“Shackled and Drawn”

As I may have mentioned previously here on ESI, I’m a lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen’s music. I have been ever since I first heard the strains of “Thunder Road” echoing down the hallway from my older sister’s bedroom back in the mid-1970s: “Oh, man…what is THIS that you’re listening to?!” The one-two punch of power chords fused with lyrical depth hooked me right away. So it was only natural that I ran out last week and bought a copy of Springsteen’s newest CD, “Wrecking Ball,” just as fast as my out-of-shape, old-man legs could carry me. One of the more immediately-impressive cuts on this new effort is entitled “Shackled and Drawn:”

Gray morning light splits through the shade.
Another day older, closer to the grave.
Closer to the grave and come the dawn,
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn.

Shackled and drawn, shackled and drawn.
Pick up the rock, son, carry it on.
I’m trudging through the dark in
a world gone wrong.
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn.

Subsequent verses lead one to believe that this is primarily a protest song about American economic injustices and the many ways in which the honest workingman is regularly trampled underfoot by the power brokers in our all-out, wealth-at-any-cost culture. While I would agree that this is almost certainly what The Boss is singing about, that’s not what I heard on my first listen.

Where Bruce might be singing about “shackles” that are clamped in place by oppressive systems and the self-interested machinations of others, I found that my mind instead went immediately to the truth that many of the shackles we wear have been forged and fastened in place by ourselves.

No matter if it’s economic oppression or the self-selected slavery of an addiction, I think we can all easily agree that the imagery conjured up by the phrase “shackled and drawn” is a tremendous word picture, denoting harsh treatment, brutality and a despairing sense of helplessness.

As I have mentioned before, I work part-time for The Crossing in men’s redemption and recovery ministries. If you wanted to boil the ministry work I have been entrusted with down to its most basic level, I would say that my primary role is to co-labor with God’s Spirit to call the attention of others to the chains and shackles that they are forging for themselves as they “act out” with anything – and I do mean anything – that promises short-term relief…but instead delivers lifelong bondage and deep spiritual captivity. Knowing that I can do nothing on my own to open anyone’s eyes (John 15:5), I talk with and pray for others that God might be pleased to deliver them from blindness and oppression.

And this is where most of the guys I talk to are living these days. What may well have started out years ago as “harmless fun” was actually a dangerous descent, begun in blindness, into something that, with increasingly-slavish repetition and the passage of time, became oppressive – complete with chain, padlock and ankle bracelet. For most, the only thing missing is “the key” that offers freedom.

It’s interesting, in a life-or-death kind of way, that not one of the guys I talk to – myself included – started messing around with drugs, alcohol, or what-have-you with the explicit intention of becoming enslaved. To date, I have not met even one addict who said anything remotely close to, “I started smoking dope with my friends because I thought that what I really wanted to do was destroy my education, career, marriage and kids all in one fell swoop.” Of course nobody talks (or even thinks) like that! Instead, without exception, what starts out as a method of “medicating” emotional pain or drawing closer to other enslaved people who share a particular habit turns into a self-sustaining captivity, a seemingly-uncrackable “stronghold” of sorts. We don’t set out to imprison ourselves, but day after day goes by, and link after link gets added to the chain. One morning we “wake up” and find ourselves, well…shackled and drawn.

In my experience, The Great Lie that serves to blind men to what’s really going on as they gradually give themselves over to drugs, alcohol, sexual sin or (most often) some combination of these three is a frequently-whispered deception that breathes out death in one simple, ego-gratifying sentence:

“No need to worry; you’re still in control of this.”

As long as an abuser believes that he is still in control, or that he is able somehow to master his inner demons without outside assistance, he is able to shrug off repeated warnings and return to the serious business of forging metal into links, joining links into a chain, and fastening chains to neck collars. By the time The Great Lie is finally exposed to the light of God’s Word and the obvious destruction being unleashed in one’s life, the road back can seem impossibly out of reach.

So as I drive through the streets of Columbia listening to my new CD, I can’t help but silently recite the names and “see” the faces of various men I know who have been forcibly bound up by the decisions and heart attitudes that they themselves have chosen. I see the teenage kids making decisions now that, undeterred, will soon enough yield yet another crop of 40-, 50- and 60-year-old men looking at their destroyed lives and wondering what happened, and how they got to the place they are. I consider how it’s all but impossible to point confident young men to the desperate old guys in our midst who once also were young, brash, and self-assured in their ability to set something down whenever it suited them, only to find that “shackled and drawn” had become a lifestyle.

Why is it that the onset of slavery is most clearly seen through the rearview mirror? It’s almost as though someone has set himself to the task of making sure we can’t see what’s really happening until it’s too late (John 8:42-44). How can we co-labor with the Spirit of God – right here and now – to have our eyes opened, before that day comes when we “wake up” in chains? My strongest suggestion is to consider the confidence of “I’m still in control” as the hottest place in the fiery furnace, the heat that forges the most unbreakable of bonds. May we all embrace a humble lack of confidence in our own mastery of personal afflictions and look to the only One Who not only sees what is truly taking place, but has the ability to intervene.

2 Chronicles 33:9-13 (ESV)
Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Luke 4:16-21 (ESV)
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

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