Live Free or Die

I’m convinced that whenever we ask questions from the depths of our soul, our lives become about trying to find the answers. For some people it might be something simple like “what career will I have when I get older?” Those people will probably work and work until they find what fits them. Then they will live to maximize it. Some people are more complicated. Maybe an early life of pain and uncertainty causes them to ask questions like “why did this happen to me?” They may live their lives acting out the pain and suffering they experienced or working with others with similar stories in hopes to find their answer. Then you get people who ask questions which they may never find answers to in this earthly existence–questions like, “what is freedom or what is love?” Those are questions I asked myself at an early age. People like me can be found being cops, in the military, or doing some risky activity like climbing mountains with no rope or jumping out of planes. You may also find us struggling with addiction or clinging to religious doctrine with superstitious fervor. We often like living on the edge of death or are fascinated by those who do because the thought of being absent from the body is imagined to be the ultimate freedom. Plus every little kid knows that most people don’t really share their absolute feelings about others until they die. So people like this usually imagine that only in their passing will they feel the love that they feel is due them. People like me need something to keep our feet on the ground. I found my something in Jesus.

I know that some people make assumptions about what my Jesus statement means. They hear the name Jesus and they start seeing images of Pat Robertson and his crew or whatever they learned through cursory experience with religion. If it’s not that, then they project their own feelings on to others figuring they must have the same beliefs. If you’re either one of those, there’s no point in reading further unless you can suspend judgment until the end of this post. You probably stopped listening at Jesus the first time I mentioned him and are now just looking for either some point to argue or some confirmation of your own beliefs. You’re welcome to do that, but what’s the point?

So why Jesus? Well, it’s actually very practical in my mind. It goes back to my questions. I wanted to know what freedom and love were. Growing up going to church way too much I already covered observance of superstitious religious doctrine. I’ve also seen my share of crackheads and dope fiends in and around neighborhoods I lived in when I was younger, so I knew not to go there. I was in the military for 8 years so that was covered. Plus I’ve jumped out of planes and climbed mountains enough to get it. But after all of those experiences, both vicarious and direct, I was still left hanging. I had been in long and short term relationships, traveled to different countries, and studied other religions and cultures and still no answer that stuck. I even had hundreds of conversati0ns with everyone from crackheads to chaplains and the most I got out of it was that I’d find out when I leave this world. Yippy kai yay. So I took a closer look at Jesus.

The thing was I had been rolling with Jesus all my life. The only problem was that people make him so inaccessible. Virgin birth, walked on water, nailed to a cross without saying a mumbling word, resurrected. Who can touch that? When it comes to relating to the human trials and tribulations, that’s like talking to Superman about how frustrating air travel can be. I’m sure as Clark Kent he’s stood in lines, but we all know he’s going to change in the bathroom and fly back and forth and do what he needs to do before we make it out of the security line. So if he says, “yeah, I know what you mean” we’ll know he’s being nice and maybe even appreciate it, but at the same time we’ll be thinking, “no you don’t”. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way about Jesus even if they don’t know it consciously. So when I decided to take a closer look at his story I skipped the virgin birth, the miracles, and the physical resurrection and just looked at everything else. I’m not trying to take that away from anyone, but for me I feel like if I only focus on the things he did that I can’t do, then I’ll have an excuse to not do the things he did that I can do too.

I think a lot of people know that. They just feel comfortable with the superhero version because that absolves them of the responsibility of living up to the model he gave us. Without all the superpowers, think about hearing that someone you know who humbly goes about teaching others how to live, never acting like he’s too good for anyone, and sharing everything he has from his heart had a mob turn on him, beat him to a pulp, and then hung him up to die. I don’t know about you, but if that happened to one of my friends or family members I’d be tempted to go off Die Hard style. Now imagine that with your friends dying breath he asks that those same people be forgiven. In this world, I see that as the most important miracle of all. And, if I really truly love that friend and want to honor him, I’ll do everything I can not to let my vengeful nature get the best of me. I’d try to forgive them like he did. To me that is the essence of love and freedom. This Jesus showed me a Way to answer my question. It’s my job to live that answer.

This accessible story of Jesus also made it make sense to me how people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi made their choices. They chose to live free or die. I also see why many of us are so afraid of both options. But you know what, someone has to do it. Someone has to say, “Enough is enough. This world might be giving me hell, but that doesn’t mean I have to give it back. It is stopping here. It is stopping with me and it is stopping now.” To me that is victory–not over others, but over ourselves. To me that’s what we need more of. We go around looking for superheroes. We make piles and piles of harmful decisions and then when we start seeing the effects, we expect someone to swoop in and save us in less time than it took to get ourselves in the situation in the first place. Notice I said “we”. That means me too. I’ve been called self righteous before because I fundamentally believe in individual responsibility. This doesn’t mean having to know everything, be everything, and do everything by one’s self. We absolutely need each other. We should ask for help. We need to laugh, cry, and rest together. And above all things we need to love and be loved. I firmly believe that. But I also believe we can’t do anything if we don’t start with ourselves. Because, even though I still have a real long way to go, I’ve learned that both freedom and love are found within ourselves and practiced by sharing what we discover with others. Not because we can give them something they don’t already have, but we can show them what they have within them too. That’s what I feel Jesus did.

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