Dancing with Freedom-Unraveling the Tie that Binds By Randy Johnson
I was born into a world of spectacular polarity. A world promising the most treasured and Eternal freedoms, yet often delivering the most confining present-moment tyrannies. That world was clearly defined by Church doctrine and family rules.
“Blest be the Tie that Binds” is a hymn I was raised up on, celebrating the unity of like-minded Christian hearts. But I learned as a child that, for me, this meant, ‘Don’t question the Tie that Binds’. As a result, most of my life I’ve tip-toed through a minefield of convention and expectation, like an obedient soldier, afraid to disturb what others had laid before me. At the same time, I wanted to believe the promise, but I didn’t want to have to wait till I was dead to experience the heaven I felt in my heart as a child. I prolonged the inevitable for many years more than I should have, but, in the end, I had to explode the tyrannical myths myself if freedom was to dance with me under GOD’s big blue starry sky.
As an adolescent growing up in a middle-class Conservative Baptist home I felt much too young to choose not to go to church. My parents were loving, and proved it with their trust and democratic approach to almost everything—except church. So I silently dreamed of the day when I’d be on my own and could make my own decisions about Christianity. In the meantime I loved my friends at church and wondered which way I’d choose to go when the time came.
And that’s when the fear began. If the church was right, and I walked away, I’d burn in a lake of fire for eternity. And that’s when the anger began. If the church was wrong, I was living a lie and denying myself the freedom and joy of finding GOD in everything and everyone as I lived my own adventure in life. And that’s when the guilt began. I was being taught that “sin” was made up of all the things that seemed to come natural to me. And in that consciousness of fear, anger and guilt, tyranny was born, that not-so-subtle world in which the ruler promises happiness and freedom while using more sinister means to control and expand his kingdom. I was being offered Heaven while experiencing Hell. By all outward appearances, my teenage world couldn’t have been better, but my inner-life—so rich, so free and wonderful as a child—was a confusing mess. The ‘Tie that Binds’ was tightening around my throat!
I had to do something, so I married at twenty, too afraid, angry and guilty to face the big old world all by myself. Within three years I was a journeyman drywall carpenter with a wife and a baby on the way. In adolescence I thought I was too young to choose, but now, at twenty-three, I thought I was too old to change. The fear, anger and guilt I felt in church now permeated my job and marriage as well, creating tyrannies of their own, and by my thirtieth birthday I was dying. I was a father of three, my marriage was in serious trouble, I hated my job and was still waiting to ‘grow up’ so I could finally decide whether I really needed religion or not. And just then a miracle happened.
The Divine must have decided this was all taking much too long, and so sent a ‘saviour’ to save me from the tyranny of my own ego-mind. The miracle wasn’t the person of Jesus, but it was someone who I imagined to be very much like Him.
Rich was a rebel in the Baptist church. He was a university professor and an intellectual with a genius I.Q. and several Ph.D’s after his name. Rich wasn’t afraid to cry at the sound of the old hymns, nor was he afraid to overturn the tables of the ruling status-quo. He was a free thinker who made perfect sense while making perfect deacons nervous. I knew he studied occasionally with young men one-on-one and often wondered what it would be like to spend time with him. He apparently saw some struggles in me that I thought I was covering up pretty well, and challenged me to take a hard honest look at what I believed about GOD, the church and life in general.
Thus began our meetings each Friday afternoon at a neighborhood restaurant. We’d drink coffee (his with whiskey), talk, read, and scratch out notes on paper placemats. We studied religion, philosophy, history and art with the goal of getting back to basics—Is there a GOD? Is God conscious of God’s creation, and if so does God communicate, and how?
Behind all of these questions, I learned finally what it truly means to think for myself. Eighteen months and as many books later, I was free. At least free to see myself clearly.
All my life prior to that moment, I had honestly believed that I’d been thinking for myself. But in fact, all along I had been denying the self of the soul, even as I desperately needed to discover and express who I am in eternity.
After those 18 months, I could no longer deny the essential polarity of my life. In my soul I was free, ONE with GOD through eternity. I began experiencing beautiful moments of clarity inaccessible to language yet singing through my heart with childlike purity. Meanwhile, there was my ego-mind, held prisoner by the tyranny of religion, building hatred like an inner-storm through the years lived in fear, anger and guilt. My soul and ego were so far apart that reconciliation seemed impossible, and I was desperate for a solution.
But if hatred builds tyranny then clarity tears it down, and low rumblings were beginning to create huge cracks in the walls of my inner prison.
Eventually, I walked away from organized religion ‘cold turkey.’ But the pain of dependency would take several years to dissipate. I felt tricked and lied to by the church, and was bitter and hurt. My whole cosmology had been built around the Genesis story, and the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus offering salvation from the tyranny of the Devil. I needed time to de-program from it all and decide what was my personal Truth. I was sick of my own negative and co-dependent relationship with church doctrine, and of the division created by the church’s ‘Us and Them’ mentality. I felt dishonest and hypocritical in how I had acted for years within the church community. I was yearning for the honesty and unity that creates real Love.
Letting go of the fear and guilt was easy now that I had exploded the myth. The fear of eternal damnation and judgment and the guilt I felt at my “sinful” natural inclinations simply fell away once I admitted that the God I knew treated His creation with the compassion and tolerance of a loving Father, not the controlling manipulations of a tyrannical ruler. But anger was another story. Deep inside of the anger lived the pain of abandonment, something that the outcast leper might feel when the only community he knows shuns him because of the disease of disfigurement. In my case, it was the disease of unbelief.
One night, while talking to my Dad about it, he took a deep breath, let out a sigh of resignation and said, “You know Randy, it seems that Christianity is the only religion to leave its wounded lying in the battlefield.” I think he meant that, when a member of the flock breaks away, the ones who remain within the church abandon that member, even shun him. Ideology is stronger than relationship.
Dad was right. As long as I was an obedient Christian soldier, marching in step with the army of the righteous, I had the entire church community as allies. But when I broke from the church of my childhood, my “friends” in the faith silently watched me walk away. With the exception of my parents and my sisters, no one from that period has ever asked me why. Perhaps they’re afraid that what happened to me might happen to them—that my spiritual wounds would be infectious if they got too close. Dad was right about another thing too: I was wounded on the battlefield of religious principalities.
But I wasn’t dead. I limped off the battlefield, dropping my armor and weapons as I walked away from the church. I went AWOL. I was done with THAT war once and for all!
Redemption The beauty of Time is that it really can heal all wounds. It took awhile but, as my anger and sense of betrayal dissipated, I woke up to discover that we’re all imperfect Human Beings, faced with a choice: to be either a victim or a victor. I realized that, although a tyranny of ideology had been imposed upon me as a child, I could, as an adult, use it for my own good. I learned that my personal Truth allowed me the freedom to witness each person’s Divinity and encourage them to find it in themselves. “Blest be the Tie that Binds” came to mean that there is a thread of Truth connecting us all together and that my job is to find it and celebrate it and let the rest go. I realized that “Religion” is a building, and a dogma, and a business, and that true “Spirituality” is personal, and individual—and that the two don’t mix well for me.
And things got better. I began to learn to be “In the World, not of it”, and to “Do unto others as I would have them do unto me,” and finally to “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. I guess I had to leave the Christian church to realize its wisest counsel.
My ego still fights for dominance over my soul, but this has become the only polarity that really matters, and uniting the two is the great task of bringing Heaven to Earth. My soul wants to Love while my ego wants to judge. Bringing Heaven to Earth is about overcoming the tyranny of my own ‘right-ness’ that happens in that split-second when I choose judgment over Love. If I consciously choose to judge I immediately begin to feel that old combination of fear, anger and guilt, those familiar but uncomfortable building blocks of oppressive tyranny that I have worked so hard to free myself from. But when I choose to Love, I become wide-open to all the possibilities and opportunities that the present moment has to offer. Choosing Love feels cool on my face, like stepping outside first thing in the morning.
And here’s the unexpected bonus. Paradoxically, I’m finding that all my inner struggles are leading me outside of myself as I discover new tyrannies to resist—not through anger or judgment this time, but through Love.
It’s about living in a diverse but integrated world. Thus, if I discover that ‘Globalization’ is responsible for the third-world sweatshop labor creating outrageous profits for a few ultra-rich individuals at corporations like Nike, The Gap, Target or Wal-Mart, I’ll simply choose not to shop there anymore—not because I judge them to be evil, but because I Love the Human family that much. If I find that a main purpose of our military is to use force to open up new markets for a few multinational corporations in bed with the American political leadership, I’ll encourage people to read Noam Chomsky or Arundhati Roy—not because government, the military or multinationals are evil, but because I’ve found that clarity destroys tyranny. And if I see young people struggling to think for themselves, I’ll encourage them any way I can—because Rich loved me enough to do that for me.
The “tie that binds” no longer chokes words in my throat, or clouds my vision, or fogs my mind. It represents instead all the reasons I have to feel blessed to be alive in such a diverse and interconnected world.
I tip-toe through my life no longer. I have exploded the tyrannical myths that for so long molded me into something I’m not, and found that who I am is a conscious Human Being who has a date with Freedom. We’re meeting on the battlefield called Life, under GOD’s big blue starry sky to dance the night away.
Randy Johnson lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife Cindy. He is a musician making his living as a Drywall Carpenter. He can be reached at [email protected]