Monday, October 3, 2016

Freedom! (A Newspaper Column for October 21)

About 24 years ago a theologian shared these words in song:
This ain't comin' from no prophet
Just an ordinary man
When I close my eyes I see
The way this world shall be
When we all walk hand in hand...
We shall be free
Admittedly, few people would call Garth Brooks a theologian, but in the song We Shall Be Free he paints a picture of what the world would be like when the Kingdom of God is made real and actual among us.

The story we find in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures is the story of a God who is trying to free God’s people from chains that bind.

We see it in Moses confronting Pharaoh and leading the people of Israel to freedom, an event so central that they remember it every year with the feast of Passover.

We see it in Cyrus of Persia, telling the exiles that they can go home again.

We see it in Jesus of Nazareth, standing in a synagogue and saying “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). We see it in Jesus healing a woman who had been bent over and crippled by an unclean Spirit for 18 years and asking “...ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage...” (Luke 13:16)

We see it in the writings of Paul, telling people about God’s grace and forgiveness.

As people of faith we tell these stories over and over again to remember where God has brought out freedom. We also tell them to remind ourselves that we are a part of the continuing story of God bringing freedom to the world. People are still in chains, bound, enslaved and God continues to help us break those chains.

Indeed, one question that is still used at baptism in some traditions asks “Desiring the freedom of new life in Christ, do you seek to resist evil, and to live in love and justice?”. To follow The Way of Christ is to follow the path of freedom.

Which makes me ask, what do we need to be set free from? What are the chains and bonds that we find in 2016? I think there are lots.

Some are personal and individual. Some are cultural and societal. Some of us need to be freed from addictions and unhealthy habits. Some need to be freed from cages built from shame and poor self image and low confidence. Some of us need to be freed from social structures that aim to keep people ‘in their place’, structures that discriminate against people based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. And if we are honest, some of us need to admit that we are a part of putting our neighbours in chains.

Recently I realized again that the Christian tradition has been responsible for a lot of chain building. The Western Church has tended to cling to interpretations of Scripture that often preference Christian, European, straight, cis-gendered [meaning not transgendered], males with money. Conveniently the leaders and power-brokers of Western society have historically fallen into those same categories. Too often we have chained people in the name of the same God who seeks freedom for all by claiming God supports our positions of privilege.

On the other hand, Liberation Theologians from the last century read the Scriptural account and pointed out that consistently God appears to have a preference for the oppressed, for the underclass, for those cast aside by society. This is the God who is working toward freedom. This is the God who has steadily been at work in the church and in wider society over the last several decades to break the chains of racism, sexism, hetero-sexism, religious triumphalism, economic disparity, and trans-phobia. God challenges all of us to break chains, to stop putting chains on ourselves and others.

As people of faith we affirm that freedom is coming. We trust that the God who wants God’s people to be free is at work in the hearts and souls of individuals and in the structures and norms of society. Some of us find the path to freedom in The Way of Christ, some through Islam, or Hinduism, or Sikhism or any of the other faith traditions we may meet. As Brooks point out in song, one of the signs of the Kingdom is “When we all can worship from our own kind of pew”.

Thanks be to God, through whom we SHALL be free!

No comments:

Post a Comment