“There has to be a better way to love God and feel free.”
-Esther, Paradise Recovered
Paradise Recovered is an independent film that follows a fundamentalist believer’s journey to freedom. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is at the heart of story, though here it is a church that has robbed our victim and left her for dead through spiritual abuse. The film so deeply resonates with me and reminds me of the blind faith I once held for Teen Mania and the legalism involved both with the internship and my time as a Messianic Jew.
Anyone who’s been through what we have with The Honor Academy and Global Expeditions will find something of their voice in this film. I’m sure of it. I am a firm believer in the healing power of art. There is just something about the act of creation that taps into a hidden consciousness. Art is fundamental because it allows us to assign a more tangible form to our indescribable emotions—good or bad. Enjoying art created by others is a natural extension of that healing.
Previously I've mentioned how I spent a decade—practically all of my twenties—in confusion and terror of losing my salvation, like an ocean wave constantly crashing back and forth from The World on one side and The Law on the other. That sort of tempestuousness left me with a battered soul. Paradise Recovered ably captures that internal storm, and I admit it reminds me that my healing is still not complete.
Much like the film’s protagonist, Esther, I am challenging my former prohibitions. Yes, I test the waters and engage in things I used to believe (or have been told) are wrong. Not to be rebellious or get away with as much as possible, but to work out the meaning of my faith. I do things now to better understand what my faith looks like in action, and more fully explore Love to enjoy my freedom.
My freedom. Currently, freedom for me includes: using profanity and saying OMG. Drinking alcohol. Practicing yoga. Learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Getting acupuncture. Studying open theism. Attending the church of a previously blacklisted pastor. Allowing myself to hear and make sexual jokes. Reading books with liberal views on sex and the Bible. Dating people who would have been off-limits in the past. I frequently wear "low-cut" shirts and allow myself to wear my purse crossed over my chest (TM girls, you KNOW what I mean!)
Perhaps I’ll take a cue from Esther’s story and go skinny-dipping soon. I don’t know—the point is that my future is open. I’m no longer willing to let other people tell me what to think and how to live. My faith is strong enough to stand up to questions and my own search for freedom. Again, Love is louder.
What strikes me most about Paradise Recovered is the way in which a non-believer helps guide a Christian into freedom. I’m actually kind of jealous of these fictional characters. I think about how amazing it would have been to have not been alone for so long with my own recovery. To have had a friend who would help guide me to live so freely. I then consider the parable of The Good Samaritan and I ponder the roles that I have played, as well as my future part.
Who do we want to be in the story? I’m not talking labels of religious beliefs. I’m talking about action and Love. Each person who has suffered abuse under the guise of godliness—well, at some point all are battered and left for dead on the road. All need healing and freedom, just like TM survivors. Will you stop for them? Will you inconvenience yourself to help set another person free?
Many offer help to the wounded, but do so with an agenda. They may seek to win a soul for the kingdom. They may confront a person with guilt or obligation and coercion. They may point out sin and faults, calling it love. Yet God’s Love, pure Love is all about freedom. Free will. Free choice. Non-violence. Real Love allows for questions, discussion and doubt. True Love does not seek to connive or convince and obtain a certain result beyond the act of loving.
Paradise Recovered demonstrates God’s Love as something not limited to those who call themselves Christian. Love is not owned by those who uphold the Teen Mania standard. The Honor Academy leadership is not full of experts in the art of loving. For cult survivors, that is a huge realization. Being able to see goodness and Love in the secular world is a significant step to freedom.
My hope is that it is a part of your freedom as well.
For more information on Paradise Recovered, check out their website.