With regard to my faith I have spent a lot time writing about what isn’t.
That sort of thing.
I write about this because it is what I have spent a lot of my time doing in my real life. Unravelling thoughts about my beliefs, chucking out systems that have become constraining.
I struggled under the weight of some repressive ideas for a long time.
No one forced these mindsets on me. In the way that most things happen it was a mix of my personality, my experiences, my choice, my upbringing, and my pride that combined to intoxicate me with the notion I was right about lots of things and stopped me from seeking out the truth.
When you have sworn by certain beliefs for a long time and defended them to the hilt, it is hard to question them. I felt disloyal to consider it.
For a long time I stayed stuck.
I didn’t realise I was meant to grapple with ideas. I thought I should just absorb them, just swallow them down like medicine. For a long while I believed this was what good people did. They just believed.
These days I am stumbling towards truth, inarticulately.
It is messy and often uncertain.
But I am starting to write about some of things that are. Some new truths.
Some things my younger self would probably call heresy.
Here is the first:
I believe in freedom.
Growing up in a loving Christian home I would have paid lip service to the idea of freedom. The word featured in the prayers of my youth. I could recite the scriptures that contained this word; about knowing the truth and the truth setting me free, about how Christ came to bring freedom for the captives.
But the life I was living did not reflect this idea.
There was always a caveat.
Jesus had brought me freedom – freedom to do what he wanted me to do. Freedom to toe the line and be good, to behave. And this can be a useful idea for a young person as it keeps them out of trouble a lot of the time. I certainly saved myself some heartache by believing this.
But faith is a living thing and like all living things it must evolve, it cannot remain static, otherwise it will decay. Food that was once a nourishment to the body will eventually become a poison.
When an idea has planted itself deeply into your soul, it can take a long time to disentangle the roots. And these tendrils had wrapped themselves around my heart and through my mind. I had tarred God with the same brush the world uses all the time and for everything – a transactional one.
I believed God’s grace and acceptance was given in exchange for my behaviour and service. The consequence of believing this lie was that I spent my time trying really hard to please God while at the same time resenting him. He became a hard task master, an impatient boss. I thought he must grow weary of my inconsistency, my inability to get it right and be a good christian. I thought he was a kill-joy and didn’t want me to have any fun.
The idea of unconditional love and acceptance was one my brain couldn’t fathom.
Over the last few years I have started to understand what it means to be free.
It is wider and bigger than I could ever have imagined.
When I was 19 I went on an ill-fated trip to Kenya with a charity. The expedition was hard and badly organised. In the middle of this difficult time we were treated to a day in Nakuru National Park. It was incredible. About mid-morning we arrived at a view across the savannah. It was like something out of The Lion King. The land stretched out before us. We saw a herd of giraffe moving across the plains, birds flying in formation, a lake pink with flamingoes. We stood still and stared. There was such a stillness and beauty and in that moment anything felt possible.
If the freedom I had known had been like my local park, attractive but predictable, safe but dull, then the new freedom I am discovering is a savannah.
Wild. Free. Expansive. All-encompassing.
The liberation is complete.
There is nothing tame about freedom, nothing manicured or fenced off. Freedom is the the whole pie, the whole nine yards. Freedom is knowing I can do anything and still know acceptance. (Yes, anything!)*
If Jesus came to set me free, to restore relationship between me and my maker, to fulfil the promise of ultimate acceptance and belonging, he did not also have a check list for how I need to behave to accept it.
Freedom has never been about following certain rules. Hard as it is to wrap our earth-bound hearts and minds around it, there are no caveats.
As soon as we place a caveat on freedom (maybe about holiness, or sin) it is not freedom, it is control.
This freedom is not a transaction.
This is a gift.
The truth is that wild.
*Does this make you squirm? Make you want to say, “but, but… what about…?”
I know where you are coming from. I hear you. I totally get it.
You want to give me all the scriptures about living a life for God, about service and a heart of gratitude don’t you? You want to read to me about holiness and the consequences of sin. I know. But until we (because I entirely include myself in this gang) get our heads around the fact that freedom means freedom and unconditional means unconditional, we are going to spend our days doing a dance between obligation and guilt, guilt and obligation. It isn’t fun. In fact it is called slavery.