by Frank Muller
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For many of us, our first real taste of “freedom” was when we sat behind the steering wheel of our first car and drove off into the distance alone and free. There is something uniquely American about this experience.
Our vast highway system and countless miles of country roads seem to create a modern version of the Western frontier of the 18th century. We saddle up our horse and we venture off for the first time and suddenly the world looked new and different.
That familiar drive to school as experienced in Mom’s car or a school bus now took on a richer experience. Joining in some small way the caravan of commuters it was like a brief moment of merging into the American ethos of education and then work. There was a feeling of empowerment yet suddenly also the knowledge that something dramatic is occurring.
We may not have a pistol in our holster (well in Texas we may have had a shotgun or rifle hanging in the back window of our pickup), but we were indeed armed. We were armed with pounds of steel and metal that we could project into time, space and regrettably matter. Instead of kicking our horse to get going we just pushed down the pedal and the wind started flying through our hair.
More on that later when I muse on the tragic consequences that did occur and the countless instances whereby God’s Grace alone it should have occurred. However, for now I save that for another day.
Windows rolled down, the music elevated to a roar and its’ lyrics and beat marched to the drummer of freedom! And it was the best kind of freedom in that mom and Dad provided a roof over my head and food for my belly and the bills were paid. Freedom with little perceived responsibility.
It was in this moment that for me that serpent of temptation to pride and God like status first took hold. Looking into the rear-view mirror admiring my youthful face and flowing locks, comparing my ride to others and in that moment pride, the other moment covetousness.
With the windows rolled down (whether it was 110 degrees or 20 degrees) was my immature way of crooning to all the females who may (and most likely were not) looking at me as I proclaimed that here “I am”. Within the confines of that short commute to high school I had become my own god, I had purchased my graven image, the Lord’s name was now my own name, the Sabbath was now anytime I heard Van Halen on the radio, parents were a meal ticket, women were to be lusted for, other guys cars were to be coveted, and on and on ……
In one first drive in the pride of life, the Ten Commandments were selectively reinterpreted to only apply if I actually did the thing, not just fantasized the thing. The knucklehead was unleashed upon the world, and I desperately clung to other knuckleheads (that I still love to this day) as the boys who were now men, and we had no idea of what it meant to be a man.
So, as I reminisce about the first car (or first horse), I began to realize that regardless of time or place we all as human beings reach that moment of experiencing the “freedom” to choose. Whatever the impetus that drove that first sense of freedom each of us will inevitably come to the realization that in fact the “freedom” may actually have been slavery. Slavery to self, slavery to live life by my own rules and subjective interpretations, freedom to judge others whose looks or cars or other attributes were above or below my own.
This freedom to temptation is a critical ritual in the rite of maturity. For me, perhaps some of you, I failed this rite because I choose the freedom to define it the way I wanted it and how David Lee Roth expressed it in his lyrics like “ain’t talkin bout love”. Oh, how I look back and I am so grateful for my stupidity because it became the path to my starting to grow up.
Oh, how I look back and I am so sorry for the pain and recklessness of those years where those who should have been loved and served were instead used for my pleasure. The problem was not the first car or the first horse, the problem was I stood at the Tree of Life from whom all blessings flow and I chose “me”.
We all reach this point of realizing we have the power to choose self or our Creator and those who we were placed to serve and love. The good news is that the first choice is usually self but with the school of hard knocks, someone who cares about pointing us to Truth, and with great deal of humble pie we can begin again at the Tree of Life.
For me, the moral of the story is that the Tree of Life is not a car or a horse. It is a piece of wood that says Love is sacrifice and service and with that Truth we become free. When we ignore that piece of wood, we will gain some fond remembrances and some bitter regrets, but as we age, we come to realize that the Tree of Life is always with us, it actually seeks us out, and that at any moment we can say yes to that other, better way to freedom.
May Peace be with us all.