Friday, October 15, 2010

Permission to be Free

A short meditation...

Nowadays, I do a lot of my religious meditation/thinking by looking past the historical/literal sense of things and trying to see the concept behind it. This helps me come to grips with the doubts that have plagued me lately and gets me past trying to figure out what is historical and literal, and helps me look for what the point is behind any particular doctrine.

In doing this, I reached a point where I realized that the message that we call "the gospel" is, at its core, an affirmation for humanity.

Imagine being part of a religion in which the level of commitment and requirements are high, so high that the average person probably can't meet them financially, or morally. Imagine being part of a culture that describes itself in terms of being "chosen" and yet your history and Scriptures are full of stories that record your failures, every exile, every instance of rebellion, every rash decision by your group's important leaders, and every threat and warning delivered by prophets threatening God's judgement.

That's your identity...being part of a people crushed under the Roman boot probably because it's punishment for a large-scale spiritual failing. After all, that is the way that every national calamity has been portrayed for the last 800 years or so.

Now imagine that someone appears with a message, and the message is that none of that matters. That God accepts all those who want to be accepted. That God is not angry, but wants relationship with people. That the burden of commitments and requirements and meeting all of God's expectations is no longer carried by you and your nation.

Christian doctrine places all those burdens on Jesus pretty early in its development, making him the bearer and fulfiller of commitments and requirements, but just think about what it means for the people of that time and place and with that history to be given this message.

Now, imagine for a moment that someone comes to you personally and says,"I know all the times you have blown it and screwed up and been less than you should be....but I just want you to know that you, and your life, have value and worth and acceptance in my eyes."

That is a powerful, life-affirming message. And that is what Christianity provides whether or not we believe in all the literal arguments put forth by Christian apologists.

Somehow, this message gets lost in some of our incarnations of Christianity. The message becomes one that was for "those people" in the first century; Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and lawyers. Yet, we are the same as "those people", we have only exchanged the Jewish law and pathos for our own law and pathos.

So what were "those people" waiting for? They wanted vindication, a messiah that would prove that God ultimately hadn't abandoned them, that they still were His "chosen" people, his beloved Jacob.

That is exactly what the story of Jesus provides, permission to feel free. Permission to feel loved. Permission to feel forgiven, even if you hadn't met the expectations that you, yourself, hold.

The permission to let go of what you thought had to be.

The permission to move forward, in a different direction.

And that's powerful.


Retriever said...

Well done. Did me good to read it, thanks Terri! Particularly since I have been in Pharisaical mode myself lately, weighed down by cares,worries, not inspired at all...

I think one tends to judge most harshly when one feels (or is) most under the boot onself. Not that that is any excuse, but it explains SOME of it.

Also, don't get mad at my cheesy Hollywood example, but for some reason as I read your description of freedom after being weighed down by law, history, failure, etc. I had a mental picture of that scene in the movie Gladiator where Russell Crowe and those dispirited gladiators are tossed out to the arena where they are supposed to be sliced and diced by the charioteers for the amusement of the watchers. Only he uses his training and experience as a general to muster them and organize them "strength in numbers" or "stand together" or whatever it is he says. And they stand and fight and win. Like free men. Not slave victims.

Probably not the kind of example ou were looking for, but it seems that much of our life feels like slavery, burdens, judgments, failures. But Jesus came to give us life, and more abundant life. And that life is not just about picnics and stained glass windows, but about strength and courage to endure thru pain and trouble, to not be imprisoned by them, to face danger, enemeies, as well as to overcome ourselves, as well as the courage to act lovingly despite our fear of rejection or ridicule, etc.

terri said...

Thanks for your comment Retriever.

Sorry I didn't respond sooner!

I'm not mad at your Hollywood depiction. The stories we latch onto and that have meaning for us are tied to who we are.

You frequently invoke tigers, lions, wild animals and gladiator analogies in your writing... the ferociously untamed and simultaneously majestic and noble.

Those images speak to you and give you strength...and that makes them useful!

Like a Child said...

"Somehow, this message gets lost in some of our incarnations of Christianity. The message becomes one that was for "those people" in the first century; Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and lawyers. Yet, we are the same as "those people", we have only exchanged the Jewish law and pathos for our own law and pathos."

Great quote!

Sabio/Jōsen said...

,"I know all the times you have blown it and screwed up and been less than you should be....but I just want you to know that you, and your life, have value and worth and acceptance in my eyes."

Lots of faiths say that.
But no one had to die to make it true.

terri said...


Death is always with us. WHile you might dislike the image of a sacrificial's just one way of incorporating what we see around us...a world full of death and injustice.

This post is not about substitutionary atonement, its about what's behind it.

Sabio/Jōsen said...

Yeah, I like the idea of acceptance, I dislike the idea of :
- in born dirty sin
- need to kill to please a god
- our way is the only way

I know you don't hold those, but I am always puzzled by those that keep putting them forward even though they radically transform them. But I am not temperamentally a traditionalist.

terri said...

"in born dirty sin"

I don't think that I believe in Total Depravity, in capital letters, anymore...but I do think that human beings can and do generally suck sometimes. We do things we know are wrong. We injure the people closest to us. We are sometimes self-destructive.

Total Depravity is simply a way to try and explain what we can easily see with our own eyes.

Humans can do terrible, terrible things...many times without traceable provocation.

I'll get to your other points later....I'm headed out the door right now.

Sabio/Jōsen said...

see ya later then ..
My point: lots of faiths and non-faiths wrestle with all this stuff. Their various answers vary even within their own systems and what the average believer does is another matter.

It is just that I encourage looking at the humanity behind it all -- at our common efforts with tons of different jargon, rituals, magic and philosophies covering up what is only essentially human.

And addressing that humanness is excellent -- as your blog does.

Assistant Village Idiot said...


Well, that's certainly been your ongoing theme - that everything good about the Christian faith is found in all other faiths, and everything unique about it is bad. It puts me in mind of GK Chesterton's quote "she was the sort of person who kept patiently explaining to you that Buddhism and Christianity taught the same thing - especially Buddhism."

"lots of faiths and non-faiths wrestle with all this stuff." No, really? None of us Christians had ever heard that before.

I am sure it is not merely rhetorical and argumentative when you describe Christian doctrines in such a slanted way - I don't doubt that in your mind you have seen the reality, which Christians shield themselves from by prettifying.

Consider the possibility that to be above all creeds, seeing through each and seeing better than their adherents, is an emotionally satisfying belief that provides great psychological benefits. For this reason, the self-examining person will take especial care to make sure he has removed that advantage in his imagination - so far as such things are possible - before adopting it with such certainty. That is, the "crutch" argument works better against unbelief than it works against belief.

Sabio/Jōsen said...

(1) I am not sure I think "EVERYTHING" unique to Christianity is bad.
(a) There are tons of different types of "Christianity" with many offering strong contradictions to each other. So it depends on which ones you are speaking.
(b) Indeed, most aspects of the various Christianities are shared some other faiths, I think. I am suspicious of an uniqueness except details of any faith's particular story. For many deep principles (some contradictory) are shared between faiths.

(2) I am definitely not a person who says, "Hey, we are all just the same. Why not just get along." I am highly critical of much of Buddhism and presently pissing off lots of Buddhists on their sites and ones who have commented on mine. I hope you can see me as equally cancankerous! Smile.

(3) You are mistaken to feel that in my "mind [I} have seen the reality, which Christians shield themselves from by prettifying."
I am curious if you have read my blog. Sorry if I gave you that impression.

(4) I am not totally sure I follow what your last paragraph is suggesting to me. But I agree that the irony of forming a creed which is above all other creeds is a silly delusion. Instead, I am suggesting self-doubt and humility. Or at least I am hoping I am. Maybe you are catching some of my many hypocritical slips! Smile.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

As for the contemplation, I find that Genesis, precisely because so much of it seems problematic or even repellent at first, is similarly powerful. We know that we apprehend poorly. Is it not likely that it is the doors we have dared not open contain the missing pieces?

Evangelicals tend to be very epistle-oriented: codifying, organising, smoothing out all problems. The parables send us in the opposite direction, into puzzles and difficulties. Standing in the sandals of the local Essenes, or Zealots, or Sadducees, or Pharisees - slaves or nobility, women or men, Jews or Gentiles - can help us hear it anew. Few of these were primarily concerned with "Gee, can we work all this info into some overarching theory that we can write down and tuck away as settled," but to hear if God might be interested in them and their state, and what He thought of their plight.