Rebel without a clue


Land of the free?

For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Romans 6)

The year was 1964.  I lived in a small Virginia town, and like all children, I was filled with all of angst that plagues that age. The fact that I came from the wrong side of the tracks didn’t help. I didn’t excel in sports; I didn’t excel in my studies; I certainly didn’t excel in fashion. And, like you find in most schools, there was a group of kids who seemed to have it all; they didn’t swim in the city pool but at the country club, and they wore the best clothes, ran the fastest race, played tennis and rode horses, and seemed to have the brightest futures. I wasn’t sure about where I fit in to this social hierarchy. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue and it worried me.

Then, a new cultural wave hit us. It was a wave of youthful rebellion with new music, new styles, new clothes, and new art. This revolution formed around four young men from Liverpool, England, and it felt like liberation. These four lads weren’t athletes or scholars, but they became our heroes because they gave many of us who didn’t fit in a new sense of empowerment. We grew our hair, and wore new clothes, and played the music. We struggled with parents and principals and local authorities. Add to that the dissent against the Vietnam War, and it was counter-cultural and revolutionary chic. Even some of the kids from the right side of the track began to copy us.

We were rebels, but I must say again that we really didn’t have a clue. We didn’t know that our attitude about freedom was very immature. We didn’t know that lawlessness only leads to more lawlessness. We were tired of people telling us what to do, how to act, and how to dress. However, as time passed, the downward spiral to death and destruction become more powerful. It became more and more difficult to feel or look unique. So, ever more outlandish behavior was needed to stay chic. We began to smoke and drink and practice a “liberated” morality. The mantra was “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

In the end, we became slaves to the dark side of rebellion. Some paid a heavy price early on, but for the rest of us, it fixed in us an immature attitude that has remained with us even to this day. We still don’t like anyone telling us what to do. We believe that we are free and slaves to no one, not even God.

After all, doesn’t the Bible say that Christ came to set us free? Why then should we submit to any religion or discipline that impinges on our freedom?  We agree with St. Paul that we don’t want to be slaves to sin because we know it will kill us, but we don’t want to be slaves to righteousness either. Slavery is slavery no matter who the master is.

Years ago, Bob Dylan sang the following verse:  “It might the devil, or it might be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”  It is difficult for us rebellious children to hear the truth that you cannot live in this world without serving something.  We are fooling ourselves if we think otherwise. If we look closely, we see that our neutral ground is not neutral at all.

Believing ourselves to be free, we have become slaves. Need proof? How often do you confess the same sins? Our sins have become habits and our habits have become our master. We avoid confession because we might have to admit to the priest and to ourselves that we are in fact slaves to sin, and not as free as we think. We are like smokers who justify their bondage to tobacco by saying, “Well, I can quit anytime I want.” The fact is that they are slaves and couldn’t quit if they tried. We too believe in our basic goodness and that we can be change “anytime we want to.” What we have are not sins unto death, but “personality quirks.” We commit minor “picadillos”, not mortal sins. Mourn for our sins? Hardly.

If you read St. Paul carefully, you will notice that while sin pays a wage-death-eternal life is not a wage but a gift. Slavery to God is in fact true freedom, Jesus spoke of yokes and that we all labor under them. Yet, he said that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. He said that he came to give life and in abundance. He said that He came so that our joy might be full.

Sounds good, so why don’t we take up His yoke? Well, we “free people” don’t need any yoke at all. What Jesus proposes seems more like slavery than freedom. Attending church is fine, but I don’t want anyone telling me that I have to come. The same applies to all those disciplines like fasting and prayer and study. I’ll certainly do them when and if I feel like I need to. But my time is my time, and I don’t want anyone telling me how to spend it. And you can forget charity because I don’t want anyone telling me what to do with my money.

So, to the Lord’s offer of His yoke, we politely refuse. We continue under our own heavy yoke; but that doesn’t bother us because believing ourselves to be free, we don’t feel the weight of it. Tragically,  we miss the chance to be truly free and someday the wage of our foolishness will be paid.

We truly are rebels without a clue.

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