There are some of you, dear readers, who have taken me aside privately and said, “Erin, your blog… it’s too much.”
“Too honest?” I ask.
“If you want to call it that,” replied one.
I wonder what it is about religious people that makes it hard for us to stomach one another’s truth. One another’s pain, grief, struggles. I think it’s the fact that we’ve traded in righteousness for self-righteousness.
Myself, I can’t stand a memoir or a poem or an autobiography that skims over the Awful. Not because I enjoy rubbernecking at a car crash (though we all do, don’t we?), but because it is okay to commune with the broken person. The perfect person is out of my reach. I have nothing to chat about with the perfect person. I fear the perfect person. But you give me an alcoholic, a former bulimic, a guy with a stutter, a mother with an anxiety disorder, and I’ll love them with my whole heart and read everything they ever write and probably ask them to preach at my funeral.
Perfect people are so boring and tedious as to be odious.
I had a boyfriend once with whom I went to an old used bookstore. Encountering the poetry section, I found an old book of Bukowski poems, plopped down on the floor, and read a few to him. He was scandalized. For those who don’t know, Bukowski regularly writes about alcoholism, sleeping around, and despair– and often uses pretty salty language. Even with me censoring the roughest words, this fellow could not handle the fact that I loved this poet. He encouraged (demanded?) me to not buy the book, and to read more lady-like poets like Dickinson.
It takes a little bit of the Awful, a little bit of honesty, to earn readers’ trust. That’s part of why I don’t censor very much of what goes on this blog, and why, if I ever write my memoirs, they will include the stories of how I called the family of a sick baby by the wrong name and the times I decided to run away and start a new life as an office assistant because I didn’t feel like doing this ministry thing anymore.
But… it also takes a little bit of admitting the Awful, a little being-completely-honest, to earn your own trust. I feel that a lot of people spend a lot of time convincing themselves that everything is fine– deep breaths, that wasn’t so bad, there are children starving in Africa, stop complaining. It’s true that there are children starving in Africa, but one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read is that the starving children don’t negate your own Awful experiences.
You still hurt deeply. You still feel great loneliness. You still debate your call, the meaning of your existence, and your aptitude for human life.
The Church is supposed to be that place where all your Awfuls get plunked down at the altar rail for God and everyone to see. And then they’re left there and you don’t have to carry them home with you, because everyone else takes a piece of them and shoulders the burden for you (instead of judging and throwing you out for being so scandalous and sinful). The Church is supposed to be that place where you can quote Bukowski and Plath, because sometimes that’s your truth, and not be told, “Sweetie, don’t you think you should just stick to Mary Oliver?” The Church is supposed to be that place where you can (even should, even must) confess all your sins. And then be freed and forgiven– by God, by yourself, and by the congregation.
One of my favorite parts of our worship services at my church is the confession of faith, followed by these words: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Glory to God! Amen.” But sometimes the printed words of confession that we read aloud together don’t seem like enough. I want the space to lament. I want the space to go into detail, with the hope that hearing my struggles will help others.
That’s what this blog is for me. And I pray that it’s that for you, as well.
So I’m keeping on the way I’ve been writing. Thank you to those who have been encouraging. Thank you to those who have offered criticism. It is important to keep the conversation going. My answer to your being scandalized by my words is this:
Truth-telling is closer to godliness than perfection. Therefore I will seek to be truthful rather than perfect. Truth-telling is the medium of the Gospel. Therefore I will seek to be truthful for the sake of the Kingdom. Truth-telling is the way of trust. Therefore I will seek to be truthful in order to earn both your and my trust.
If you’re interested, here’s one of Bukowski’s more tame, hopeful, and popular poems:
“another comeback” (source: Charles Bukowski, Come On In! New Poems, ed. John Martin (ecco: New York), 2006.)
climbing back up out of the ooze, out of
the thick black tar.
rising up again, a modern
you’re amazed at your good
somehow you’ve had more
than your share of second
hell, accept it.
what you have, you have.
you walk and look in the bathroom
at an idiot’s smile.
and you know your luck.
some go down and never climb back up.
something is being kind to you.
you turn from the mirror and walk into the
you find a chair, sit down, light a cigar.
back from a thousand wars
you look out from an open door into the silent
Sibelius plays on the radio.
nothing has been lost or destroyed.
you blow smoke into the night.
tug at your right
baby, right now, you’ve got it