August 1969 was a turning point in my life’s orbit. I was heading off to college. While leaving the relative certainty of family life had some stress association, it evaporated quickly with the self-assurance of independence; freedom from “Mom & Dad”. Breaking-away, flying solo, blazing my own path. Those were the primal thoughts at least. Testosterone was flowing, and I was ready. My father drove me in his red Volkswagen Beetle from our hometown of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland to Springfield, Massachusetts. Our road trip took about 8 hours to cover the 380 miles.
To make room for my clothes and necessities like an 8-track cassette/radio, my Dad had to remove the front passenger seat. I sat in the back seat, which suited me fine. My Dad and I were not that close, although I was the oldest of four children. I was seventeen years old. Dad was my hero, and I loved him, but my James Dean manifesto psyche wouldn’t allow me to reveal those emotions to a man. I can’t remember much about that long trip, but I doubt we talked much. My Dad was estranged from his own father too, a prisoner during World War II. Without a father role model, my Dad was learning on the job with my two brothers, sister, and I. Throughout our road trip, he would have spoken with encouragement, and deflect his emotional feelings by mentioning how much my mother loved me.
Dad taught me by how he lived. He honored the marriage covenant, practiced charity and compassion, and dedicated his life to family and community. Like most men in the “great generation” of post war and economic hardship, Dad worked relentlessly to support his family; including 40 years of federal service. He always had a job. Usually had a garden growing for fresh produce and canned food for winter. Yet, with all the energy he put into work, he stayed connected with his wife and children through play at the beach or our “home-made” backyard park. After a full day’s work and a 90 minute commute, he’d attend my high school football practices. So many memories of seeing him on the sidelines. More often than not, he was the only father there. He taught me important life lessons when I wandered out of line. Summer trips to extended family was common in our younger years; getting to know grandma and grandpa, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Because his own family life was marred with tragedy, loss, and divorce, Dad was determined to hold his family together. Throughout much of the child-rearing years, we attended church on Sundays. We honored God’s blessings before eating a meal. Prayer was a staple. However, not until he retired and became an active member of the local Methodist church did Dad’s faith emerge. With declining health, he found God’s perfect love and comfort. While quiet in disposition, my father taught me to reverence a strength beyond his own. I was blessed to have a Dad that shepherd me through my own detours of life, never doubting his unconditional love. My road trip with Dad shaped me, but did not define me. I had freedom to etch my own identity.
Written by Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee” is a song about another road story. There are two main characters: “Me” and “Bobby McGee”, two friends making their way to New Orleans. In the first verse of the song, they are exhausted and waiting for a train, but decide to hitchhike instead. They are picked up by a truck driver who takes them all the way to New Orleans. Along the way, they play the blues, singing every song the driver knows.
The second verse goes back in time, remembering days they spent together on the road, traveling cross-country from Kentucky to California. They bared their souls to one another, and shared good and bad experiences along the way. As with relationships that endure, they formed a bond, and felt safe together. The song ends on a sad note when they decide to part and go their separate ways, with uncertain futures.
“Me and Bobby McGee” was made popular by Janis Joplin. It was released after she died of an accidental heroin overdose, October 4, 1970. She was only 27. She had the world ready to love her and shower her with riches and fame. Instead, she was a slave to the addictive cycle of temporarily feeling good. Groundless identity. Freedom was just another word.
The apostle Paul learned about freedom and identity through his own road story. Known as the “Damascus Road” experience, outlined in Acts 9:1–9; Acts 22:6–11; and Acts 26:9–20. Paul was on his way to Damascus with a letter from the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem giving him authority to arrest anyone who followed Christ. He hated Christ and all who were associated with Him. On this journey he encountered a blazing, bright light that literally took him to the ground. The voice of Jesus spoke to Paul, “why are you persecuting me?” The terror experience took away the freedom of his sight, self-worth, and pained his heart. While he couldn’t see, he knew the voice was of God. Jesus told him to rise and go to Damascus where he would be given divine instruction. Subsequently, Paul was commissioned to speak to the Gentiles about turning from the darkness of sin and receive the light of sanctification through faith in God. Paul’s commission by Jesus was to live in obedience to Him (John 14:15), love one another in His name (1 John 2:23), “know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death,” (Philippians 3:10). Identity with freedom to bear all things in the name of the sovereign Lord of Creation.
Short-lived pleasures yield to emptiness as the euphoria fades. With eternity as the prize, our hearts beat for compassionate service. We look outside of ourselves. We experience the giving and receiving of love. We extend our view upward, bringing Heaven to Earth. What would we do if the power of the universe was only a thought away? Accepting Christ as Lord of our life. How would that kind of power change how we deal with all the pain and suffering of circumstances on planet earth?
We’re pre-occupied with serving our earth suits. Through work, recreation, and entertainment of our senses, these earth suits also require all that time-intensive body-maintenance stuff. You know, eight hours of sleep, bathing, washing clothes, and so on. It’s easy to get caught-up in that self-serving daily cycle that perpetuates the “Me, Me, Me World”. There’s an off-ramp to this incessant thinking, though. Freedom from the slave of the world’s incandescent lights starts with a spiritual road trip to Heaven’s Lights.
“We know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (I John 3:24). God invites us to a relationship that quickens the Holy Spirit within. Through a spiritual birth with acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives, we experience freedom from the slavery of earthly limitations, and Heaven’s eternity takes us front and center. The greatest of all the names for the Lord Jesus Christ is the “I AM”. God is in us. I AM.
In the context of this world of chaos and shifting sand, who are we building a life story with? “For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, fear not; I will help thee (Isaiah 41:13).