ll be honest with you. One of the things that the church is going to try to sell you on as part of their pitch to bring you in the door is the whole concept of freedom. I’ve seen the pitch my whole life because I am a pastor’s kid and I know it inside out. This is what it looks like: Amplify an issue about humanity or a generic brokenness that can be found in each one of us, and then propose Christianity as the way out or the path to freedom away from the issue or brokenness. And yet if you’ve been a christian long enough, you know how it can sometimes feel like you left a situation of more freedom and entered an institution of less freedom – the church. You know how it can sometimes feel like all the fun stopped a few days after you prayed a prayer, went to a christianity 101 class and got handed a bible. You know how it can sometimes feel like you moved from  the weekend drunk tank to a maximum security, death-row establishment.

At churches we love our rules. Our arbitrary reactive policies based on the pet issue of the season. As pastors and gatekeepers, we defend these rules with every means possible – even the bible – all the while creating weekly gatherings obsessed with ever-increasing levels of legalism. Even though we who lead the church would go to great lengths to vehemently deny it, the sad truth is that many of us who are christians have at one point or another been a part of a faith community that is more concerned with the appearance of keeping the arbitrary rules of the group rather than following or obeying the bible. This is a sad, but unfortunate truth: what many churches are offering you is not real freedom. Instead it is a substitute master – their rules instead of yours.

Honestly, this is why I left Christianity for a while and even after returning to it, I nearly quit again 10 years later.

Here’s the thing we find when we really start pursuing freedom. Contrary to what we may really think about freedom being the desire to do what we want when we want to do it, freedom is not just simply a state of heart and mind, it is about who has mastery over the heart and mind.

Think about it, since most of us think that freedom is doing what we want, when we want to do it, we live our lives in service of our inclinations and instincts. They have mastery over us! Even in the corporate sense of the communities that band together for freedom, this concept still applies and so if your community does what it wants to, when it wants to do it, the community also exists in service of the collective inclination or instinct. And so, just like the individual, the collective instinct of the community has mastery over it. In the absence of external masters, both for the individual and the communities seeking freedom, the internal inclinations or group persuasion become substitute masters.

So we must face this tough truth. The concept of being free in the sense of being completely devoid of living in service to something or being under the mastery of something, somebody or some concept simply does not exist. The nature of humanity is that we are always under a master. Sometimes our masters are our physical captors, while other times our masters are our mental oppressors. Sometimes our masters are the noble causes that, in spite of their flawed nature stir us to action, while other times our masters are our basic instincts.

If this is true, then the concept of freedom is not so much about being devoid of mastery because this is impossible, but rather it is about the master that you choose for yourself. If you want to really be free, you have to substitute an oppressive master for an empowering one. YOU HAVE TO PICK THE RIGHT MASTER. At Pivot 613, we are persuaded that the master that offers true freedom is Jesus of Nazareth.
So to answer the question I asked earlier about freedom being an illusion, this is what I would say. If you want to create a version of freedom in which there are no masters – not even your basic instincts, you are pursuing an illusion. If, however, you desire a version of freedom that exists under a master that can really lead you to it, then the master you seek is Jesus. The freedom that any other master than him can offer you is an illusion as well!

This discussion continues in Part 3. Subscribe to the blog to receive an update when it and others are published!

Can You Really Be Free Or Is It An Illusion? – Part 1

As a child, I distinctly remember hearing a group of adults talking and saying something that made a huge impression on me. They were talking about the freedom of childhood. I think I was about 9 or 10 at the time and looking around at my life, I did not quite understand what they were talking about. I did not have that many freedoms at all. I had to get up between 5.30 and 6 in the morning, have breakfast and be out the door by 6.30 to make it to school – I walked to school. When school was done, I walked home, played for about 30 – 50 minutes, did homework, had dinner and went to bed.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

In my 9-year old mind, it seemed ridiculous that I had any semblance of freedom and yet here were a bunch of adults wishing they could be me again. IT WAS SO WEIRD!

As a 9 or 10 year old, when I looked at the adults in my life, they all seemed to do whatever they wanted. They went where they wanted to go, ate what they wanted when they wanted to eat, drove whatever cars they wanted, went to sleep when they wanted, and most annoyingly, made up whatever rules they wanted!

At that age, I thought that they were just blowing smoke. Being a grownup was, most definitely, a situation of more freedom than being a child or so I thought. And from that stage in life, I started to look forward to the day I would be an adult, completely free to live my life, shape the world as I wanted and do whatever I wanted when I wanted to do it.

These days I look back at my 9 or 10 year old self and laugh at him. I wish I could go back and tell him that the adults he overheard talking were not really blowing smoke. I wish I could go back and tell him that a day would come when I would wish to be him again. But I know that he will look at me, smile and nod, say “yes sir” and not believe for an instant that I am telling him the truth! To my mind at that age, being free meant doing whatever you wanted to do when you wanted to do it.

Many would argue that speaking about freedom only in the sense of doing what you want when you want to do it is a myopic view of it.

People that want to exploit the earth of her natural resources without paying any attention to the waste and damage they might cause desire freedom from regulation and tree-hugging activists trying to save whatever is left of our planet. People that want to maximize profits without regard to social responsibility desire freedom from the checks and balances that have been put in place to curb unbridled capitalism.

On the other hand, there are other people that are bought and sold into slavery in an underground global slavery market that desire freedom from their masters. There are those that wrestle with addictions and desire freedom from their substances of choice. People that are under the crushing weight of political oppression desire freedom from the despots that rule over them. People that live under systems that discriminate against them based on race, gender or sexual orientation desire freedom from these systems and the ignorance that perpetuates them.

So the proposition is that freedom is not just about the individual doing what he or she wants, whenever he or she wants to do it. Many contend that freedom is also subjective and is based on the perceived oppressor over your life or obstacle in the way of your intended goal.

People have lived their lives and died in the service of freedom – whatever subjective variation of freedom they give their lives to. We sing their praises from our podiums and pulpits, create monuments and national holidays in celebration of the lives that they gave because the concept… the idea of freedom is powerful, unifying and inspirational.

You know what the unfortunate thing about the fight for freedom is? Most of the time our hard fought freedom simply transfers our slavery from one master to another. When we demand freedom from one oppressor, we inadvertently substitute one despot for another.

The people who demand freedom from slavery very often and very easily find that the people who fought for their freedom bind them with chains of racism and discrimination.

The people who fought for freedom from colonial rule have found themselves under the oppression of tinpot autocrats that rape and pillage their countries.

The people who try so hard to break the hold of one addictive substance over their lives usually end up simply substituting one addiction for another.

The people who fight against racial, gender or sexual discrimination find that the fight against discrimination is like playing whack-a-mole as one prejudice is substituted by another.

But here is the REAL kicker. If you give some thought to the permeating thread that binds 98% of all human desire for freedom, you find one singular, unifying thing. In spite of our loud protestations, when we speak of freedom, what we are really saying is that we want to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, with whomever we want to do it. So the instinct that I felt as a 9-year old is not myopic after all, it is a universal feeling. If you are careful to peel back all the layers in almost every case of freedom spoken of, lived in service of or died for, we are talking about a freedom to follow our internal wiring, our social or educational indoctrination, or our personal persuasion. We want to be free to serve ourselves.

Part 2 coming up soon