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Tag Archives: Freedom

Free From A Different Jail

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“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you…..odd.”  Flannery O’Connor

God works in mysterious ways.  I’m free, but it’s freedom from a different sort of prison.  It’s been a place where I’ve been held captive to a system that has gone off the rails.  And, no, it’s not the church I’m referring to; in fact the church has been instrumental in me getting to a point where I can draw a line and say, “no more.”  The last year and a half was supposed to be spent helping manage and shore up a unique business in this mountain village of Northern California.  Instead too much time has been spent dealing with the worst form of demonic possession you find today, addiction.  I had hoped that my family member who owned the business had managed to shake off the demon before we came out here, but the possession is as strong as ever, and the demon has enlisted the support of friends and family to “help” in ways that will allow the possession to continue.  We call people who drink too much alcohol, “alcoholics.”  In my experience, however, encountering an alcoholic isn’t much different than dealing with someone who is demonically possessed.  Yes, the person trapped in alcoholism is a wonderful person, and is talented, smart, thoughtful and caring.  But the demon is not.  The demon wants to possess and control, to manipulate and to denigrate those around him.  The demon is clever and cruel, always stubborn and often arrogant.  The demon seeks to enlist those around the alcoholic to “help” out of compassion and out of love.  These powerful forces are twisted and bent to suit the ongoing possession, and sadly the people who offer such “help” sometimes get bent and twisted themselves.

When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ 26After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand.  When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’  Mark 9:25-29

I’ve run into nothing but difficulty since we got here about a year and a half ago, and most of the difficulty has come from the one possessed.   He has rarely been cooperative in the few projects I’ve managed to come up with, and has resisted all attempts at healthy change.  In the midst of this frustration, the church has helped me keep my own head screwed on straight.  I’ve been encouraged and valued by a wonderful community of faith, and it has helped me continue the slog at the family business, where I’ve been increasingly denigrated and minimized, mostly because I’ve seen the possession, have spoken truth about it, and have soldiered on because there just didn’t seem to be much alternative.

The church has reminded me that long before I ever answered the call to come help with the family business, God called me to be a pastor, and equipped me to serve and lead ; I’m called to be with people who walk by faith and whose strength comes from the living grace they receive and then offer in Jesus Christ.

For weeks now,  the alcoholic has been pouring down more and more of the stuff, shot after shot, beer after beer.  I’ve seen this lead to a crash-and-burn with him and each time it’s been more extreme and is now exceeding the flame-outs I’ve seen with the other alcoholics I’ve known.  This one was especially horrible.  We’re talking being run over by one’s own truck.  We’re talking about a DT seizure.  We’re talking about a steadfast stubborness that refuses to acknowledge much is wrong.  The demon is a crafty one.  It knows it can control the people around him as much as it controls him.  The rescue team was called up, yet again, to rescue the poor man.  Once again, lots and lots of $$$$ are being poured into his situation.  Once again, those closest to him endure the nastiest experiences and have their nerves pushed to the breaking point.  Once again, responsible behavior and accountability are set aside. and the alcoholic is coddled, almost as he was when he was a darling little boy.  Rehab is off the table.  He refuses to go to AA, and his chief co-dependent enabler is not likely to force such an action.  He’s been taken out of the environment here, with the hope that this will help.  A lifelong member of AA has told me that the location changes rarely work by themselves.  The possession will continue, whatever geographic change is made.  The demon is crafty enough to know that now is the time to lay low for a while and give everyone the impression that the guy is on the path to being “fixed.”  But the downward spiral will continue.  I’ve told people that I hoped he would have a “pigpen moment,” which refers to the point in the Prodigal Son story when the son “comes to himself” while slopping the hogs.  Whether he does or not remains to be seen.  The good news in all this is that I have had my own “pigpen moment” and have come to myself and realized it’s time to get out of this situation and back into what God called me to do some years ago: pastoral ministry.  I don’t know what that looks like yet, or where that will lead, but the journey has begun.  I’ve officially severed my ties with the business.  Perhaps there is a nearby church that will want to talk with me soon, but I’m thinking the path will lead me in a different direction.    We’ll see.

“So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!'”

Luke 15:15-17

Not Saying My Gig Has Been Anything Like Jeremiah’s, But….

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“Now look, I have just released you today from the fetters on your hands. If you wish to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will take good care of you; but if you do not wish to come with me to Babylon, you need not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go.”   Jeremiah 40:4

I’m beginning to wonder if some version of Nebuchadnezzar’s captain of the guard has been offering me a deal similar to Jeremiah’s.

Perhaps it is so, and I’m like those people you hear about who spend years in captivity, are suddenly set free, but hesitate to walk outside the prison because they’ve been conditioned not to see any other possibilities or are frightened by the sudden expanse of freedom.



We’ll see.


The Freedom of A Christian

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Paul’s words might also find useful application in the ongoing life of our participatory, though secular and pluralistic democracy:

13 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. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.  Galatians 5:13-15

The National Anthem We Ought to be Singing

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89-year-old Pete Seeger and his grandson, Tao Seeger, joined Bruce Springsteen at the National Mall to lead the crowd in singing Woody Guthrie’s anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” using Woody’s authentic lyrics.

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My Final Wednesday Evening Helping Out the Obama Campaign

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My last Wednesday night volunteering at Obama’s Golden, CO volunteer office was a surprisingly fitting denouement to this brief journey into the local workings of a national campaign.

Once again I found myself calling folks in the Golden area.  But this time it was not to discern their voting preferences and encourage them to apply for a mail-in ballot.  No, instead, some 6 days removed from election day, the emphasis was on calling people already identified as Obama supporters to ask them to volunteer some time over the weekend to make phone calls or knock on doors to get out the vote.

Our trainer, Louise, got me set up in front of a computer with a list of people to call.  Soon she returned with another volunteer who took a seat next to me in front of another computer.  The first thing I noticed was a distinct and thick Eastern European accent.  The volunteer was older, mid-sixties I figured, tall and wearing glasses.  I was on the phone already and could only glance over to see that it appeared to be an odd combination of a man’s face with a woman’s hairstyle.  After I bit I figured out that he indeed was wearing a woman’s wig.   But his attire was otherwise ordinary: black workout pants, light blue t-shirt, light blue matching socks and a pair of comfy-looking women’s slip-on slippers.

When we both had made some calls and were in a lull, I broke the ice and introduced myself.  “Hello,” he said, shaking my hand with a bit of relief and gratitude that I was willing to talk with him, “my name is Alexia.”    He asked me if I had seen “Nightline” the previous evening.  When I said I hadn’t, he began talking about the show and its coverage of a southern white supremacist group that left him a bit rattled.  As he talked it was as if his describing the show had opened a doorway for him (and me) into his past, his experience of the residue of Nazi-ism in Eastern Europe, followed by the Communist state, and then his own journey as an immigrant to America in the aftermath of the ’68 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Needless to say, I was drawn to this interesting fellow under the woman’s wig telling these rich stories of a life begun in the Soviet block and then continuing as a 1st generation American who came to Colorado from New York in the early ’70s.

The phone calls were put on hold.  It was late anyway, and as usual, practically all the calls were fielded by answering machines. Alexia was grateful for my awareness of the history he described, and we talked back and forth about life here, life there, and how crazy it is that a bunch of white folks living in America, of all places, would want to resurrect a Nazi movement that cost the world so much precious blood and life before it was snuffed out.

I did manage to make one important call, to a 65-year old woman who said she was still waiting for her mail-in ballot.  I did some checking on the county website and discovered they had no record of her application for one.  So I called her back with the news that her best bet was to take advantage of early voting on Thursday and Friday.  She thought that was a good idea and asked me, “so where do I go, the Taj Mahal?”  I laughed because I thought she was making a joke, but then realized she wasn’t joking.  That’s when I learned that folks in Golden refer to the beautifully designed complex of county buildings as the Taj Mahal.  Yep, I said, you go there, and then told her the name of the nearby elementary school that served as her precinct, just in case she couldn’t vote until Tuesday.  I got off the phone with her and felt like I had just pulled a vote out of the fire, and given this lady the reassurance that her vote was important.  Yay!!!

Meanwhile, Alexia was making calls, but like me, was getting no takers on the volunteer request.  So as soon as we found another lull, he was back to telling his story.  By then, he was comfortable enough with me to tell me, “I come to America and here I am changed, eh?”  “I wear clothes of woman.”

Yep, I said, I’d noticed that.  Then he went on to talk about his life, and how he bolted along with a good chunk of the Czechoslovakian population after the Soviets rolled their tanks into Prague.  Most of them went to Austria, “to visit relatives.”  But everyone, even the Russians, knew what was going on.  Austria, being a neutral player in the Cold War (officially, anyway) allowed these folks in.  Some stayed, some left for other parts of Europe, some like him left for the U.S.  I learned that Alexia was a Slovak and that the current separation of Slovakia from the Czech Republic was a better national definition in his estimation.

The next thing I knew, it was 8:30, time to stop calling and wrap things up.  I was sad to say goodbye to Alexia, and I think he felt the same way.  Ours was a good, warm, humorous conversation.  His thick Slovakian accent was both amusing and charming–he could speak English, but still thought in the language of his homeland, which made his sentence structures wonderfully odd.

“Maybe we both see each other Tuesday,” he said.  “Yes, I hope so, you are a very interesting person, Alexia.”

And with that, I left the suite of offices on the second floor of the shopping center in south Golden.   On my way out to the car, a thought overtook me, and with it came a warm sense of satisfaction and an even warmer sense of meaning.   My encounter with Alexia was a reminder that this country was founded on some pretty important principles:  chief of these would be the inalienable right for all of us, including Alexia, to live freely, without fear, and without the constraints of some cookie-cutter value system that would marginalize if not punish anyone not in compliance with its narrowly defined guidelines.    Such systems and societies do exist in the United States, and the people that choose to engage in such societies are free to do so.  But so also is Alexia free to be the person he wants to be; it’s in that sense of freedom that we find the power to be authentic persons, no matter how off-road that journey of authenticity takes us.   That is also the freedom that gives us the opportunities like I had that evening, to get to know, appreciate and value another human being–not despite our differences, but in some ways because of them.  That is the freedom worth fighting for, and well worth my time–as short as it was–volunteering for the presidential candidate that best represents this freedom.

The Taj Mahal in Golden, CO

The Taj Mahal in Golden, CO