Toni Morrison said, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.” I don’t know that I consider myself free, but I know that I’m making progress on that road to freedom. I can say that I am less shackled than I once was. There was a time in my life that every thought and decision was filtered through the dynamics of what others might think, these ‘others’ were primarily family, friends and authority figures that, for me, all occupied one single solitary space that I called the church. Given how large and varied the world actually is, It is hard to imagine that most of my life everything was governed by a very small collection of people that adhered to a particularly specific interpretation of Christianity. I couldn’t even enjoy the history and diversity of Christianity, because all other varieties of my religion of origin were deemed heretical as we alone possessed the truth. A truth that defined all of our activities, relationships, and thoughts.
Even our thoughts were so informed by a rhetorical dogmatism reinforced with emotional rewards of cathartic tears and ecstatic outburst bordering on the orgasmic, that thinking divergently was an exercise that resulted in severe discomfort for ourselves and those around us. The result was that most of what I felt, or thought, remained secret, and in those moments when I did dare to share my thoughts and feelings with others it was dismissed or quickly corrected with clichéd anecdotes and pat answers that didn’t really address the questions that plagued my mind. Or worse yet, in some instances my musings were labeled Satanically inspired and “of the world”, thoughts that should be renounced with discipline by “renewing my mind” with God’s word. It didn’t work.
Because a close inspection of God’s word revealed to me passages that weren’t as dogmatic as my strain of Christianity insisted. In fact, there are entire portions of the Bible dedicated to questioning and even doubting God. The parts of the Bible that were presented to me as authoritatively prescriptive of how I should live my life turned out to be merely descriptive of how others lived their lives, in times and circumstances very different from my own. The point of these passages was never intended to serve as instruction, but as wisdom to help me navigate this life and to discern my own way. For most of my life I’ve treated the Bible as a map, when it was intended to be a compass. It turns out a compass is far more useful, especially when attempting to navigate unfamiliar territory.
I’ve heard about prisoners who upon their release find it difficult to adjust to the liberties of life outside incarceration. We refer to these individuals as becoming institutionalized, and I suspect that much of the dissonance that I’m now experiencing in my life is a result of all those years I served the institution that I called church. From what I’ve heard, some prisoners will even find ways to get back in jail, because they prefer the predictability and security of confinement to the responsibilities of freedom. This is my current experience.
Sometimes now when people ask me questions, about the Bible, about life, about the afterlife, about morality, (because I’ve lived most of my life positioning myself as a repository of knowledge and virtue when it comes to such things) I feel embarrassed that I don’t have the answers that I used to have because the certainty about such issues have all but disappeared. I don’t know is the best answer that I have, and this makes some loved ones very upset with me.
Anne Lamott writes, “If you are no longer wracked or in bondage to a person or a way of life, tell your story. Risk freeing someone else. Not everyone will be glad you did. Members of your family and other critics may wish you had kept your secrets. Oh, well, what are you going to do? Get it all down. Let it pour out of you onto the page. Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft.”
In my former state of certainty, I wrote some verses that now carries a completely different meaning for me:
My faith is wearing camouflage
Hiding in a forest of inconsistency
I can’t see what’s wrong or right
The truth is often out of sight
Of what I let others see
I’m so ambiguous
At times unsure of this
Is faith still the evidence of things unseen?
This world won’t understand
The truth of who I say I am
I just can’t deliver it
When I’m ambiguous
Unlike me you were sure
Never questioned who you were
There was no ambiguity
You healed the sick and raised the dead
On the cross you died and bled
Yet I find it hard to get out of bed
I’m so ambiguous
I now understand that there remains insight buried beneath the dogmatism of these rhymes. It is ambiguity that defines my humanity, providing an opportunity for my faith to have definition, parameters, and clarity, otherwise the arrow on the compass of my faith would spin in every direction. But because now I have the freedom to walk unencumbered by the fetters of certainty, the compass of faith no longer determines my path but confirms my direction. I’m walking forward of my own volition, and that is the best definition of freedom that I can think of at the moment.
This is my shitty first draft.