So, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of freedom these days. Its one of the major thrusts of this blog primarily because it keeps coming up. Should Swedish fish become a major theme in my life I will likely just start writing about them…so stay tuned. (Though maybe not as this is not likely…if its a dessert, and there’s no chocolate, can we really call it a dessert? NO, I TELL YOU. WE CANNOT)
Something that has been helpful to me along the way has been to learn that several books of the bible have major themes running through them. When you grow up hearing scripture passages read out of their larger context it can be hard to recognize that the various authors often had particular themes they wanted to get across to their readers in a given letter. I’m only now learning about the narrative arc of the bible and the sub themes underneath it.
Given a consistent reminder in recent days to fight for freedom in my life, I was delighted to learn that the book of Galatians is often referred to as the “Magna Carta of Christian Liberty.” Ha! So for better or for worse I may be blogging from time to time about what I’m learning there.
A verse I keep coming back to is verse 15 of Chapter 6: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” For perspective I’d recommend you check out the whole book but in short Paul spends his entire letter chastising the Galatian church for abandoning the gospel message. The gospel had freed them up to live creatively within their callings without guilt or fear and no sooner had they accepted that message did they go back to thinking there were certain rituals they needed to do in order to live a good life. Eugene Peterson translates these lines in his Message Bible like this:
Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to [the rules, reject the rules]. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!
These passages in scripture about circumcision were always confusing to me until I realized that its simply a different word for all the little behavioral modifications we attempt to make in order to live the lives we want to live. Do any of these sound familiar?
- I’m abandoning potato chips and all desserts. Then I’ll lost the weight and then I’ll be in a better place.
- I’m going to get up early and exercise every day. Then I’ll be more energetic at work and then I’ll finally be living right.
- I’m going to pray the rosary or go to church every Sunday and then I’ll be right with God and then I won’t be so miserable.
- I’m just not going to say anything when my kid/spouse/family member/friend irritates me. If I hold my tongue then we’ll all be a little more peaceful (never mind that smell that’s stewing underneath the rug.)
Many of these things are good and right things. Its good to go to church and to pray. Its smart to be a good steward of your body. Its often quite wise to bite your tongue in a moment of strife until you’re ready for a less heated conversation on a difficult topic. Yet Paul is saying rather emphatically in this book that the minute you think any one of these things can lead to freedom, you’re kidding yourself. Rules (honor your parents, keep holy the sabbath) and even the freedom you’ve been given to break those rules were things designed by God to lead you back to Him. They are not ends unto themselves.
These are some of Paul’s final sentences in his treatise on freedom and he wants to make his point loud and clear. So much so that a few verses earlier he says: “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” I love this. All the translations I read said “with my own hand.” I’m no theologian but I feel pretty confident here that Paul grabbed the pen from his transcriber and said “Move over. I’ve got this part. Then in “large letters” with his “own hand” Paul essentially says to the Galatians in all caps: “HERE’S THE DEAL. YOU CAN BE A RULE KEEPER OR A RULE BREAKER AND IT REALLY MAKES NO DIFFERENCE. YOU’LL STILL BE IN THE SAME PLACE YOU STARTED FROM – TRYING TO DO SOMETHING TO FIND A FREEDOM THAT ONLY GOD CAN GIVE YOU. WHAT MATTERS IS TRANSCENDING THE ASININE CATEGORIES THAT MAN MAKES UP FOR ITSELF AND LIVING A LIFE OF FREEDOM IN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND OUR NEIGHBORS.
Paraphrase mine. But I think their the most freeing sentences I’ve ever written.
So practically, what does this look like?
Two weeks ago I came down with the weirdest bug. I had come down with cold symptoms a few days earlier and when I woke up with a wicked sore throat I figured it was more of the same. By lunchtime though I was googling “symptoms of strep throat” as the aspirin I was taking every 6 hours wasn’t cutting it and I was starting to get a headache. By 1:00 I started to feel like I had the flu so in keeping with my google search I headed across town to the only minute clinic I could find for a strep test. By the time I walked into the air conditioned CVS I was freezing cold and feeling like I was going to faint. Thankfully, Andy was right across the street at work and he came over and met us as all i wanted to do was go home and bury that 101 degree fever under a thousand blankets.
When the strep and flu tests came back negative, confirming a viral infection, I initially accepted that news and made a beeline for the door so we could go straight home. The more I thought about it though the more I had been certain I had had strep throat. Why would all of this have come on so quickly and randomly. So, I hit the google again (first mistake) and was suddenly quite concerned that I had:
TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME. (yes, please laugh. I am also laughing. Also, please see this post for context.)
TSS is deadly and I’d heard it comes on super fast. In my feverish state of mind it was the only thing I could think of that would have made all these symptoms come on so quickly and I knew that if I was right I could be preparing for my own funeral if I didn’t go to the hospital. But I also wasn’t sure…I mean the PA at the CVS hadn’t been too alarmed. I knew I did not want to be faced with a hospital bill if it was simply a virus that needed to work its way out.
So, I present to you my thoughts in that moment:
“Ugh, what if I have TSS. I should go to the hospital so they can treat it quickly. But what if its just a virus like the clinic guy said? I really don’t want to deal with a hospital bill if I don’t have to. But what if it IS TSS?!?!?! TSS, hospital bill, You’re probably dying, but what if you’re not, TSS, bill, TSS, bill, TSS, bill. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to pay the bill, TSS, bill, TSS, bill…”
Finally, in a brief moment of sanity, I said what I thought in the moment was a super random, off the cuff prayer.
“Hey God. I might have Toxic Shock Syndrome. I know its terrible. I wasn’t planning on meeting you today and if I do I’m sure it will be a great reunion. I’m also not sure if I’m ready to go yet and quite honestly I’m not sure if I’m just overacting to all this. I don’t really know what to do. So, um, help. Please. In a way that I understand, Lord. Soon.”
I put my phone down and closed my eyes. 5 minutes later, my neighbor who just moved in up the street whom I have met exactly once, 2 months ago, when we exchanged phone numbers for butter and eggs sent me a text message.
“Hey! Are you going to the Neighborhood Annexation meeting tonight?”
Sarah is an Emergency Room physician.
“Sarah! no, I’m not. Sick as a dog. Speaking of which, you mind if I ask you a quick question? I swear I think I have TSS. Fever, sore throat, freezing cold, feel like I’m going to faint. So random. It all came on in less than 6 hours. What do you think?”
Pause while I watch the three “she’s typing back bubbles.”
“Oh isn’t it awful? My husband has it right now too.” she responded. “I’ve already seen four cases of it. Same symptoms. Just make sure your fever stays low with aspirin. Should go away in a few days. So sorry you’re sick!”
I put my phone down and snuggled down into my blanket. By 10 pm that night, all my symptoms had gone away.
I swear, most of my natural inclinations in life are to jump between camps. Obey the rules, cover my bases, and go to the hospital or let the rules slide, come what may and, possibly, die. I don’t know about you but those have just never really felt like very good options to me.
Paul says, what matters is the new thing God is doing. What matters is presenting our lives as a blank canvas and saying you can use the colored pencils or the oil paint or some combination of both and it really makes no difference to me. I’m coming to you first, the master artist, to let you paint the picture of my life with whatever mediums you so choose.
So what does freedom practically look like? I think it looks a lot like getting quiet, however awkwardly and erratically that might happen, and lifting your head to the sun to say: