Exodus is our story, too.

May 30, 2011

The story in Exodus of the Hebrew people enslaved by the Egyptians, oppressed by the work of building monuments, pyramids, to the glory of the oppressor, Pharaoh, moves us today. Every part of the story resonates in us—the oppression, the plagues, escaping from the Egyptian army, wandering for years in the wilderness and finally the entry into the Promised Land.

What I don’t think we realize is how this story is also our story.  But what, you ask, are we slaves to? Who or what imprisons us? We live in a free country, able to do as we please. At least that is the story we tell ourselves. So often we are captured by old ideas from our upbringing or the culture that no longer work, but we persist in following them faithfully. We are worn down by advertising that promotes an ideal materialistic world, promising happiness with the mere purchase of a new house, new furniture, a new car, a new dress, etc. We tend to follow the “rules” at work, in our churches and organizations. Are we free? Or are we stuck in the ways of thinking of the material world? Can we entertain new ideas about how we could be living or working? Are we free to follow where Christ would take us?

God is calling us out of the prison of our thoughts, out of the tyranny of the past and what worked then, out of our me-orientation, out of our slavish adherence to the “rules” to be the person he created us to be. He needs us in this world giving out what we were created to do, doing it out of his love that overflows in our lives. That is the Promised Land where we are free to follow our innermost longings which mirror exactly what God wants for us. Then we are a free authentic people who do and be just as we were created to do and be out of love for God, ourselves and others.

Often it is the family or the neighborhood or the social circle or the work environment which holds us to the norm. I lived in a neighborhood called Ladera which was in the county between the city of Menlo Park, California, and a wealthy town, Portola Valley. When a neighbor of ours moved to Portola Valley, our neighbors were up in arms, insulted by her turning her back on our special neighborhood, especially, I think, because she was moving up. This is the kind of social pressure that can keep us in “our place” for a long time.

Families can exert the same kind of pressure. I grew up in the 1950’s on the East Coast when conformity ruled. I felt that everyone was watching me all the time to make sure that I was using the right fork or doing all the “right” things. My mother was a great proponent of this conformity. When I moved to California in 1963, I breathed a sigh of relief, because no one cared at all what you did—there were so many kooks running around. But I took my mother with me in my head—her rules were still ruling me, no matter where I was.

In each of our churches, too, there is a norm, a way of being that is acceptable. God may be calling us beyond that norm, but often his quiet voice goes unheard amid voices that are inculcated inside of us.

Sometimes we are reluctant to break out of stuck places. We see our dilemma, but cannot act.  Maybe it’s fear of the unknown that keeps us stuck. This can be just like a jail or being a slave.

Freedom, true freedom, is about answering the call to be our true selves, to be free to act on Christ’s call and on our own deepest selves’ agendas, free at last of the ways of the world and able to follow our soul’s agendas. William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the day follows the night, thou canst not then be false to any man.” For a long time I thought this came from the Bible, it rings so true to me.

Freedom is not the ability to choose any darn thing we want regardless of how any other person feels about it. It is the ability to choose to be ourselves in any situation, to live in the present, not cater to the past, to follow the Spirit of God wherever it will take us.



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