Tag Archives: French Revolution

Freedom with a Twist

By Eugene C. Scott

Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.

The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.

In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.

What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.

We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.

The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.

Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.

Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.

If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?

So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.

The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.

Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.

This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Babbette’s Feast and Your Place at the Table

It’s a wonder I survived childhood. Not only was I a sickly kid, but I seldom ate. I was beyond finicky. I subsisted on Malt-O-Meal, pbj’s, and hamburgers. Oh yeah, and ice cream. But my mom didn’t serve ice cream much.

At dinner my dad made me stay at the table until I cleaned my entire plate. After a while, my dad would forget about me, he now being engrossed in the 10 o’clock news, and my mom would relent. I would then run to the bathroom and spit the offending spinach, green beans, and roast beef in the toilet.

All this made meal-time an unpleasant experience, a necessary evil. Sitting down to enjoy a meal was oxymoronic.

Therefore, it’s taken me a long time to appreciate meal-time rituals. And I’m still a picky eater, though my menu expanded shortly after getting married. “Eat what I fix or die,” my wife, Dee Dee, whispered. I wasn’t sure whether that meant I could starve myself or that she was going to kill me. I learned, however, she’s a great cook and there are several other edible food groups: pizza, chocolate, steak, chips, apple pie, and most Mexican food.

I’ve also discovered gathering around the table is about more than physical sustenance. Over the board is where we connect with one another. Here we tell the stories of our days and even our lives, which is why the command “don’t talk with your mouth full” is so persistently ignored. With four chair legs on the floor–and the occasional phone book under our butts–we come eye to eye with each other. Amidst the clink and clank of fork on plate we invent, learn, practice, and carry on traditions. In the kitchen or dining room the ordinary reigns. “Pass the salt,” we say.

And the only sight more forlorn than a person eating alone, is two gathered together across a table but separated by an ocean of alienation.

Of course God intended our mealtimes to be times of connection not only with one another, but with him as well. The 1987 Danish Academy Award winning film “Babbette’s Feast” tells this truth in a beautiful story about Babbette, a celebrated French chef, who to escape the Revolution, gets stranded on the barren, cold coastline of Jutland with two loving but hidebound religious sisters. The sisters’ lives are ruled by duty and an adherence to the austere religious life their father, a Dutch Reformed pastor laid out for them. (Spoiler Alert)

The sisters take in Babbette and, not knowing she is a chef, teach her to cook. In return for a place to live, Babbette cooks and cleans for the two aging sisters. But Babbette does not feel she has done enough in return, and when she wins the French lottery, she spends all her winnings on a feast she prepares for the sisters and their small congregation.

The irony is that the sisters and their friends decide the feast is too lavish and make a pact to eat the food but not enjoy it.

At that point in the movie, it was hard not to see myself in the dim characters desperately trying not to enjoy this fantastic feast. I played the same game as a child at our dinner table. But I also recognized how many times God, like Babbette, has laid a spiritual feast before me and I have refused to partake. It’s laughable.

Food, from the mundane to the delicious, represents how God loves and sustains us. Food is a direct connection to him. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Gathering together to eat represents how God loves and sustains us through family and friends. Our relationships also feed us.

It’s no surprise then that Jesus gathered his friends for a final meal. But it is not just the bread and wine Jesus named sacred. “This is my body,” Jesus said, meaning the bread but also us, his friends, the Body of Christ. This gathering at the table, with others, of lesser and greater faith, is Jesus embodying not just bread and wine but his people too. Now I see sitting down for a meal can be not only a joy, but a holy moment, a sacrament.

I hope we can connect even over a virtual table at The Neighborhood Cafe.

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