Tag Archives: freedom

Get Free

Everybody wants to be free, right?

We read that the truth will set us free.

We’re told Christ came to free us, and that if he sets us free, we are free indeed.

One of the liberties we in the U.S. at least claim to prize is the freedom to speak the truth as we see it. Yet we allow dogmas, editors, critical readers, and the marketplace, to censor us.

The Brothers Karamazov addresses the concept of freedom. In the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter, Dostoyevski sets up a drama in which Christ returns to earth in medieval Europe, gets taken captive by the Inquisition and told by the Inquisitor why he failed: because people don’t really want the freedom he granted.

What people want, the Inquisitor contends, is what Satan, while tempting Christ at the end of his 40-day fast in the desert, offered to help Christ provide them:

Miracle. A show so grand it would stop all questioning.

Mystery. Idols to worship.

Authority. A source of unambiguous, strict rules that everybody must follow, so they won’t feel alone and different.

As writers, we can’t afford to be like the people Satan (in the Inquisitor’s story) describes.

If we hope to leave ourselves open to the spirit that moves us, we need to question everything, beware of idols such as the desire for fame and wealth, and to express our uniqueness.

If we’re Christian writers, redemption can free us from the demons of guilt and shame. If this freedom allows us to shed legalistic inhibitions, fear of risking heresy, and whatever hang-ups are blocking the messages the spirit is ready to give us, I suspect we can create more powerful art than writers who haven’t found the ticket to freedom.

Okay, We’re Ransomed, Now What?

We Christ followers believe we were ransomed, bought out of imprisonment, and granted freedom.

So what does this mean to us writers (and by extension to every believer)?

I suspect the answer depends upon our level of gratitude. The casually grateful can, I suppose without much pang of conscience, proceed to follow the money, the acclaim, or whatever they prize. The moderately grateful are likely to now and then use their work in a way that honors the gift of freedom. And the radically, wholeheartedly grateful may echo the attitude of William Cowper when he wrote, “There is A Fountain Filled with Blood”, “Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.”

I know writers who profess to Christian faith yet whose work gives not a shred of corroborating evidence. No doubt part of the reason is, characters who act in ways Christ advocates are generally not very dramatic.

An early novel of mine features two sisters. One is beautiful in every way, thoughtful, gentle and giving, a lay sister with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The other is prideful, impulsive, thoughtless, seductive but disloyal. I sent the manuscript to a friend who a successful writer friend. He suggested I get rid of the good sister. He loved the bad one.

Writing in honest accord with our beliefs is a challenge and a half, and it may become a liability if our goal is to prosper or even survive on our writing income.

Often I have felt the need to choose: either write something with which I hope to earn a big check, or work at a day job and write the stories I feel called to write.

“Feel called” is a tricky concept. If we choose to apply it, wisdom dictates we ask ourselves some tough questions, so many in fact I’ll leave the topic for now and pick it up again later.

For now, perhaps this poem by Billy Collins will inspire us with more wholehearted gratitude.

What Is Truth?

“Truth is the work of freedom,” Kierkegaard wrote.  “…truth exists for a particular individual only as he himself produces it in action.”

We might test this theory by allowing ourselves freedom to experience a variety of attitudes, beliefs and actions and asking which of them makes our conscience feel free. Then, as we act in accord with our conscience, our actions become the truth. Not the results of truth, but truth itself, as John Keats expressed when he wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Notice he didn’t claim that beauty is true and truth is beautiful.

Truth as action and substance rather than mental construct is a central tenet of Kierkegaard’s vision of Christ. He asserts that when Jesus claims to be the truth, it doesn’t mean Christ’s teachings are true or his example is the right way to behave. It means, Jesus, his person, his existence, is the truth.

The validity of the test suggested above depends upon whether or not we have a conscience. Not long ago, I realized that when I was a boy, the word conscience was commonly used, but I couldn’t remember having heard it in years. No doubt the social sciences knocked the stuffing out of the word with the theory that the conscience once viewed as part of human nature is actually a result of early childhood programing.

While we are certainly affected by parental and cultural programming, I’ll argue that a deeper level of conscience exists. This conscience recognizes the good and will guide us toward the good, if we set it free. Sure it’s buried deep, under heaps of learned opinions, attitudes, prejudices and fears. To find it we need to devote the will, time, and effort to journey inward.

Kierkegaard has plenty to offer concerning the journey inward, which can become the adventure of a lifetime. And which I mean to explore next week.

For more about the journey inward than a blog can offer, Ken Kuhlken’s Reading Brother Lawrence.

The Curse of the Clever

Let’s return to the question, does Sören Kierkegaard offer a cure for depression, which he called melancholy?

Because Kierkegaard offers nothing easy or simple, the opposite may appear more likely.  He would have us live by Christ’s standards, without recourse to excuse or compromise.  To attempt living out such an idealistic set of prescriptions might only add pressure to our minds, and the pressure might drive us into even darker places.

But if what he writes is the truth, and if the truth will set us free (John 8:32), then the ticket to freedom is not less pressure but more truth. And if the truth won’t set us free from depression, how valid is the assertion that the truth will set us free? And if that assertion proves invalid, isn’t all belief in Christ and his wisdom called into question?

Unless we’re inclined to credit Christ with superior wisdom, engaging with Kierkegaard might prove simply annoying.  So let’s suppose that Christ hit the mark with his proposition that the truth can set us free.

Sure, we could debate endlessly about the definition of this “truth” Christ referred to, and about what on earth “free” means.  But I’d rather leave such debates to folks with time on their hands, and move on with our attempt to heal melancholy.

Kierkegaard was fanatically devoted to discovering truth. And he offers a wealth of insight about human nature, which should lead to insights about our individual selves.  Applying these insights can save us from harmful attitudes and actions.

Kierkegaard was deeply suspicious of intelligence, which he referred to as cleverness. The clever, he maintains, are more apt to expend their powers creating excuses than to use their cleverness in the quest for honest self-discovery.

When I studied Tae Kwon Do, Master Jeong would respond to every excuse, for failure to execute a move or for lack of progress toward the next level, with stony silence.  I suspect most every psychologist and educator would agree that excuses are the archenemy of growth and learning.

But not so many of us recognize that the clever are most in danger, as they can dream up the most convincing excuses.

I’m not remarkably clever.  Still, I am going to try throwing out my best excuses and re-opening the inquiries that inspired them.

Ken Kuhlken, 9-18-11