Dancing Bears

Dear Friends,

A friend of mine shared this little tidbit of information with me recently. Apparently, for hundreds of years, a certain community in Bulgaria was known for training bears to dance. It was a Medieval tradition that continued into modern times. It continued, that is, until Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. As one condition of joining, Bulgaria had to stop this (somewhat cruel) practice of training dancing bears.

The only question was, what do we do with the dancing bears that have already been trained? They were placed in a reserve, out in the wild, where it was thought that they could become regular bears again in their natural environment. However, what they discovered was that out in the wild the bears began to die. They had become so used to being in captivity, that they could no longer function and live freely in what you would think would be a more suitable habitat.

Unfortunately, this idea of getting used to something detrimental to us to the point that it becomes who we are is pretty common. I think of the fictional character of Dr. Manette, in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, a brilliant physician at one point, who has become so used to his long unjust imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris, that he can't handle it when he is set free, so has his servant lock him into his room each night. And in the Old Testament, when Moses guides them toward the Promised Land, the Israelites can't always handle the responsibility for their own lives that comes with their newly-given freedom, so they sometimes long openly for the mud pits and bondage back in Egypt.

During this month of July when we celebrate our freedom, let me ask. Is there anything that imprisons or enslaves you? Anything you've gotten used to that has turned into a kind of bondage keeping you from the person you really want to be and should be? Do you hang around with people who are always complaining, for example, to the point that you too have become something of a critic and complainer of everything that goes on around you? Do you fill your mind with thoughts of resentment and anger over what someone has done to you, so that often your response to anything is resentful and angry? Have you allowed your thoughts to run wild with worry? Do you feel like you always have to do everything perfectly, or that you always have to be in control? Does money preoccupy you, and things, and doing whatever it takes to acquire them? These kinds of things are just the tip of the iceberg of what can trap us and bind us and imprison us.

Jesus can set you free from all this and so much more. It's easier said than done, I know, to say what you might do to improve your life. But recognizing what imprisons you, and claiming a kind of freedom from it, and asking God for help, are the first concrete steps toward declaring your own personal sense of independence from what may be holding you back.

I'll finish with these words of Jesus, from the Bible translation known as The Message: "I tell you solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave?[But] if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through." (John 8:34, 36)

Grace and Hope to you,

Pastor Duane