Welcome to Brian's Bits, where Brian gets to share at length about various topics stirring inside of him.
Compulsion vs. Freedom
8 July 2013
A few months ago a year-long, full-time photography course of study offered by a Christian college came to my attention. Like a lightning strike, the outlandish idea suddenly popped into my head that I should attend this course. After all, I had been unemployed and living in limbo for over three years, so wouldn't it be better to be unemployed and do something constructive with my life?
There was such a stirring of excitement and vision in my heart that I felt I must truly be hearing from God. After long months and years of disappointed waiting, it seemed that God had finally answered my prayers by speaking to my heart and telling me what He wanted me to do next.
With my razor-sharp logistical mind, it didn't take me long to have all the details figured out. For the past year or two I have been planning that one day we would sell our huge house and downsize to something more manageable and more in proportion to our actual needs. Going to this school would be the perfect opportunity to put this plan into action. Because it would not be appropriate for me to be away from the family for a whole year, my wife and youngest child would accompany me, while my two adult children would leave the nest and start their own independent lives.
Because I felt so sure this idea was from God, I naïvely rushed into applying for the course, especially since I found out that it could be difficult to get into. It was only after the initial flurry of activity was over that I slowed down and took the time to investigate in more depth what it would really be like to take this course. What I found out caused me to have major doubts about my suitability for such a program.
Because it's a Christian college, that means it's a religious organization, which means plenty of religious routine, obligation and conformity. I discovered that during each school week (M-F), there are no less than SEVEN required religious meetings to attend! For the entire college, there are mandatory "worship" services one morning a week and one evening a week. In addition to that, on the other four mornings there are one-hour "devotional" meetings just for the students in the photography program. Furthermore, for students with children, there is also a two-hour "family service" to attend one afternoon a week. It's as if the leaders of this college believe that endless meetings are the meaning of life, and the source of life.
Now, for someone like me who has not even attended ONE religious meeting per week for the past TEN years, making the sudden transition from that to a ridiculously excessive SEVEN obligatory religious meetings per week would be VERY traumatic, to say the least! Would I be going there to study photography, or to become a pastor?! Because of all this religious rigmarole, the first photography lesson of the day begins at only 11:00 AM! For an early riser like me, the day would be half over already before we would have even begun! Sheesh!
The burning question I have is this: If all of these religious meetings are so wonderful and life-giving, then why are they obligatory? If they were truly awesome, nobody would want to miss them and you wouldn't be able to keep them away. You wouldn't have to make them obligatory. The very fact that they are obligatory says to me that they are NOT so wonderful and life-giving, and that the only way to make people attend is to force them. I suppose that's one way to create togetherness, relationship and community — too bad it's such a coercive, artificial method that doesn't really work.
If all this wasn't bad enough, I was even more distressed when I found out the details of the housing situation. In order to foster "Christian community," the only option for living accommodations is on-campus housing. I was told that a family would get their own apartment to live in. So far, that sounded OK. But after digging a little deeper, I found that this "apartment" consisted of only ONE room — in other words, it's only a STUDIO apartment!
Upon further inquiry, I was told that it's not merely a room, because there is a kitchenette, bathroom, and sleeping loft for the kids. But when it comes to silence, solitude and privacy, it's still just ONE room. I just don't think it's possible for me to have intimacy with my God and my wife in such a non-private setting! Living with my extrovert wife and extrovert daughter in a single room would have a major negative impact on my emotional and mental health! Seeing that I'm such a hard-core introvert, I would likely have another emotional meltdown within a week!
I was also told that the challenging living conditions were part of the "discipleship process" — a clever religious phrase which can be exploited to justify all sorts of abuse and extremism. If their housing situation is so beneficial, wouldn't it be even better to just live under a bridge and scavenge the trash cans for food so we could profit even more from the "discipleship process?" Where do you draw the line? Where's the limit of how far you can take this kind of mentality? Just because this college draws the line in a certain place, doesn't mean that's necessarily the "right" or "best" place to draw the line, or that it's a line that will work for everyone ... it's all a matter of opinion.
After examining the school schedule more closely, I found out that because the classes are held primarily in the afternoons instead of the mornings, there is no time for the mandatory student work duties — another part of the "discipleship process" — during the school week. Therefore, every other weekend I would have kitchen duty the ENTIRE weekend! And two or three of the "off" weekends would be devoted to photographic outings. So not only would I be drained and run ragged by the seven obligatory religious meetings per week and everything else in the busy schedule, as well as the lack of private space in which to recharge and recuperate, I would also have practically NO down-time during the weekend for recovering, and no place to do it anyway since I would be sharing our one room with my wife and daughter.
Then there were the regulations that everyone at this college — students and staff alike — are forbidden to partake in drinking alcohol, smoking, and sexual immorality. Well, I wasn't planning on having an affair, I don't smoke, and I can live without alcohol for a year. But it just irks me to no end to see American Christians treat having a glass of wine or smoking a cigarette as equal to sexual immorality. That is 100% religious and not at all Biblical. C.S. Lewis both drank and smoked — where is the command from God in the Bible against these two activities? I could easily imagine that next they will ban the books of such an unholy example! Perhaps implementing Islamic sharia law would help keep the students on a righteous moral path!
OK ... call me what you will: wimp, spoiled, selfish, heathen, or whatever — if the shoe fits, I'll gladly wear it! But for me, the entire religious system at this college could easily make me suicidal in short order! Obviously it was created by ultra-religious ultra-extroverts whose idea of relaxation and recharging is an excessive number of religious meetings per week. Because I'm the ultra-opposite of these two things, it doesn't take a genius to see that I would absolutely not survive there ... not even a week! The whole thing feels so, SO artificial and arbitrary, and completely out of touch with reality.
I think I could be very interested in community, but of a totally different kind. Rather than being based on conformity, compulsion, structure and ritual, I long for community based on freedom, relationship and authenticity. I want something that is real instead of artificial, and that is organic rather than contrived and controlled. I really don't need or want a bunch of religious ceremonies, obligations and expectations shoved down my throat! I want to be natural and be myself, and do what comes from my heart, not from what's imposed from the outside.
I would like to be in a community where I would be treated as what I am: a person who has been a follower of Yeshua (Jesus) for decades and married for decades, with adult children. What I don't need is to be treated as an immature 19-year-old fresh out of high school. I'm all for discipleship, as long as it's authentic New Testament discipleship and not some sort of "discipleship" derived from the man-made religion of American Christianity.
This college community can be likened to water. Their whole system and structure is designed for "water-soluble" people — those who have lots of energy to stay very busy with hardly any down-time, who love attending lots of religious meetings, and who are extroverts in their personality. The problem is, I am oil! I don't dissolve in water, but rather, float on the top. This major difference and reality would cause a lot of pain and problems for both myself and the community if I were to be there.
I can imagine that if I were young and single again, I might be able to endure such a regime. But, as I stated in yesterday's article, decades of rancid religion has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I don't have the stomach for it that I once did. Enough is enough! I'm literally FED UP with it!
All in all, the whole thing is just too religious. I simply want to go to a Christ-centered photography school, and learn how to use my skills and tools for His purposes. And interact with the leader and other students, and share Yeshua with each other in a natural way, as an everyday part of the course. If it could only be that simple, without all of this other unnecessary religious baggage dragging it down!
The great tragedy is that it doesn't have to be this way. With only a few minor adjustments (well, at least minor in my eyes), things there could be MUCH different. Here would be my suggestions:
God didn't make mankind for religion, compulsion and conformity — He made us for relationship, freedom and uniqueness. Regarding religious rigmarole, the Apostle Paul wrote:
Messiah has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of [religious] slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to any rule-keeping system, at that same moment Messiah's hard-won gift of freedom is squandered.
I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Messiah, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Messiah, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. (Galatians 5:1-2,4-6)
This article is 20th a series of articles on this Web site related to My Journey with Yeshua (Jesus) which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
There are no reader comments for this blog entry.