Freedom No One Can Take Away

“There you are, Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don’t you give it its freedom?” (161) 

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, author and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presents Ivan, a man yearning to be released from the Soviet gulag. Near the end of the one day the book depicts, Ivan has a conversation with Alyosha, a Christian whose joy defies the prison atmosphere.

In their exchange, Ivan acknowledges the existence of God but he’s seen corruption in the church. Alyosha replies, “It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.” Only those with steadfast faith go to jail.

Only the faithful pay a price.

As the conversation continues, Ivan questions the power of prayer. “However much you pray it doesn’t shorten your stretch. You’ll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow.”

What Alyosha says in response is surprising. Stunning, in fact.

“Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds” (163).

Now there’s a thought that seldom creeps into the minds of American Christians. For more than two centuries, America has been the land where faith is free. There is little if any cost. We only see advantages to our freedom, never disadvantages.

Right now religious freedom in America hangs in the balance between two ways of thinking.  

We are not quite one vote away from the gulag. But we may be closer than we realize to losing our freedom to speak and write, to proclaim Christ without cost. The threat that stands in the shadows now is our right to stand on the moral ground shaped through the blood and tears of martyrs, missionaries, visionaries, and great heroes who came before us.

One was William Wilberforce, who devoted his life to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor who resisted the Nazis in Germany. One of his co-conspirators was Claus von Stauffenberg, who planned the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life to save a prisoner he never met before. Mother Teresa cared for the poorest of the poor. The list goes on and dates back to the earliest days of the Church.

These heroes lived in different times; they faced different challenges. All of them made great sacrifices for their faith. Those who lived with less freedom than we know still spoke, still acted. 

Someday, religious freedom may be no more in America. But make no mistake, we will still be free. We will still be able to speak, write, petition, proclaim. The only difference is that, then, doing so will cost us.

I remember something a friend quoted to me by Allen Boesak many years ago: “When we go before Him, God will ask, “Where are your wounds?” And we will say, “I have no wounds.” And God will ask, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

Our times are troubled. There are reasons to worry. But there are more reasons not to worry.

Alyosha said, “Of all earthly and mortal things Our Lord commanded us to pray only for our daily bread” (162).

Ask for daily bread. Thank Him when it comes.
And leave the rest to Him.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Carrying Treasures into the Light

In 1894, a new play opened on the London stage. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest addressed social concerns, gender, wealth, and status issues.

The story centers around a character with a questionable beginning. Jack Worthing doesn’t know who his biological parents are. Until he does, he cannot marry the girl of his dreams. His shady secret?

He was found in a train station–having been abandoned. Jack Worthing finally finds his mother–and his worth. Now, social status and parentage aren’t as closely connected as they were for Jack or Oscar Wilde. But the world today is finding no shortage of abandoned children.

In 1993, a federal study said 22,000 US mothers abandoned their infants in hospitals every year. Today, the nation isn’t even keeping track of the numbers.

It’s a problem that doesn’t get much attention. Here or there, a story pops up of a child left behind. Sometimes dressed warmly on a doorstep, sometimes in a toilet or a dumpster. And it’s not just babies. In 2008 in Nebraska, a father left nine of his ten children ranging in age from 20 months to 17 years.

It’s also a problem that has accompanied humanity through the ages. In every culture, in every time, children were simply cast out into the dark world. In Rome, they were left to be eaten by wild animals, or perhaps, rescued only to be exploited. Rejected because they were girls, or imperfect, or one mouth too many.

In America in the nineteenth century, early feminists and physicians worked together to criminalize abortion.

The medical community was working to standardize practices–such as hand washing–and abortion was dangerous. Then, feminists knew that abortion exploited women and harmed children.

Previously, abortion had been more widely accepted since there was little knowledge of fetal life and most people–even the Catholic Church–assumed life didn’t begin until the mother felt the child move.

Yet in the countryside, abortion had been uncommon. Parents didn’t abort children who would be valuable assets on the farm. As the population shifted to cities, abortion–and abandonment–ran rampant. By 1900, every state in America had made abortion illegal.

Note that the laws against abortion were to protect women and children from bad medical practices and oppressive men. As abortion increased, so did the numbers of abandoned children. Dickens reflected real life.

Today, every state has enacted a safe haven law in hopes of saving abandoned children. Hospitals provide bassinets in their lobbies for anyone to deposit a child, away from predators, human and otherwise, away from the elements. Such programs exist in other nations too.

A few years ago, there was a controversy over babyklappens (as the baby depositories are called in Germany). Germany’s constitution guarantees that citizens have a right to know their origin. Depositing a baby anonymously means the baby won’t know his origin.

But the controversy was bigger than one country.

The United Nations was concerned about any child who might lose the right “to be known and cared for by his or her parents.” The UN’s opposition to baby drops is blind to the needs of all children facing this plight, especially children in war torn countries as well as America’s inner cities–some of which can resemble war zones.

How can the UN not comprehend that some people cannot or will not care for their own children? Fortunately, the UN has no teeth to enforce idiocy.

But here’s a bigger question: Why do some parents still leave their children in trash canstoilets, or beside the road?

Desperation may be the answer in many cases. but it is not the only answer.
These “unwanted” children are another example of a “problem” legalized abortion was supposed to fix. But legalized abortion leads us to less respect for life, not more. If we can disregard the humanity of the unborn, how much difference can it make to disregard the already born?

Not much, it seems since the US Senate failed to garner the 60 votes needed to bring the Born Alive Survivors Protection Act to the floor for a vote. And a pro-life effort in House of Representatives has struggled to force a vote on a similar bill in opposition to majority leadership.

We would be more than foolish to expect our government to pass and sustain protection for innocent life born or unborn. Or to expect anything at all from the United Nations. Governments don’t have the answer.

The problems seem overwhelming, beyond our grasp. The world lacks peace. And they don’t know how to find it.

In her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa said, “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion because it is a direct war, a direct killing – direct murder by the mother herself.”

Abortion or abandonment. Both are bombs in a great war between good and evil.

Every life is a treasure–a potential casualty in that war.

We find the weapon to answer the bombs in only one place. Jesus is the light.
We carry His light. We carry peace.

Peace and light spread truth. Speak peace and light today.

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Revised from an earlier post

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Prayer and Action or Action and Prayer

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” Mother Teresa
Some Christian traditions–or just individual Christians–emphasize prayer and contemplation along with Christian action. Others emphasize action along with prayer and contemplation.
In no tradition–and I would hope, with no individual Christian–is either mode of expressing our faith exclusive. It’s a matter of emphasis.
I was struck by this point while reading Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. In the chapter about the monks of Norcia, Dreher talks about how their days are structured around prayer, then work. Continue reading “Prayer and Action or Action and Prayer”

Mother Teresa and the Hunger for More than Food

Repost from October 2015–a tribute to Mother Teresa.
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it. Ezekiel 16: 49-50.
When I teach students to write, I always tell them to save the most important point for last. In Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness, Eric Metaxas saved the most profound story for the end of his book, the story of Mother Teresa.
I don’t remember where I was when I learned about the death of Mother Teresa even though she died on the same day in 1997 that Princess Diana died. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember. It seems odd now because Mother Teresa was one of the most iconic figures of the second half of the twentieth century.
I knew that she ministered in Calcutta, India, that she lived a modest life of self-sacrifice. That’s who she was in a nutshell, but she was so much more as Metaxas points out. Continue reading “Mother Teresa and the Hunger for More than Food”

Freedom Nobody Can Take Away

“There you are, Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don’t you give it its freedom?” (161) 
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, author and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presents Ivan, a man yearning to be released from the Soviet gulag. Near the end of the one day the book depicts, Ivan has a conversation with Alyosha, a Christian whose joy defies the prison atmosphere.
In their exchange, Ivan acknowledges the existence of God but he’s seen corruption in the church. Alyosha replies, “It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.” Only those with steadfast faith go to jail. Only the faithful pay a price. Continue reading “Freedom Nobody Can Take Away”

BLOGPOST: American Martyrs on American Soil

“My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn’t kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility my uncle says.” Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
My copy of Voice of the Martyrs arrived the other day. The magazine features stories of people who are persecuted because of their Christian faith. This month’s cover photo was of a woman standing in front of a refugee tent. When we think of Christian martyrs, that’s how we imagine them. They are people in far off lands, as if they were from a different time, even from some other planet. Continue reading “BLOGPOST: American Martyrs on American Soil”