Mark Nebo, in The Book of Awakening, tells a Zen Buddhist parable about a man who raised a baby swan in a tiny glass cage. As the bird grew, however, it soon became apparent it was going to outgrow the glass cage and get stuck in it. The man faced a dilemma, for the only way to free the bird was to break the glass jar but at the risk of killing the bird.

As I read the story, I thought, “Religion can be like this, can it not?” People ask me, for example, “Why do so many youth leave the church soon after graduating high school?”

There are perhaps many reasons. One must surely be this: they break free of the cages we’ve stuffed them in for years–cages that have suggested to them that their questions are compromise just as their doubts are disbelief. What many parents and religious people do not know is that your questions and doubts are to the birth and growth of your faith what keys are to an imprisoned person who wishes instead to be free.

Politics can be like this, too. Many religious people have built cages of code words to know who is the better political candidate–code words like, “Christian,” “Bible believing,” “anti-abortion,” “anti-immigration,” “pro-Israel,” and you can think of others. But, I’m thinking cages…all cages.

Many religious code words exist too. Usually in those churches where doctrine and dogma take precedence over faith and how one lives. And, my own opinion is, one of the primary reasons people are leaving the church, youth included, is because religions can too easily become a cage - as it has in many of its expressions - and people are its prisoners and they want to break free. And, many are,as the numbers leaving organized religion are outpacing those uniting with a religion by more than two to one.

It can happen to us, too. What cage have you created for yourself? Wish to break free? You can. Sure, something will have to die in you. But I assure you, there is so much more in you that will live.

For years, I wanted to be free to think, to believe, to love, to laugh, to be myself in a world of religious look-a-likes. But I let my fears of the disapproval of others lock me in a prison. I know many ministers who, like me, say they believe things they really do not believe and only because, if they admitted they were not sure or had questions and doubts, their job security would be in question. Cages.

Had I known years ago what’s its like to run through the fields and mountains like Julie Andrews singing, ‘the hills are alive…” I would have broken free of the cage I lived in sooner. You were created to be free. So, remember this: the prison door is wide open. This is the point of the Christian story. God has come in Jesus Christ to set you free.

Rumi, the Sufi poet, was right to ask, “Why would you stay in prison, when the door is wide open?”

This is Your Best Life Now!

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, "I love all religions; but I'm IN LOVE with my own." Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever.

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