We have reached (approximately) the half-way mark in our seminar, Lost in the Myths of Time. While learning about the landscape, language, and identity of the Anglo-Saxons, I’ve been struck by the depth of our discussions on borders and our constant attempts to define identity. It’s fascinating, really, how deeply place influences how we define ourselves, how language can shape our worldview and culture, and how landscape, location, and language can serve as barriers between entire people groups. Exclusion is often rooted in religion, sure, but I’d argue that landscape and language have even more comprehensive, subtle, and profound effects on how people view themselves, talk about themselves, define and treat ‘the other,’ and make sense of their roles in this crazy world. What is identity? What does it mean to live in the in-between? What is home? What is freedom?
This last question is something our seminar group discussed at length over a very British dinner of roast and potatoes. Consider Wales, for instance. It is a nation resentful of being marginalized and mistreated by the English, a people that feels in many ways displaced and oppressed despite being politically “free.” I’d argue that slavery is absolutely rampant in our modern world. We are afraid to recognize it for what it is. What is it about being human that makes us constantly justify our own iniquities? Why are we always trying to make ourselves feel like we are better than such-and-such and have every right to be angry at so-and-so? We are not free. We live in a broken world. Except through Christ, we are bound to this brokenness no matter how hard we try to forgive, be kind, forget prejudice. We are enslaved to ideologies. We are enslaved to our sense of rightness, to our opinions. We are enslaved by institutions, occupations, expectations. We are physically enslaved still, too. In no way do I wish to discount the terror of America’s history of perverse institutional slavery with these remarks, but merely recognize my own shortcomings and call attention to my own blindness in failing to fully value others.
I also want to draw attention to the fact that bodily slavery still exists in America (and other places) today. Sex trafficking is slavery. It is being bought and sold, being owned, being a product. And, I encourage each reader to pause for a moment and think of someone you know who is effectively owned by someone or something that you can recognize and to which you can easily give name. It may be a relationship, a job, a belief system, or an organization that owns this person you are imagining. It’s a bold claim to call this slavery, but I think it is. We do the very things we try not to do and submit to people or ideas or systems that hold some power over us. Slavery still exists. It is a by-product of sin, of a fallen world.
We are incredibly selfish creatures, often squashing others without even realizing it in order to further our own sense of security. It’s engrained in our human experience. And it is wrong. Traumatic. Terrifying. And yet, life can still be so so good. So sweet. So lovely. So beautiful. And it is this dualism that I have grappled with whilst on this trip. Nothing is perfect. Much is beautiful. Everything is complex and complicated and confusing, and yet, when we digest moments, slices of profound experience, flickers of glory, I know there is a God, I know that striving is worthwhile despite my failures, and that it is worth going on. We must not despair, but take the time to recognize that we are free in Christ, but sojourners in a world corrupt and tainted by selfishness and sin. And all this was stirred up over dessert and a discussion of Offa's Dyke.
“Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” –C.S. Lewis
*These are just my thoughts. I’m reading Mere Christianity right now and C.S. Lewis has a great section on free will if you’re interested in further reading.