The Taser's Edge

The Fear of Freedom

How hard it is to be forgiven, how hard to be healed, how hard to be free. I’m not talking about being the provider of those things (which people often talk about). I’m talking about being the one in need of them.

Imagine an animal which has grown up in captivity and then is released into the wild. In the best case, it is harder than we can imagine. And sometimes, perhaps most of the time, the journey from captivity to freedom is just impossible. Death comes first.

Now imagine those folks healed in Jesus’ ministry. The man lowered through a ceiling with the help of his friends. The blind folks reduced to begging because there was no other place for them in their society. Zacchaeus who had to leave his old way of life behind after his Jesus encounter. The woman who had had five husbands, was forgiven, and then told to go and sin no more. Lazarus, raised from the dead. Not to mention every single disciple.

Is it really possible to re-enter life after that? Or, rather, what life is it possible to enter? And why doesn’t Jesus say anything about it? Why doesn’t he mention at all how hard life will continue to be for the man whose life has given him no apparent skills but the ability to find a good spot from which to beg for others’ charity?

Now think of a loved one or an acquaintance who has a chronic health issue, the person who suffers from cystic fibrosis or kidney failure and needs an organ transplant in order to survive. Even if the operation goes smoothly, and the recovery progresses beyond all expectations, that organ recipient will need to be on a constant pharmaceutical therapy for the rest of her life. And beyond that, what does it mean for someone to have been shut out of life as they wanted to live it for years or even longer, then suddenly to be given the gift of reentry to “normalcy?”

What do you do if you’ve been disabled for as long as you can remember and then one day you are fully able to get a job, support yourself, re-enter the life that you had longed for, make choices unbounded by so many chains that have suddenly (or not-so-suddenly) been shattered? It’s not only muscles that atrophy and waste away. Hopes and dreams do too.

All this is to say, no one ever mentions that healing sometimes makes life harder. Remove all the hurts and fears and impediments which have so long blocked living into the fullness and freedom of the abundant life God has for us and…prepare to be terrified.

The exhilaration of forgiveness, healing, wholeness, and freedom is directly tied to the possibility of falling and being hurt again. It’s the difference between the excitement of jumping and the excitement of flight.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; 2010)
by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom is big, ambitious, about people, about relationships, American, worldly, dark, multi-colored, multi-layered, thick like strong coffee or like extra-greasy pizza with cheese that just keeps stretching instead of breaking.

How does it compare to The Corrections? That’s surely the question. It’s very similar, and they’re clearly by the same author. In both books, extended families and close friends and lovers try desperately to find meaning through human relationships but are hobbled by themselves.

Although I read almost exclusively American fiction, most of it isn’t actually particularly American. As I read Freedom, I realized that that’s not the case with Franzen.  Freedom is actually about  Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia, DC, New York, America as it’s located in the world. This puts Franzen on a higher shelf than most of his literary contemporaries.

Who else is really writing about place? Almost every great author you can name, American or not. If you’re really into fiction, name your favorite book, and I dare you to tell me it’s not about place.

To the synopsis…the Berglund family is living normally enough in suburban Minnesota. An unhappy-but-stable marriage. A boy and a girl who don’t get along with each other or with their parents. White people problems galore. Also, both of the adult Berglunds are in love with an indie rocker named Richard Katz, whom they’ve both known for over 20 years. Eventually, there is 9-11, the Iraq War, Halliburton-like unsavory contracting, lots of bird knowledge, adultery, the end of the world through human overpopulation, heartbreak, ecology-saving plots, and a little bit of hope.

That last bit, in my memory at least, distinguishes Freedom from The Corrections. I was deeply depressed for a couple weeks after The Corrections; I think I’ll get by with this one.