Truth-Telling

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

Lazarus.

you’re amazed at your good

fortune.

somehow you’ve had more

than your share of second

chances.

hell, accept it.

what you have, you have.

you walk and look in the bathroom

mirror

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

world.

you find a chair, sit down, light a cigar.

back from a thousand wars

you look out from an open door into the silent

night.

Sibelius plays on the radio.

nothing has been lost or destroyed.

you blow smoke into the night.

tug at your right

ear.

baby, right now, you’ve got it

all.

Some Truths for Election Day and All Days

1. Jesus meant what He said, and He did not exaggerate.

When He said to the rich young man, “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor,” He really meant all, not just some, and He meant right now.

When He said to visit the imprisoned, care for the sick, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and give clothes to those who have no clothes, He didn’t mean sometimes.  He didn’t mean “when you get convicted and/or a ‘calling’ to do so.”  And He DEFINITELY didn’t mean, “but only those who seem like they’re picking themselves up by the bootstraps, like they really deserve help.”  No, He meant everyone, at all times, in all places.  No way around it, kiddos.

When He send, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” He meant that.  Do your citizenly duty: vote, pay your taxes, don’t evade the law, respect government officials, even if you didn’t vote for them.  But He also meant it when He added, “and give to God what belongs to God.”  Do your duty as a citizen of the Kingdom of God: pray, tithe, don’t evade God’s commands, respect God’s will and Word, even if they’re not what you would have chosen.

2. Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ.

#thingsthatshouldn’thavetobestated

3. Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama will save our country, our economy, or our souls.

#morethingsthatshouldn’thavetobestated

4. America’s issues are not unique to America.

Read the prophets.  There have always been poor people, uneducated people, corrupt leaders, sick people who can’t get healthcare, agitators, foreign enemies, taxes, crime, you name it.

Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you” (Mk 14.7).

These might be the end times.  They also might not.  Who cares?  God’s got it covered.  The message doesn’t change either way: Live faithfully.  Live like you’re dying, because you are.  Live like you will live forever, because you will.  This is the great paradox and the great freedom of Christianity.

5. There is danger afoot.

These are troubled times.

The mainline church is dying.  No way around it: As another pastor reminded me last week, it is dying, and it is dying more quickly than we ever imagined.  It will soon be dead, and that is just a fact.

But we as Christians know that death is not the end.  From the tomb rises something– Someone– all the more resplendent.  So we do not fear death.  When the mainline Church takes her last breath, Jesus will bear up the faithful remnant on eagles’ wings, and the body of Christ will emerge stronger than before– having been tried and purged by fire, refined like gold, she will no longer be bloated with those who are Christian only in name.  She will be made up of only the faithful few.  She will be all the more resplendent in her holiness.

Can we believe the same thing about America?  I don’t know that America is dying, but I know that there is danger afoot.  Neither candidate will save us.  Only God will.

6. I don’t know if America is dying, but we are.

I guarantee that there are poor people within half a mile of you, probably less, wherever you are sitting reading this right now, who are dying.

There are people dying because they can’t afford healthcare.  There are children dying because their single mothers can’t afford food or HIV medication.  There are sick people dying alone in hospitals because their partners aren’t recognized as spouses.  There are people who do not seek treatment for psychiatric and medical issues for fear that it will later be considered a preexisting condition.  They are people who might or might not be trying to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, whatever that means.  They are dying people, and Jesus called us to help them in whatever way(s) we can.

And then there are the people who are dying of the impulse to commit suicide, of loneliness, of faithlessness, of helplessness, of depression, of fearfulness, of hopelessness, of guilt and shame, of emptiness.  Spoiler alert: these people might be rich, and white, and Democrats.  These people might be unable or unwilling to ask for help.  These people might sit beside you in church every Sunday.  They are dying people nonetheless, and Jesus called us to help them in whatever way(s) we can.

I’m bringing it back around to point #1: Jesus did not exaggerate.  He meant what He said.  When you see someone in need, see the face of Jesus.  What would you do for Jesus?  Do it for that person.  Whether they are black or white or Hispanic or smiling or yelling or ugly or handsome or drunk or dangerous or in jail or in a high-rise or a family man or a single mother or a child or an elderly person.  Whether they can suffer the shame of asking for help or not.  Whether they are a Republican or a Democrat.  Whether they are rich or poor.  Everyone is suffering.  We are all dying.  And we are all invited to eternal life in Christ.

Do what you can.  Vote, yes, and then go to the prison.  Call people and campaign for the candidate whose values you believe most line up with those of the Kingdom of God, yes, and then call an elderly widow in your church.  Pray fervently for the election and write letters to your senators and give $10 to the Red Cross, yes, and then pack your backseat full of gift bags that contain protein bars and dried fruit and walmart gift cards to give out to homeless people you see on the street.

Do what you can.

…And by the way, you also have to apply that whole “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” thing here as well as on the soccer field.