Sep 02, 2008
The Path of Freedom
It starts with a question.
It's usually a simple question about a contradiction that needs clarification. One week the Pastor says this and the next he says that, so you're confused and you ask a question. Almost immediately, you can sense tension entering the room, the moment the question leaves your lips. As the Pastor treads through his answer, he does so in a tone that lets you, and everyone else within earshot, know that questioning is offensive. It's usually answered in a way that makes you look and feel stupid when he's finished. You know immediately not to ask another question even though several more contradictions popped into your mind the moment you heard the answer to your first question. You file them in the back of your head and do your best to just get through the tense moment and go home to lick your wounds.
If you were raised in the Church or you have spent more than two years in it, you will most likely go home after an experience like this and begin the obsessive path of soul-searching. You might feel angry because of the way everything went down and you immediately check yourself and try your best to hold it down or expel the anger from your heart. You wonder if the anger alone is evidence that you are not as spiritual as the Pastor. Perhaps you shouldn't have asked the question in the first place. Then the question, along with its new brothers and sisters, resurfaces in your head and suddenly your mind (as if controlled by someone else) accuses you of being critical. All the previous teachings on critical people come back to you like a tidal wave. The general tone in a person's voice when they even call someone "critical" is so disgusting that you know you never want that gun pointed at you. The mere thought of being critical causes you to close down from yourself and all your stupid questions.
Without notice, however, another question drops into your brain. This is a totally new one that has nothing to do with the others. You begin to feel angry because you know you'll never find the answer because you'll never find anyone to ask. The thought of leaving the Church quickly crosses your mind but is excused and gone in the blink of an eye. Another gross emotion that you have been warned against a thousand times begins to slowly surface within you. It's that part of you that still wants answers even though you know you're not allowed to ask. Your unwillingness to let it go is the clear sign of your rebellious heart rising. For just a moment, you don't care and you embrace it, but then you regain your composure and wonder if you sounded or looked rebellious when you asked the first question. Those terms; ‘rebellious,' ‘critical' and ‘questioning,' keep running through your mind as if to beat you into submission and ensure your silence on any matter.
Once the dust settles and it seems you've learned your lesson, you sit quietly, knowing not to ask questions but your mind begins to add up all the questions you'll never have answers to.
Then you notice something.
It's usually an obvious thing that everyone sees, but no one comments on, like the way the offering money is spent or how someone was dealt with unfairly. You notice. You look around and no one else seems to have noticed. You wonder again if you're just being critical or rebellious, but you make a mental note to keep an eye out for it again in the future.
Then one day, you're having dinner with another couple who attends the same church. As if it has a mind of its own, the conversation seems to take a turn down a road you never expected. Your friends pose a few questions of their own. You find yourself scanning their countenance and watching them closely to see if they are on the same wave length. Can they be trusted? You wait another few minutes until you are sure they can take it and before you know it, you are both openly voicing all your questions and concerns. For a moment, it feels like a God-send. You're certain that God put these people in your home so you would have someone to open up to and be yourself, but later, after they've left, you find yourself secretly wondering if perhaps they weren't sent by the enemy to incite you to rebellion. You become a little afraid that they're thinking the same thing about you.
Next Sunday rolls around and you're sitting through the offering sermon looking around the sanctuary for your newfound "partners in crime." The Pastor says something that you are sure is wrong and at that very moment, you spot them and you get eye contact from across the room. Without a word spoken, you both crack a knowing smile. You know it will be discussed later over lunch. Just then the person next to you voices a hearty "Amen," and you regain your composure and go back under cover. For just a moment, you feel like an international spy. You duck your head and scan the room to see if you've been found out. It feels good. You get the sense that your cover has been blown by at least one couple and things will never be the same.
Over lunch, you hold nothing back. You find yourself passionately opening up about all the things you've seen and questioned over the years. Your new friends have seen it too. You're not alone! The feeling is wonderful. It feels like salvation, because for the first time, you know that you're not going crazy. Other people see it too. Your secret meetings with each other begin to feel like an exciting affair between fugitive lovers. You find yourself not being able to wait until you're together again so you can release all the pent-up passion from within. It feels so wrong, but it feels amazingly good. For the first time since you can remember, you're actually yourself again. You no longer have to shut your mouth and go with the flow. You can speak freely. Someone understands you. You're not being rebellious or critical because other people see it too.
Then one day at a Bible study, you get an unexpected dose of boldness and you open your big mouth. Without even raising your hand, you just voice a question. "Where did that come from," you think to yourself. It's almost like you had Tourette's syndrome. The room is suddenly cloaked in silence and the leader gives you that look that you remember getting from the Pastor the day you asked your first question. You immediately notice that even though others in the room don't know the answer, they're angry and "put out" that you even posed the question. They're appalled that you would dare to be so rebellious and you feel the dirty looks while waiting for the answer. This time you're not alone. Your buddy is in the room with you, but to your astonishment, he sits quietly with his head down and doesn't say a word. You keep trying to establish eye contact, but it's like something else has taken over his body and he's not there any more. The guy who talked so openly and honestly just a few days ago is now slinking into his seat like he doesn't know you. You're abandoned. You're alone again. You can't believe that this has happened.
Suddenly, the beginnings of a drastic thought with far-reaching implications starts to form in your mind. You realize that the original question couldn't be answered because the answer would cause ten more leaks to spring on the ship. Your religion with its many clichés, teachings and memorized beliefs finally comes to a point where the sharpness of one single truth can completely pop and deflate the entire system. Modern-day Christian doctrine is nothing but a bucket load of corks and patches that are designed to stop the leaks in a system that is quickly sinking. It is literally a game of "religious Jenga," where the moment one little block is pulled, the entire structure threatens to collaps. Your question was THAT block.
It's at this point that you realize that you don't get answers by asking questions. If you want answers, you'll have to go on an honest path of personal relationship and seek them for yourself. This is perhaps the most significant first step in a "Free Believers" thinking. It's a separation of oneself from the position of eternal student and putting yourself in a position of responsibly-spiritual adult. It's the point where you go from being fed to feeding yourself - from asking for understanding to seeking it - from memorizing to knowing. And it all starts with a question.
To even take this step, you must first destroy the wall that was built by institutional Church to insure that no one ever thinks for themselves. You have to trust the very part of you that they have warned you against trusting for your entire life: Your heart! When you do this, you immediately begin to see the irony of a religion that is completely based on heart, teaching its entire congregation not to trust their hearts. The moment you begin to live from and trust your heart, your eyes are opened to the clear and present condition of your religion.
You see a religion that is supported by memorized creeds and chanted points of doctrine, but is entirely dead in the hearts of people. You see a religion of traditions that can be learned and practiced and performed with passion like an old civil war reenactment, but when all is said and done, it's nothing more than a play that is routinely acted out, but never personally experienced. The closer you look, it becomes more apparent that it's about studying and believing what took place in the lives of people thousands of years ago. It's a history lesson that we've promised never to forget and those who remember it the most become the leaders among us all.
The longer you stay on the Free Believers path, the more you personally experience. Your opinions are no longer something someone taught you, but they are based on what you've seen and experienced firsthand. The need to defend them or prove them to others slowly fades away. While others still need a Bible verse to back everything up before they can believe something, you just know it. It's alive inside of you. Also, "answers" no longer come with the same price tag. You don't need an answer as in the past. Nothing's about to sink in your world and nothing hinges on any given answer, as when you were a slave to "the system." You no longer seek for answers in a feeble effort to plug a hole in your religion because you are no longer involved in a religion. When you live from your heart, it's about something entirely personal. Proving and defending become words of the past. Just as you would never attempt to prove to someone that your name is what you say it is, you aren't even tempted to debate and defend the things you've seen with your own eyes and experienced firsthand.
I think for just about every Free Believer out there, the pattern is relatively the same. It starts with a question, and it ends in a world that you had never in your wildest dreams imagined you would live in. That original question - no matter what it was - becomes the very key that releases you from the cage of religion. If you had not had the guts to tread through the landmines of possible accusations in an effort to get answers, you would never have been open to the universe you now know. Being a Free Believer and living in the wild is really an escape from a "head religion" to a "heart universe."
It's an escape that begins with a single question.
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