A Beast Like the Rest of Us
“But is he a lion?”
“No, no, of course not,” said Bree in a rather shocked voice.
“All the stories about him in Tashbaan say he is,” replied Aravis. “And if he isn’t a lion why do you call him a lion?”
“Well you’d hardly understand that at your age,” said Bree. “And I was only a little foal when I left so I don’t quite fully understand it myself….”
“No doubt,” continued Bree, “when they speak of him as a Lion they only mean he’s as strong as a lion or (to our enemies, of course) as fierce as a lion. Or something of that kind. Even a little girl like you, Aravis, must see that it would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion. Indeed it would be disrespectful. If he was a lion he’d have to be a Beast just like the rest of us. Why!” (and here Bree began to laugh) “If he was a lion he’d have four paws, and a tail, and Whiskers! . . . Aie, ooh, hoo-hoo! Help!”
For just as he said the word Whiskers one of Aslan’s had actually tickled his ear. Bree shot away like an arrow to the other side of the enclosure and there turned; the wall was too high for him to jump and he could fly no further….
“Now Bree,” he said, “you poor, proud, frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy, pp. 191-193
When we started the series on The Chronicles of Narnia, I wanted our writers to see what themes and ideas would stand out to us as adults at the height of a presidential election cycle.
As I re-read The Horse and His Boy, I was drawn powerfully to the themes of power and poverty, slavery and freedom, insecurity and significance.
At this point in my life, I see the story as a beautiful tale about the reversal of roles, the meaninglessness of titles, and the use and abuse of power. And there’s a place of profound freedom on the other side of contemplating the emptiness of the endless quest for power, influence, and significance in Washington, DC.
In the story, an ordinary slave boy named Shasta finds out he’s actually the heir to the throne of Archenland, a son of the King, and after a journey through the desert, is given his true name.
Bree, a war horse who fought in great battles returns to his home country of Narnia and finds he is just an ordinary talking horse like all the others.
Prince Rabadash of Calormen discovers that among the free people and animals of Narnia and Archenland, he’s not taken seriously, as he is by the fear-filled subjects of his own kingdom.
Aravis escapes the oppression of the same authoritarian kingdom where she is about to be forced into an arranged marriage by her father. On her way to Narnia, she walks through the great city of Tashbaan as a slave; later, as she reaches Archenland, she receives the same wounds on her back as her own slave girl—it seems she had to truly learn the dark side of her former kingdom before escaping it to live in freedom.
If we’re truly free, that includes being free from being defined by roles and titles, from identities derived from those. Unlike the city of Tashbaan, we’re free from an obsession over who is the most significant.
At every turn Shasta hoped they were getting out of the crowd, but they never did. This made their progress very slow, and every now and then they had to stop altogether. This usually happened because a loud voice shouted out, “Way, way way, for the Tarkaan,” or “for the Tarkheena,” or “for the fifteenth Vizier,” or “for the Ambassador,” and everyone in the crowd would crush back against the walls; and above their heads Shasta would sometimes see the great lord or lady for whom all the fuss was being made, lolling upon a litter which four or even six gigantic slaves carried on their bare shoulders. For in Tashbaan there is only one traffic regulation, which is that everyone who is less important has to get out of the way for everyone who is more important; unless you want a cut from a whip or a punch from the butt end of a spear. (p. 53).
Calormen sounds an awful lot like Congress and Washington, DC, doesn’t it? (Necessary) security details aside, it seems the entire culture gets hung up on who’s in and who’s out, who’s successful and who isn’t, whose opinion counts and whose doesn’t.
The greater your power, the more your opinion matters. But if we are going to live free, we simply must rewrite the script.
If Aslan is a Beast like the rest of us—if Jesus is fully human—that changes everything!
Just as Bree learned that Aslan was a true Beast, and he could live in Narnia as a common horse, we can live immune to the false reality of pressures in Washington that tell us to climb, achieve, and obsess over power to find significance, because God has stepped into our reality to restore his image in us.
“We aren’t really free until we’re free from ourselves: our ego, our reputation, our self-image, our need to be right, our need to be successful, our need to have everything under control, even our need to be loved by others—or to think of ourselves as loving.”
What would living to the rhythm of this deep freedom look like in Washington?
It starts with a journey of the heart.
Like everything we’re writing about in this journal, it starts in the heart, with our affections. We can know experientially that our shared humanity is far greater than any role, title, or position of power could bestow on us. When we know freedom this deeply (and by freedom, ultimately I mean the Kingdom of Heaven, when Jesus will reign on a restored earth, and all wrongs will be healed), we can finally stop striving for power, worrying about what’s going to happen to America, or trying to prove we are morally righteous (because we aren’t) and instead set out to elevate truth and beauty in our work, not out of some sense of duty that’s disconnected from our hearts, but out of a heart that’s coming fully alive, passionate because of the great freedom Jesus offers us.
It involves personal struggle and passion.
What I’m struggling with the most in this concept of living free from the pressure of roles and titles and status is the absence of goodness in any given institution or workplace. I know the world isn’t perfect, and without Jesus it never will be. But I firmly believe our calling is higher than that of quietly working inside broken systems with a good attitude.
Eventually, if we truly see reality as it should be—contrasted with what is—our hearts will burn with a passion to bring restoration. As we realign our priorities, suffering will be inevitable, not because God is a masochist, but because passionate work to bring restoration will inevitably require an experiential understanding of the pain of what currently is.
It opens our minds to prudently pursue new and creative solutions.
Don’t mistake what I am saying for an addition to the gospel. What I am saying is that when the truth of God’s love fills us, our priorities will change. We’ll see our days as opportunities to restore what’s broken, not out of some sort of moral do-goodism, but because the goodness of God is far greater than anything we have yet imagined. There’s no greater adventure!
The scale of any restorative work will take prudence though, and this is another point I am considering as we work to build Liberatus. If the restorative changes that need to be made in any given workplace are coupled with a need to advance professionally, it becomes difficult to move the work forward. We simply have to be free from the need to make it happen, to advance. Work that is urgent, like healing, has to be pursued almost without urgency (which brings us back to the idea of patiently suffering).
To offer a practical and specific example of what I mean, the vision of Liberatus was born mostly while working on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, while I was there I “needed” to advance professionally just as much as I wanted to see changes made to work culture, communication, and personal well-being. I know by experience that it’s very difficult to be focused on healing while at the same time frustrated over your role or status professionally.
As I’ve studied Abraham Lincoln’s work of emancipation, I’ve seen a similar pattern of prudence emerge. He knew what the end goal was (freedom for slaves), but it took many steps to get there. To use one more example, in the book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant recounts the story of Carmen Medina, who ultimately reformed the way the CIA shares information. It took time before she found success in the work, though. Early on, her desire to make changes put her career in jeopardy (a natural outcome for those who challenge the status quo from the inside), but when she eventually learned to be mission focused instead of just trying to advance her career, she was successful at moving the reforms forward. (pp. 85-86). (For a complete telling of her story, I suggest reading the book.)
Finally, as we work to upend the obsession with roles and titles in order to find deep freedom, I’ll share a note on the future of this journal.
The next phase of Liberatus, should we have the funds to implement it, will include Subscriber Coffees: small group, community settings where roles and titles matter less than insight. It will be a place where the judgment playing field* is leveled, and congressional staffers and others working in politics can offer ideas creatively among equals. The focus of the conversations will be about finding life-giving changes for work culture, communication, and personal well-being, and we plan to publish those ideas, backed up by further research, in a white paper after putting it together over two years. We truly can work to make American politics better, and I believe that a Congress with an 80% approval rating would look much different in the day-to-day tasks than a Congress with an 11% approval rating.
*By judgment playing field, I’m referring to the idea that when someone shares a new or creative idea, humans generally judge it ruthlessly instead of joining the creative process to make it work, or make the idea better. If people working inside American politics are going to be the ones to solve the dysfunction, there simply has to be an outlet for people to offer solutions, to dream big without worrying about being shut down, ignored, made fun of, or criticized. For more on this concept, I suggest reading Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Shields.
If you’re with us in this work, please consider applying to write, subscribing to the journal, or contributing monthly. After October 30th we will be making a decision on whether we have the resources to move forward with Subscriber Coffees, or if we will pause for a time before charging ahead.
Today’s journal, though, isn’t just abstract ideas for someone else to consider. Learning to continually give up the quest for power, influence, and significance will be essential for this work to continue. It is after all, a work of healing, in which we will continually rest in the rhythm of LIBERATUS—we are set free.
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Liberatus is a weekly journal about bringing Truth and Beauty to American politics, written by people on the inside. You can join the adventure by applying to write, subscribing to the journal, or by contributing monthly.