Freedom Is Never Free

By Gail Song Bantum

How timely to find ourselves reflecting on the affirmation, Reality of Freedom in Christ, during this Advent season. Amidst the continual cries of lament, rooted in the perpetual reminder that dark bodies are deemed less worthy of life and basic respect, this notion of “freedom” truly takes on a new dimension for so many in our midst. Before this past week unraveled as it did, I was tempted to take the easy route of kumbaya-ifying this post, given my love for baby Jesus and all. Instead, as we mark this season, this awe-inspiring story of God with us, I thought I’d share a few brief stories with you of my own.

Stories are powerful. I’m confident that my reality of freedom in the context of church, leadership, and life may look very different than others based on my story and the body I inhabit – a body already marked by a certain identity within the church as well as the larger world.

I am:
A woman.
A heterosexual woman.
A healthy typically-abled woman.
A 2nd generation Asian American woman.
An assertive and outspoken Asian American woman.
A Pentecostal formed in the Korean and Black church traditions.
These ALL matter.

I remember attending a service one morning in a “high” liturgy chapel service, filled with predominantly Anglo and Asian American worshipers. The Pentecostal in me instinctively blurted out “Yes!” during one point in the sermon and quickly, the scrutinizing side-eyes began to burn holes into my body as if I had just re-crucified Jesus.

Reality of Freedom.

I remember preaching on a university campus one day. Before the service began, I was asked to offer a word of prayer with the worship staff and some students backstage as we gathered ourselves. I prayed. Afterwards, a young lady came up to me and said that I had a “strong booming prayer voice for an Asian woman,” as if to suggest that it took her off guard and was not typical in her experience.

Reality of Freedom.

I remember helping my mother, a pastor, trying to plant a church back in the early 90’s. We went from church to church unable to secure a location for a while. No congregation was willing to rent her their space on a Sunday afternoon because she was a woman. Upon struggling and continuing to believe that she was called, a Lutheran church about 25 minutes away finally offered her a space.

Reality of Freedom.

I think about the history of the Church here in America. It’s mind blowing to me how so many slaves were able to call upon and utter the name of the Lord in the midst of such brutality and injustice – the very same name that was used to enslave them!

Reality of Freedom.

As the saying goes: Freedom is never free. In many ways, freedom requires sacrifice and a confounding or transgressing of boundaries to make space for new possibilities. But, someone has to be willing to occupy that space. For those who confess in Jesus Christ, it was in Jesus’ incarnated body that we find such hope of freedom. From his choosing of Mary thru whom he would be pressed forth into our world, to the ways he inhabited his maleness, to his presence among the margins – this is a God who transgressed every norm and boundary throughout his time here on earth.

I wonder if the reality of freedom in Christ means that while some are asked to extend grace, others are asked to press and confound. While some are asked to press and confound, others are asked to receive and be transformed. While some are asked to receive and be transformed, others are asked to extend grace… and, the cycle continues.

It’s tempting at times to communicate our “freedom in Christ” as solely grace-filled words extended to one another in hope. While it certainly can be, we must also account for the cycle – that many people’s reality continually serve to help make freedom possible for others, often at great cost to themselves. In this Advent season, I choose to remember those who have been Jesus’ freeing presence to me – those who’ve confounded spaces with conviction and pressed thru into the world believing that somehow…somehow, new life and possibilities can emerge.


3 thoughts on “Freedom Is Never Free

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  1. Gail, Thank you for your words.I especially think your description of the cycles to be good – it is so easy to do the “good guys vs bad guys” thing and while I recognize power differentials all over (as your opening paragraph names), there is a note of common humanity also in your words. They beckon us to take risks, be vulnerable, and to take care of each other. Something about your post also reminded me of the Magnificat. The beauty of Mary’s words were that, in line with the prophetic traditions, she spoke in the past tense – as though she was so certain that what she spoke would happen and was true, she orated the future into the present/past. My hope is that this is true for the words you’ve uttered – new life indeed!

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