As a child, when people spoke of God the Father, I frequently envisioned King Triton from The Little Mermaid. A father, who loved his children dearly, was ferocious upon provocation and who more often than not was prone to helicopter parenting. And I certainly identified with Ariel as the daughter who felt her soul was… restless. There was an inexplicable more, something far beyond the atmosphere calling my name. I believed my life would never really be mine, unless I found my place to walk in the sun. With that longing, came the notion someone was waiting for me and my voice was would save them.
There’s no good way to explain such intense desire. But what can I say? I was young and I really liked The Little Mermaid!
Little girl dreams, however, get crowded out by the sharp scream of reality. As a teen I discovered that precocious behavior which once endeared me to strangers was now wholly taboo. I attempted to resolve the dissonance between my natural self and various socially acceptable versions of me. Like many others, I traded in my raging, ineffable hunger for the stale satisfaction of survival.
Last year I commenced post-cult trauma therapy. For years I’d lived under regulations thrust upon me by parents, teachers and spiritual leaders. Little of my life came from my own conviction. So I dipped a toe into what I considered possible “heresy” and questioned some of my faith. I found myself engaging in conversations about the problems with Christianity. And I repeatedly paused at the thought that freedom was abdon’t know what to do with it.
Occasionally we spout platitudes like “live and let live.” But that requires an allowance of freedom extended to others which I suspect the church at large does not support, since we more often speak of freedom as the potential for too much of a good thing. Those of us steeped in religion know freedom wears a warning label: “use with discretion”. We fear going too far and falling down that proverbial slippery slope.
Yet we yearn to be freed from limiting confines around our hearts.
Too much freedom is difficult to measure. Every sect has their own idea of which beliefs and behaviors are non-negotiable. Should any of us exercise a little too much, it might very well mean our mortal souls.
That’s what I feared–losing my soul. As I began to exercise freedom, I worried about losing my Christian status. I wondered if I would “go atheist” or become agnostic (as if my life would be over). While I zealously reached for freedom with one hand, the other hand prepared to fan the flames of my eternal damnation.
I bit my lip and prepared for the demons to descend. They never did.
My first freedoms? Embrace Eastern medicine, study open theism. Entertain the idea of neither hell nor heaven. Attend a church where the pastor thinks God may not know “everything”. Date who I love. Swear like a sailor. Be me without apology.
Along the way, I did realize who I am and what I need. I refined my definition of salvation and pulled away from much of my previously “Christianese” behavior. Then it hit me.
I had no previous comprehension of freedom or what it was good for.
True freedom is the dispensation to fall. It is the permission to hold more questions than answers. I submit to you that freedom goes far beyond the license to do whatever we selfishly desire—it is instead living more by faith and less by fear.
Freedom accepts our religious beliefs cannot save us. There are far too many versions of truth for any one person to get it right. So freedom is the great sigh of relief that we don’t need to have all the answers and more to the point, perhaps we never will. We are all in the same boat, so to speak.
I don’t know about you, but such freedom dares me to reengage and enjoy my quest for answers once more.
Whether your home is land or sea, I do hope you’ll join me.
Shannon Ashley is the Director of Social Media for We Occupy Jesus. An aspiring writer, she lives the hipster life in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, where it is a well-known fact that nine months of consecutive snowfall is nothing short of fabulous. When Shannon isn’t kicking ass for Wojian pursuits, she’s blogging about spiritual abuse or shopping fair trade to counterbalance her superlatively high consumption of Hello Kitty merchandise.
Follow her on Twitter @jashleyshannon and www.recoveringalumni.com