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  • Writer's pictureRobin Wright-Pierce

When the World is on Fire, Choose Freedom

The world is on fire. Or at least it feels that way for many of us. For some of us it has always felt that way. We are more than two years into the COVID-19 global pandemic which has radically and forever changed how we work, church, school, and play. We have reached a point where more people are awakened to the devastating results of our relentless quest for materialism and consumption. We have realized that our exploitative, transactional ways of coexisting with one another is suffocating to our souls, demoralizing to our sense of self, and diminishing of our creativity and joy. More and more, people are struggling with addiction, depression, and isolation. We are overworked, overwhelmed, and exhausted.

Our struggles unfortunately don't stop there. Violence in our cities is exploding. Mass shootings have become the norm so much so that and our children now practice active shooter drills the way we practiced tornado drills. We are plagued by the persistent dehumanization and villainization of Black people by white supremacists and the police who continue to use us as target practice. Indeed, we are at this very moment mourning the demoralizing massacre of Jayland Walker who was shot over 60 times while unarmed by the Akron Police Department. Not to mention, the devastation we are feeling in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Even mother nature is responding violently to our mistreatment of the planet in ways that are decimating to animal species and devastating to the human race. Our souls, our cities, and our world are crying out as the world burns within and around us.

We must be willing to notice our pain, hear our hearts longing for more, and choose to stop ignoring it.

We find ourselves at a crossroads. We must each decide whether we want to stay on our current path or discover a new way of being with ourselves, others and our planet. We each have to decide for ourselves if we want to walk the journey of liberation, refusing to tolerate our own and other’s suffering within systems of oppression, or stay in the cycle of destruction and pain.

This is the ultimate invitation of this moment: Burn in the pit of suffering and despair or choose to dance in the flames of freedom as we shed what is to make space for what can be. The invitation is to do more than get through our day and survive each calamity. Instead we are being ushered toward a spiritual, social, and political evolution. To choose this path, we must be willing to notice our pain, hear our hearts longing for more, and choose to stop ignoring it.

The reality is, the pursuit of freedom is a choice. This is a hard truth to swallow and one that may seem preposterous to those who examine their external predicament only to witness how so often things seem to happen to them as opposed to through them. Such a reality can leave one feeling powerless and gawking at the very notion that their liberation is a choice -- but it is.

I remember the first time I chose freedom and not just survival. It was 2012 and I had just watched an excerpt of a Super Soul Sunday interview between Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant. Iyanla was revealing to the audience who Rhonda Harris was as she detailed a turning point in her life. She described the moment she realized that the life she was living no longer fit who she had become. The traumatic events of her life had cultivated in her survival strategies that were now keeping her in cycles of self-destruction even as her opportunities were expanding. Despite having made it out of poverty and through college and law school, she lived in an empty apartment where she had to watch as her children ate fast food while sitting on the floor. She shared that in that moment, she knew she had to lovingly bury Rhonda Harris – the warrior, protector, survivor part of herself. She had to let go of how she had learned to live in order to make space for Iyanla Vanzant to emerge more fully and create a life and way of being that aligned to what God wanted for her. She described how she sat there and threw up her hands proclaiming that “this need not be!”

When the clip faded out I sat on my living room couch crying tears of deep grief and pain as I wrote a poem expressing my own declaration that I too had made that realization; how I had learned to experience and live each day was not indicative of who I now was. So much of my daily reality was dominated by my survivor, warrior, scared, and broken self. I was a survivor. I was vigilant. I was hardened. I was reactive and living a fear-based life. I had mastered strategies to navigate the pain and brutality of my childhood to make it through the trauma. And while I am grateful for those adaptive strategies, in that moment I realized, they would no longer work for who I was becoming. In fact, they were adding to my misery and suffering. In that moment, I decided to choose a different path. In that moment, I decided to choose my freedom.

I have learned that to choose freedom is to choose faith over fear. To choose freedom is to learn to see the possibilities and hope in the chaos. To choose freedom is to choose love. To choose freedom is to pursue justice and peace in the world. To choose freedom is to reclaim the power of choice; owning that we can and do (consciously or unconsciously) at each moment choose who we want to be, how we want to show up with ourselves and others, and what actions we want to take.

When you choose freedom, you are choosing the road less traveled. To choose freedom is to go against the grain of our oppressive system and instead ground yourself in something more powerful and restorative. To choose freedom is to remember the truth of who you are beyond the distortions the world portrays. Or as the saints of the Black church tradition say, freedom means learning to be in the world, but not of the world.

Choosing freedom is hard; but so is remaining in the cycle of destruction and suffering. The difference is, in freedom you will find that when the world around you burns, you don’t have to burn with it. Just like God entered the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to protect them from the burning flame, so will spirit cover you. In freedom, there is greater health and wellness, greater peace and joy, deeper love and compassion, and more courageous and wise action.

The world desperately needs more freedom seekers. We need courageous leaders committed to building a loving and just world within and around them. We need freedom seekers who hear the cries for help and answer the call for more. We need freedom seekers who are equipped to show up in the world in ways that compel others to hear their call to freedom and to join in the work of building a beloved community.

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