The Sin Bastard

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Sin.  It’s a sort-of silly word, like watching movies with too many boobs or some amorphous thing men do when they run off with secretaries. But in religious circles we love to throw it around casually while transmitting waves of forgiveness.  Because that friend is a jerk and our parents didn’t love us enough and we should always and forever forgive amen because it’s a bright new day and people are people and we’re all human and I’m yawning right now at the sentiment.

Deep down we still feel pretty darn good about ourselves.  It’s not the end of the world and nothing that bad happened. It’s more of a nice thing to do in order to rearrange our middle-class life, like gravy we pour over our crassness.  We walk a touch lighter afterwards and head off whistling towards Starbucks like we donated money to the animal shelter and feel good about ourselves.  We are righteous people.  We put ourselves last and forgave that jerk who wronged us.  Go us.

But there is a thin veil between what we see and what lies beneath.  I see it in church, people hanging their heads in shame.  Shifting in their seats.  I feel it radiate through their failed attempt at a nuclear family and all those smiles and children with smocked dresses.  Something is burning, and it is not to be extinguished with flat empty words. It is raging at a pace they cannot control.

Maybe it’s you, who felt strangely sexual after looking at a child.  Or you, who drove two hours to have kinky sex with a woman named Alice in a hotel when your wife and child are sleeping soundly at home.  The sick high you get in the dark corners.  That money you blew on gambling that was so close you could taste it. Or it’s you, who swore you’d get it all under control and not hurt him any more and you just don’t want to be like this but it’s just one drink and one hit and one more day and you swear to yourself tomorrow you’ll get your shit together.

For you, forgiveness simply doesn’t work.  Because you did something so dark and disgusting you want to rip your tongue out and tear your arm off and gauge your own eyes out of their sockets.  You are nothing if not vermin and if your family only knew what you were thinking they would spit on you with disgust. And you watch television in a numb haze as your children go swimming and eat their vegetables. You will never be in the beautiful place of the living.  You will never deserve the forgiveness of a Lord with expectations. You are already dead.

It is you to whom I’m speaking.  You who my heart has burned for all morning to the extent I had to force myself to not write over my lunch hour and scribble a note to you on a napkin.  Because it’s not a random you that I’m talking to.  It’s a you who is running.  Clawing and scraping so hard to get to the top of that mountain to outrun the pain. And until you can harm yourself enough and sear your own back with lashes and pay back very unpaid debt, you won’t ever get there.  I see you.  I know you.  I feel the heat burn.  But honey, hear me.  You’ll never, ever get there.

There is only one way out.  This is not a choose-your-own adventure.  There are not multiple ways to skin this cat.

There is only this one: Name it. Call that bastard by name.

I hurt her.  I snorted that. I slept with him.  I thought such things I never thought possible.  Because when you name it, you can deal with it.  Start pulling it up to the surface so it can’t hide in dark places. And when I mean pull, I mean you grip it by the scruff of the neck and don’t stop until you pull it out of you and lay it on the table. The Lord’s table.  The table someone told you as a child had power.  So you put that sin there, that nasty beast that made you want to hide.  That you’ve allowed to accompany the empty spaces in your heart all these years.  You throw it down there, screaming and biting and wanting back in.  But you control your own life, and it’s time to clean this house.

Then you tell the Lord to take it.

Take it, Lord.  It’s disgusting and it’s ruined your marriage and the relationship with your kids and you are so, so tired. And then you collapse, because this is all ridiculous and what are you doing praying at a time like this and God has other things to worry about besides your stupid insignificant life and you finally named this horrible thing and now you’re a sniffling idiot on the floor with a need to lose twenty pounds and a headache.

And then you stop sobbing and just sort-of sit for a while.  And out of nowhere you feel it.  Like a soft peace settle upon your heart like a feather.  Some kind of sensation like love or joy or warmth or God but bigger and warmer and you never had emotions like this before that rose up like a summer wind. And it’s clear to you that it’s gone.  That beast that tore at your soul and lied to you that he would never leave is simply gone. Just like that God filled that deep and empty void with love. And now tears come quick and your breath is haste, because He who says he will remove the stain will in fact make all things white as snow.  And you cover your face not in shame but in reverence.  It is gone.  IT HAS BEEN TAKEN. The thing that ruined you and destroyed you and tried to kill you has vanished.

Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you for forgiving me for all the wrongs I’ve done.  Thank you for blowing the spirit in my soul when I’ve done nothing to deserve it.  And for taking this burden from me and letting me finally live.

This, my friends, is forgiveness. It starts inside, where the dark places are. He’ll take it.  He’ll heal it.  God will hurl whatever nasty beast you have too far to hurt you anymore. Throw whatever it is down on the table and ask for God’s forgiveness.  This is when miracles are made.  In the lonely hours, when no one is watching.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/alotor/2994857947/sizes/m/in/photolist-5yDqVR-iCx4D4-dAH5T1-iCx4K6-iCxgww-5yHJw7-5yHJKA-5yHJEA-5yHJAo-dJHzb9-7HykGS-68Dk5o-7uJfau-5FmptF-a8Lskm-bqeNiJ-4Vhj9t-KJSwB-c1VYm5-8EvvKD-yHS7Y-4q5z9E-6pSnzB-9iwzze-6pSnzx-etyJR-dG3FXU-64sP8H-etyNt-etyLh-cvxN43-cD2UR3-eiR1EM-2S4U61-k2wajP-4UQxA7-7AGNCa-k2wc9F-kSa4Qk-5vgppe-5LvLPB-4sF54W-6kc7ib-bb8uQp-nDaREQ-5CuNR1-4qM9aK-czbk7E-cvxPcj-59dtp-dbEdN1/

Bring on the Rain

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“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21

Yeah, yeah.  I read that over and over and just couldn’t get my hands around it. It sounds good in theory, like love your neighbor and tithe and eat your broccoli.  My therapist texted me this verse, with no comment but the underlying “read this, you idiot” and I went home and stared at the words while sucking down a re-heated breakfast taco.  Then I folded laundry, and held my kids so tight they wondered what the heck had come over me, and after they went to bed I sat rocking back and forth like it might sway away the pain and swish out the hate and I then drank wine like the tannins might draw out forgiveness and tomorrow I’d wake up with a dull sense of benevolence.

But I just lay there in silence, drawing mental pictures of hate and revenge and the unfairness of this life.  I curled up tight because all my prayers were spent and used up like tissues, all wadded up and tossed aside.  I drug myself upstairs in the wee morning hours and typed out a long prayer and just demanded that God read it directly off my computer screen, because I was too angry to speak and all I could do was write in a choppy bulleted list.  I sulked and stomped back to bed like an impetuous toddler that had just screamed at her father.  Because honestly.

I want to repay evil with evil, and I am too tired and haggard to do what is right.  Maybe I can just repay evil with a little tragic harm?  The next day, I got pulled over for going 50 in a 40 and I sobbed big fat tears.  I lay my tossled, unbrushed head of hair on the steering wheel because Enough Already.  The officer just handed me a warning and a look that was as compassionate as I’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he reached over right then and hugged me through the window.  I just drove home with a tear-streaked face, going 20 miles per hour and lusting for a cheeseburger.

Sometimes, it’s easy to hate.  Let’s not kid ourselves – it’s always easier to hate.  Because this life is full of disappointment and pain and fear and when we put our trust in humanity it just bites us in the ass.

What’s hard, friends, is to love.

And I don’t mean love as in butterflies and roses and beautiful cards and elusive smiles on second dates.  I don’t mean love your children or love your mother or love your BFF’s who come over and bring you brownies. I mean loving the man who betrayed you.  Loving the stranger who raped you.  Loving that father who beat you and the mother who abandoned you and that dirty, rotten, self-absorbed, abused pitiful self that you’ve been dragging around for so many decades.

Evil is banal and hideous and frankly, doesn’t deserve your respect.  Because friends, you are above it.  You are mightier than it is.  You have the power of God crawling inside your veins and the Holy Spirit dancing in your vessels and your heart is made anew with light and life and freedom from the chains that only darkness brings.

So bring on the rain.  

Let it pour and soak and drench you with sorrow.  Lament and cry and curl and drink and scream.  But in the end, realize that it doesn’t own you.  Allow yourself to look at that man, woman, teacher, stranger, drug, depression, or self, and say: My God is more powerful than you. You can pound and beat down this house but you’ll never consume me. You are standing in this body and the walls might be falling down around you, but you aren’t dead yet, and you have power unimaginable.  Power that moved mountains and raised the dead and caused the lame to walk.

When the mask is removed, that demon is just a poor needy child, so here’s a sip of cool water for that parched tongue, my sweet darling.  I’ll sit with you and smile at your ugly and stroke your dirty, vodka-soaked hair.  You hear me, darkness?  You can’t survive with me around, because I’m all light up in here and rats flee and Satan runs and evil just bares his teeth but it’s all a mirage that disappears when I get close.  Begone, you fool.  I ain’t got time for your stupid, cunning ways.

What are you afraid of, anyway?  That the person that hurt you most will get away with it?  That they might take you for a fool? That they might get a free hall pass for all the damage they’ve caused?  Oh dear friends, they will have to live with the consequences of sin, and vengeance is not yours to take.  Make room and step aside as God enacts his own wrath.  Our job is only to love, and love when it’s hard, and love when it’s not realized, and love even when we are bruised and torn and left alone in front of that mirage we thought was water.  But we can repay evil with the pure, clear, smooth freedom of love, which washes much more clean.

And then nothing will ever chain us.  Nothing will bind us.  We can stretch out our wings and stand before God with bulleted lists of prayers fluttering to our feet, our soul smiling and our hair getting drenched with dew from heaven, and God’s redemption, and we can know that we are living, leading, learning.  Uncurl.  Unclench. Undo the chains around your hardened heart, and bring on the rain.

Overcome evil with good. 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/megyarsh/2501775595/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Billboards

I loathe hypocrites.  I hate them so much I wish I could spit on them and tell them that they can’t love Jesus on one hand and say they hate Democrats on the other. These people raise their arms on Sunday and wish the Mormons would move to Canada.  They tsk, tsk their way to Monday by whispering that gay people are harmful, rotten folk.  It’s a black-and-white billboard that screams “Don’t believe me!  I’m a walking double standard!  My God is only as good and powerful and forgiving as I allow!”

It’s no wonder why so many people shun religion.

I’m just as bad. I might not hate Mormons or hold picket signs at abortion clinics, but I have my own brand of ugly.  I accept that Christ can wash clean a heart, but it’s so terribly hard for me to forgive.  I nod my head that we should love freely and give of self, and yet I’m as self-centered as they come. I see the world through my own eyes because they are mostly right.  I mean come on.  If I ruled the world, it would be a much better place.  No one would contradict me, we’d all agree mushrooms are icky, everyone would listen to folk music on Wednesdays, and coffee would always be served hot with two raw sugars.  Can I get a hell yeah?

I like to think of my own ideas as far superior to most like-minded people.  So what if my plan has actual deficiencies, or that another human being can actually make a point that is equal and as valid as my own.  If it differs from my own ideas, I pout and demand and bring up my version at every possible opportunity.  Like a tiny sword a millimeter long, it might not kill.  But it scratches and itches and penetrates a tiny bit of skin over and over until the victim just caves in from the torture.

I suppose I am also one of those billboards that must sound to God like nails on a chalkboard.  Please do it my way.  I have the answers.  Sweet people around me, you are so cute and lovable but quite simply wrong.  I need to control something to make my life feel important.  I don’t show this interior self to everyone. I like to think of myself as magnanimous and loving and accepting of differences.  And yet in the hole of my own little world I’m a selfish being who likes to direct outcomes.  I use a lot of “I” and not a lot of “us.”

You and me?  Well we are all in this together. 

We are all hypocrites.  Human beings are remarkably great at some things and so pitifully bad at others. And as it turns out we can’t label others with this title because we’d only be marking on ourselves.  My 6-year-old told me over breakfast today that we all have “the sin sickness” that came from Adam and Eve eating the apple.  It’s true, sweet girl. We all have the sickness that comes from sin, and to some extent we all say one thing and do something else so insanely off-course.

But it’s never too late.  We can always change direction, and apologize, and forgive. We can lay down our picket signs and realize that without mercy we are all just broken-down hypocrites, screaming loudly and yet saying nothing.  To witness, we must serve.  To praise, we must be quiet.  To change, we must break down our old selves and admit we are wrong.

We don’t need to control the world.  We submit it all to Him, and accept the outcome with grace and humility.  He is the master and orchestrator of all that is good.  We are just innocuous players, along for the ride with the top down, laughing at the billboards along the highway.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/codyr/234976867/

broken mirrors

The other night, I spent hours writing an article on inward beauty, and how a gentle spirit matters more than True Religion jeans.  We place so much importance on our appearance that we let the true elegance of our spirit go both unnoticed and unrecognized.  I stayed up late editing the piece, and was happy with how it turned out, and hoped that the national magazine where I submitted it would publish it.

The next day, my six-year-old had a play date.  I had been slumming around all week in workout attire, so I finally fixed my hair, put on a frilly top, and wore a necklace.  I sat poolside and shared with another mom how sad it was that someone I know seemed to stop caring about herself, and how she is just too pretty to let herself go like that.  The vitriol speech flowed like warm honey out of my mouth.  I didn’t even bat an eye.

Let me recap.

  1. I wrote an article on how outward beauty is overrated.
  2. I felt all slap-happy proud of myself for writing it.
  3. I dolled up for a bunch of moms who didn’t really care how I looked
  4. I totally slammed on some poor hapless victim about her lack of outward beauty
  5. I went home singing show tunes and eating popsicles

Sometimes I want to poke my own eyes out like one of the Three Stooges.  How can I possibly be such a screw-up?  Can I not go 24 hours without being so downright hypocritical?  I texted the mom I was talking to and apologized for my words, but it fell flat.  I lowered my head to ask for forgiveness.  I realized how flawed I am as a human being, and I wondered why God keeps giving me second chances.

Peter promised Jesus he wouldn’t betray him.  He felt with every fiber of his being that he wouldn’t. And yet he did.  Because left to our own devices, we say one thing and do another. We fall asleep and say hurtful words and fill our lives with vanity.  We give to the church but ignore the poor.  We pray for hours, and then walk out spewing vinegar from our mouths.  It’s a disgrace to our Creator.  It’s a disgrace to others who see us as examples.  It’s a disgrace to ourselves.  Our lives are but a broken mirror with past mistakes and shattered weaknesses strewn around on the floor.

But God repairs, and cuts heal.  I’ll regroup as the new day dawns, as Peter did.  Not due not to my own strength, but of His.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/matte0ne/6328100019/