15. Nor is freedom from people anything but a prison of isolation.
We sat in Joe’s arguing over greasy food in a debate over which is more important. Deep down, I knew Jen and I didn’t disagree. Not really. The argument wasn’t real. It was semantic.
The heat generated from the friction of our altruism. The intensity from the certainty that we weren’t the center of the universe. But our words belie that belief.
In my memory, we’re sipping coffee. But that can’t be true. I didn’t drink it then. I’m choosing to pretend that’s what’s in front of us.
“You can’t truly put others first,”
she says. Not incredolously, sincerely.
“Of course you can. You have to. The very nature of goodness depends on it.”
I was so naive and arrogant. Still am.
“Maybe you can. But I think you have to protect yourself first.”
“I don’t understand that thing on planes where it says you must put your own mask on before helping your child. Their lungs are smaller. I literally could handle it longer.”
I was so logical. But her words struck me.
“I need therapy. And if I don’t take Prozac, I’m no good to anybody. I literally have to take care of myself to be able to take care of anyone else.”
That’s when I realized how stupid the argument is. The use of logic to describe something filled with so much that’s illogical. There’s nothing logical about mental illness. There’s no logic to friendship.
We both were trying to make a definitive statement about compassion and it just doesn’t work that way.
I walked away realizing we were both right. And wrong.
Freedom Isn’t Free
It was a few years later before I watched Team America. Now whenever somebody says the phrase “freedom isn’t free” I sing a profanity-laced song in my head. There is a “hefty f-in’ fee.”
The irony of the jingoism from then is that it named the two parts of freedom: the individual and the communal. That some contribute so we all might benefit. It’s a truly bipartisan sentiment, even when applied to divide.
But that fee for freedom is too narrow. In that world, the words fee and freedom mean only war and combat; patriotic pride and service. But we could apply them far more broadly.
We can recognize the communal need to maintain the freedom of our society and that our independence can be maintained by the ordering structure of our communities. I can drive to work on roads maintained by my city and state and by keeping to the right side of the road, I keep the other drivers safe.
These small sacrifices maintain a greater whole. It doesn’t mean I’m not free. It ensures that I can be.
The Heresy which leads to isolation
The great Western heresy is individualism. Ours is a faith built on community, not rugged individualism and self-made men. If our focus is on God, then we can’t be a self-made anything. We become a God-made person.
Anything we’ve done, can’t be about us if we are being faithful to our tradition.
This is where the problem lies. We think we are the center of the universe. And while I want to make the act of putting my mask on before helping my daughter a demonstration of selfishness (I still kind of think it is, but I’m no longer a jerk about it), it isn’t the same thing.
What I’m not doing is putting on my mask and then sitting back. That level of individualism is sick.
The idea that people are on their own; let God sort ’em out. People say that. Let God sort ’em out. Usually after saying the words F-k ’em. As the hands and feet of Christ, I kind of think that’s a bit counterproductive.
But that level of individualism is dangerous. The stuff beyond ignoring the plight of our neighbors and into the realm of actively condemning people to their situation–that junk is not the gospel.
ME, ME, ME! Get mine! the rallying cry of the antichrist.
And the more and more we take and claim for ourselves the more and more alone we are.
Jailed on Walden Pond
Henry David Thoreau was a man ahead of his time. He’d certainly fit in today with our personal pursuits for enlightenment from the safety of the middle class. The financial security of family money let him play frontier on Walden Pond.
But that’s not the only reason we escape to our own Walden.
We need to get away. Not just from the fast pace of the city or the noise and traffic of modern life. But because, for many of us, back home is where abuse happens. That’s where there’s a community of selfishness and rigid expectation. Walden offers freedom; away.
Whenever I write about the need for community, I hear this. I hear about their abuse. That Christian community has led them out here, to the wilderness. I listen. And then I remind them that community is formed when two or three gather. It isn’t only the church, the building, the institution.
We make community.
Visit Walden, but don’t stay there. It’s lonely there.
Humans are social creatures. We can’t survive alone. Just look at the deeply destructive effects of solitary confinement. The prison within a prison destroys the mental health of prisoners. Like the sick reminder that our go-it-alone mantra is literally the opposite of good health. That our way of life kills us.
The kind of liberation God offers us in Jesus isn’t found in isolation. Remember what Jesus found when he went out wandering in the desert for 40 days.
[This is Thesis #15 of my 31 Theses. To read them all, visit the 31 Theses introduction page.]