Friday, January 25, 2013

Freedom From Fear

It's been nearly four years since I first cracked open this sweet book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. I may have said this before, but it's so true, I feel the  need to say it again -- Brennan Manning has a way of portraying truth that is raw and vulnerable. It's hard not to relate to it. There is such weight with the concepts and topics he covers and they're all so relevant to this life we lead that I have yet to make it all the way through his beautifully painted picture of grace; the words that make up the pages of this book.

Today I read through chapter 8 for the third time... I've marked it and taken my notes to the best of my abilities and in attempts to not share the chapter in it's entirety with  you... but it may come close... so, I apologize in advance for that!

The basis of this book is to convey to it's reader that the truth of grace can be a reality lived out in our lives. Oftentimes we claim to grasp the concept of grace and are willing and able to portray it to others, but don't fully understand it and truly believe it's power and liberation in our cores.

While we profess our faith in God's unconditional love, many of us still live in fear. Nouwen remarks: 'Look at the many 'if' questions we raise: What am I going to do if I do not find a spouse, a house, a job, a friend, a benefactor? What am I going to do if they fire me, if I get sick, if an accident happens, if I lose my friends, if my marriage does not work out, if a war breaks out? What if tomorrow the weather is bad, the buses are on strike, or an earthquake happens? What if someone steals my money, breaks into my house, rapes my daughter, or kills me?

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but these past few years has been one of the most difficult seasons of my life. Currently, I feel like every compartment of my life is up in the air: hanging in a juggling act, a holding pattern of sorts. I can just see all these possibilities floating among the clouds. I want to be able to grasp them, to rely on something, to commit to a 'plan'... but I feel that each time something comes up. I can only say, 'It really just depends...'

Depends on what, you ask? (Sometimes I do too.) Depends on everything! A job prospect, a possible friend, location, salary, motives, community, vibe... Seriously. I'm that girl.

I feel like Henri Nouwen in these moments. I raise so many questions that I fail to see what's going on right here, right now. I do everything within my means to 'make' something happen out of my own efforts and fail to acknowledge that God's the one in control. Without trusting Him I'll be in this blasted season for the rest of my life. Tough lesson. Tough love? I'm not exactly sure just yet.

Back to the text:
Once these questions guide our lives, we take out a second mortgage in the house of fear.

Jesus says simply, 'Make your home in me, as I make mine in you' (John 15.4). Home is not a heavenly mansion in the afterlife but a safe place right in the midst of our anxious world. 'If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him' (John 14.23).

Home is that sacred space -- external or internal -- where we don't have to be afraid; where we are confident of hospitality and love. In our society we have many homeless people sleeping not only on the streets, in shelters or in welfare hotels, but vagabonds who are in flight, who never come home to themselves. They seek a safe place through alcohol or drugs, or security in success, competence, friends, pleasure, notoriety, knowledge, or even a little religion. They have become strangers to themselves, people who have an address but are never at home, who never hear the voice of love or experience the freedom of God's children.

I realized that this is my life. I am a vagabond. I even named my attempts of a company after the concept. This blog is titled 'girl with a gypsy heart.' I, at my deepest being, in my core, am a wanderer. Constantly in flight, in fear of slowing down and facing myself.

Jesus says: 'You have a home... I am your home... claim me as your home... you will find it to be the intimate place where I have found my home... it is right where you are... in your innermost being... in your heart.'

I know these things to be true. Why is it so difficult to claim them as my own and let them be my reality?

Here is the root of Christian joy and mirth. It is why theologian Roger Hotchkins at the University of Chicago can insist: 'Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to the veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.' Unfortunately we sometimes become somber, serious, and pompous. We fly in the face of freedom and grimly dig deeper into the trenches. In the words of Teresa of Avila, 'from silly devotions and sour-faced saints, spare us, O Lord.'

I'm sure this is one of my biggest struggles with the church or organized 'religion/faith'. There are so many contradictions! We preach freedom, but have expectations of near perfection. We claim that we're not perfect, but are to walk in a manner worthy of Jesus. Jesus is worthy of perfection... yet, He knows we're not perfect - at least, not here, not now.

We must choose either Christ or the Law as author of salvation.

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about the Blue Zones Project and they were saying how they want to create events and opportunities for the community to come together and unify that is open, inviting, and welcoming to everyone. Why do I bring this up? I bring this up because the next thing she mentioned was that these events won't be happening at churches because not everyone feels welcomed or invited in a building with a purpose to house the public worship of one belief. I have been attending church my whole life and I still feel that way. I was overwhelmed with sadness, just this past Sunday, at the realization that sitting in the huge congregation, surrounded by literally hundreds of other people, I felt more alone than I do on my own at home. How am I supposed to satisfy my need for community? So, that conversation about the Blue Zones caught me off guard at first, but then rang just a bit too clearly. It's horrible.

We have undoubtedly heard that freedom is not license for lust. Maybe that's all we've heard -- what it isn't. 'Such an approach, whatever its limited truth, is defensive and afraid. Those using it wish above all to warn us of the dangers of thinking about freedom, of yearning for freedom. Such an approach generally ends up by showing us, or at least attempting to show us, that freedom actually consists in following the law or in submitting to authority or in walking a well-trod path. Again, there may be some truth in these conclusions but there is lacking a sense of the dark side of the law, and of authority, and of the well-trod path. Each may be and has been turned into an instrument of tyranny and human suffering.'

Some of the words used in that past paragraph make me cringe. They're often very good things, but after experiencing them in an unhealthy manner, they create an unsettling effect in my heart.

Re-focusing on FREEDOM:

What does freedom in the Spirit look like? 'Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom' (2 Corinthians 3.17).

Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing, and the bondage of human respect. The tyranny of public opinion can manipulate our lives. What will the neighbors think? What will people think? The expectations of others can exert a subtle but controlling pressure on our behavior.

In Christ Jesus freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move freely in the mystery of who we really are.

How beautiful is that?! Because of Jesus, our all-powerful Savior, we have the freedom to move in the beautiful mystery of who we really are, the unique and wonderful being the Triune God and Creator of the universe created us to be! Hallelujah!

This is encouraging:
Disgruntled and disgusted, The Prince of Darkness slinks up to the chalet of bummed-out disciples who have made their home in Jesus and nails a legal document to the door:


You are hereby banished from
the House of Fear forever.
With malice aforethought, you have
flagrantly withheld the monthly rent
Of guilt, anxiety, fear, shame,
and self-condemnation.
You have adamantly refused to
worry about your salvation.
Already I overheard one dismal tenant say,
'There goes the neighborhood!'
Your freedom from fear is not only
dangerous but contagious.
Real estate values have plummeted;
gullible investors are hard to find.
Your callous and carefree rejection
of slavery!
A pox on you and
all deluded lovers of liberty!
-The Prince

Oh, how I pray that would be the reality of my freedom. I pray that I would realize the joy and liberation at hand. I really think I do, often even. But sometimes I get so bogged down by what others might think or perceive of my actions or situation. I become more concerned with their view of me than I do of my sweet Jesus' view of me. Ugh, how quickly I lose sight of His unending love for me. How can I miss His constant pursual of me? I need perpetual reminders that in Christ I am free. Apart from Him, I'm hopeless.

Living by grace inspires a growing consciousness that I am what I am in the sight of Jesus and nothing more. It is His approval that counts. making our home in Jesus, as He makes His in us, leads to creative listening: 'Has it crossed your mind that I am proud you accepted the gift of faith I offered you? Proud that you freely chose Me, after I had chosen you, as your friend and Lord? Proud that with all your warts and wrinkles you haven't given up? Proud that you believe in Me enough to try again and again?

Are you aware how I appreciate you for wanting Me? I want you to know how grateful I am when you pause to smile and comfort a child who has lost her way. I am grateful for the hours you devote to learning more about Me; for the word of encouragement you passed on to your burnt-out pastor, for your visit to the shut-in, for your tears for the retarded. What you did to them, you did to Me. Alas, I am sad when you do not believe that I have totally forgiven you or you feel uncomfortable approaching Me.

Whoa. There's an eye-opener. It seems I need to work on my creative listening, relying on the grace He's always provided.

This is an example that rang so true to me. My heart is hard-wired to be drawn to children. They are fascinating and wonderful. They bring me joy and make the deepest parts of my heart shine through.

A little child cannot do a bad coloring: nor can a child of God do a bad prayer. 'A father is delighted when his little one, leaving off her toys and friends, runs to him and climbs into his arms. As he holds his little one close to him, he cares little whether the child is looking around, her attention flitting from one thing to another, or just settling down to sleep. Essentially the child is choosing to be with her father, confident of the love, the care, the security that is hers in those arms. Our prayer is much like that. We settle down in our Father's arms, in his loving hands. Our mind, our thoughts, our imagination may flit about here and there; we might even fall asleep; but essentially we are choosing for this time to remain intimately with our Father, giving ourselves to him, receiving his love and care, letting him enjoy us as he will. It is very simple prayer. It is very childlike prayer. It is prayer that opens us out to all the delights of the kingdom.

Isn't that freeing?! Not to say that maturity is something to be overlooked or even not sought after, but at the end of the day, we are His. We are children of God, loved regardless of what we're up to. I once had a boyfriend who was very... tight-laced? He was great, there's no doubt about it, but the two of us had some major differences and our view on how we can approach God was one of them. I think the first red-flag for me was when he tried to correct me after we had prayed together. He was quite a bit more knowlegeable than me on Biblical matters and I trusted him in most of these things. I admit that I don't take correction well, but I think that my conversations with God are a very precious, yet vulnerable thing. Something that is not to be taken lightly and something that I should be free to approach Him no matter where I'm at. *sigh* This tid-bit about the child and her father I just shared with you was the first recognizable thing to help me conquer the insecurity and confusion that I've been wrestling with from that dilemma for the past 5 years. Praise Jesus for breakthroughs. :)

If we have made peace with our flawed humanity and embraced our ragamuffin identity, we are able to tolerate in others what was previously unacceptable in ourselves.

How easy is it to judge others of things we, ourselves are all too capable of, and have even probably struggled with at one time or another anyway? We're all broken. We're all imperfect. What do you think would happen if we came together and rallied for compassion? :) How do you think we could impact this world if we chose love rather than judgement. What if we had a revolution of healing rather than constant war. It's true, I'm a dreamer, but I am encouraged by David's words in Psalm 20 verse 4: May he grant you your heart's desire and fulfill all your plans! We were meant to be dreamers! And hear me now, believe me now: I'm not the only one!

The gentleness of Jesus with sinners flowed from his ability to read their hearts. Behind people's grumpiest poses and most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their arrogance and airs, behind their silence, sneers, and causes, Jesus saw little children who hadn't been loved enough and who had ceased growing because someone had ceased believing in them. His extraordinary sensitivity caused Jesus to speak of the faithful as children no matter how tall, rich, clever, and successful they might be.

'Assured of your salvation by the unique grace of our Lord Jesus Christ...' is the heartbeat of the gospel, joyful liberation from fear of the Final Outcome, a summons to self-acceptance, and freedom for a life of compassion toward others.

This is my prayer. That I will be able to love others as Jesus does. That I will be able to overlook the hurt and offenses and see the child within. That by loving people, Jesus will reach peoples hearts through me. That through my relationship with Him, others will come to a place of joyful liberation, self-acceptance, and a life of compassion towards others.

In a Catch-22 situation, the way of gentleness brings healing to ourselves and gentleness toward ourselves brings healing to others. Solidarity with ragamuffins frees the one who receives compassion and liberates the one who gives it in the conscious awareness 'I am the other.'

What a beautiful cycle.

With all that said... :) I challenge the 2.4 people who will read this to take a closer look at the fears that are keeping you from living a life of freedom and liberation. What are some things that you need to address today that would enable you to see others as the children of God they are? What are the things you can forgive yourself for and heal from? What are the specific flaws that you've been holding against yourself?

What are some steps that you can take today to make peace with your flawed humanity? How can you fully embrace your ragamuffin identity? We've all got things we'd rather not have. We've all got scars, baggage, hurts... think about some things that were previously unacceptable in yourself -- that had someone known and tolerated, would have resulted in a moment of healing. 

Go and be that person.

Love those you encounter.

pit-stop on my way to my most favorite place to sit with Jesus - a place where liberation was always a guarantee.

**All the excerpts from this post came from the eighth chapter of the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.