“Salvation Story: Saved From Self”

I am a free person until the dessert menu appears. Once the chocolate ganache cake is finished and I have freely licked the plate clean, I am once again free.

I am a free person until I get the call that a daughter has been hospitalized. After seeing her in the emergency room, her feeble smile and getting to hold her in my arms, I am free to breathe again.

I am a free person.  I can leap off the tallest parapet in the land…though gravity works.

I am a free person.  I shop at Meijer, Kroger, Fresh Thyme, Whole Foods and I miss my Marsh.  At each store the children’s cereals are all in the Cereal Aisle.  And each colorful, children’s cereal box is at the level of my naval.  I suppose I am free to grab my favorite, Apple Jacks, Family Size, but my physician and others have indicated that a cereal with a bit more bran would be more helpful for my body.

I AM a free person if not for my body.  Which thirsts.  Hungers.  Grows tired.  Needs to breathe.  And, fortunately, my body is ABLE to function in a world designed for fully-ABLED bodies to function in.  Though I am finding some doors more difficult to open at my age.  “Dad, the sticker says, push.”  Of course it does, daughter, I was simply checking to see if the door could freely swing both ways despite the label.

I am free.  Though the idea of some of these scientific discoveries which state that the state of the ittiest of bittiest pieces of my body are simply flying all over the universe and against my will is…troubling.  It is like being a fifty-five year old man who is conscious of limiting the amount of fluids he drinks after 6:00 p.m. and still has to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.  Troubling to my sense of freedom.

I am free but I also puzzle about God’s plan like the poet Linda Pastan.  She writes in her poem, “On the Question of Free Will,”

Sometimes,
noticing the skeleton
embossed
on every leaf

and how
the lion’s mouth
and antelope’s neck
fit perfectly,

I wonder
at God’s plan
had Eve
refused the apple.

Sometimes, I wonder that too. 

I am free to wax philosophically and theologically – eloquently in my mind where others might want me to be a bit more waning than waxing – but regardless of what others may think, after all I am free and live in a free country where my freedom is what is important, so I will wax philosophically and theologically and wonder at God’s plan. If God has a plan than what of my free will?

Which gets me to wondering even more about all this talk about free will and how free will is a gift from God – some say free will is the real fruit from the Garden of Eden – but then God never mentions that God gave us the gift of free will.  Maybe freedom is SO free that even God couldn’t give it to us as a gift?  Because there is no such thing as a gift freely given.  Because then by it’s very nature it wouldn’t be a gift.  Nor would the gift be free.

It’s a good thing that when my mind freely wanders and rambles I don’t have to make sense. I am free.

And then I freely wonder…though Jesus doesn’t talk much about freedom, except in quoting from that passage in Isaiah at the start of his ministry, “I have come to let the oppressed go free,” though Jesus doesn’t talk much about freedom he does walk that freedom talk over and over and over again. But…no, AND, God is always about AND not BUT…AND is a freedom word…BUT is a prison word…AND isn’t it interesting that Jesus never talks about HIS freedom but always acts FOR the freedom of the other.

Jesus gives sight to the blind man so he is free to earn a living by not begging. Jesus stops the stones being thrown so that a woman can be free to go on living. Jesus has compassion on the thousands who have been following him. It is late. People are hungry. Jesus’ disciples come to him and say, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But Jesus answered them, “You give them something to eat.” Feed them to free them. Jesus asks us to cross over to the other side of the road for the sake of the other who is lying beaten and broken on the other side of that same road we are walking on as well. Over and over and over again, Jesus berates religious authorities that attempt to constrain, limit, define and control how people live their lives. And that wonderful last act of Jesus as he breathes his last breath, dying on the cross? The temple curtain, call it the temple flag, is torn in two so that all may freely experience the divine.

Jesus acts so much for and so often for the freedom of the other that Paul even writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

Well, alright, then.  I am free!  Christ HAS set me free!  This is a good day.  I am free to read Paul Galatians, chapter 5, verse 1.  And I am free to stop reading there.  Why read further?  Paul has made his point.  It is Good News for me.  I am free.

And, my interest is piqued.  Paul’s words pique me, poke me, prod me – is this being piqued, poked and prodded something different from the exercise of my free will?  Or, once I exercise my free will to begin a book, the duty or obligation to finish the book is part and parcel of my free will which I exercised to begin the book, right?  Wrong? I mean, Paul endured death for the words which he wrote in life.  He chose to write what he wrote knowing that writing, “For freedom Christ has set us free,” would create a bit of a problem for say, Caesar, who, in his freedom, thought that his way was the highway.  You know that saying, All roads lead to Rome.  Literally, all WAYS lead to the Way of Rome.  And then Paul and those earliest followers of Jesus Christ called themselves followers of The Way?  Sounds like they had a death wish.  How can walking along the road of The Way and NOT walking along the road of all ways that lead to Rome be a very smart exercise of free will?

Sounds like a pretty stupid and selfish way to NOT save one’s self.

I need to return to where I started.  I…am…a…free…person.  Christ has set me free.  I am choosing to read more of what Paul has to say.  “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”  Wait a minute, Paul.  Twelve verses earlier you gave me my freedom and now you are taking it away?  Why?  I don’t have to wear a mask if I don’t choose to.  But then…you’ve turned this whole notion of freedom in Christ upside down and around and about and all catawumpus-like, haven’t you Paul?

I am free on The Way but not for me.  You sneak, Paul.  Any self-respecting, knowledgeable, wise philospher/scholar/religious thinker/teacher knows that the discussion about free will is all about the individual’s free will.  Who are you to change the pronoun of this age-old, as-long-as-humans-have-been-around-age-old, way of thinking?  How is it possible for me, myself and I to have free will…but not free will for me, myself, and I? 

As I freely process this I can’t help but think, Paul, freely think, mind you, that you are making the radical suggestion that our lives are not about us?

This whole line of thinking started with simply exercising my free will to ask for the dessert menu, to look over the dessert menu, to freely choose the chocolate ganache cake and to take a bite.  Look at all the difficulties I have been through from simply choosing to take a bite. Mind you, to take a bite of chocolate ganache cake and NOT freely choosing to take a bite from, say, a slice of apple pie.

IF, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. – Galatians 5:15

Creator of all food,
Preparer of all tables,
Head Chef,
Maître d',
Spice of All Life,
who lowers the Tablecloth
of ingredients
and the menu
before our very eyes
and declares, Eat!
Do we taste each other?
Take a nibble?
How does one devour another
and not consume another?
We bite and eat each other
because we are starving
for each other.
Perhaps another
menu is in order?
Amen.