I still remember stealing a shiny Spanish coin from Bob May’s basement. I was probably about 10. Bob had scads of them, so I reckoned he wouldn’t miss one. If I had asked, Bob probably would have given me a coin, but I didn’t ask. I just took one. It burned a hole in my pocket until I returned it to its place on his basement floor.
I long ago came to the conclusion we are all a combination of good and evil. We do not just commit sins of omission. We commit sins of commission, and we do it throughout our lives. Sometimes we put the coin back. Sometimes we do not.
I do not think Evangelical Christianity prepares us for the reality that we are never going to be perfect as Jesus is perfect. In the misguided notion that we can attain something close to sinless behavior, we end up focusing on specks and ignoring logs. We do not embrace and accept our full humanity. As a result, our failure to be superhuman results in deep-seated shame.
The truth is we all juggle the relative merit of various values and make decisions that leave logs sticking out of our eyes. When we make believe the logs of others are worse than our own, it is a vain attempt to climb into the clouds where we can live among the gods, passing judgment on mere mortals, negating the messiness of our own humanity.
I used to do adoption casework and would routinely ask people to tell me their greatest flaws. Most people had no trouble. Evangelicals balked. At first I thought they were reticent to admit their flaws. Eventually I realized many believed they had overcome theirs. The avoidance of their humanity made it difficult to evaluate their fitness as parents.
In East of Eden, John Steinbeck paints a fascinating portrait of twin brothers. One seems removed from the reality of his emptiness, while the other despises his own tendency toward the profane, while mistaking his brother’s pseudo-morality for piety. My good friend, Jen Jepsen (jenniferjepsen.org) wrote about the book last week in her journal. Her words are perfect:
Why is timshel (a Hebrew word in the novel) so important? I already believe in choice, but do I get the weight of the power? There is evil but we aren’t powerless over it. There is suffering, but we aren’t powerless over it. We have a choice, a constant choice. Do I choose greatness, in the form of choosing good over evil?
There are abundant, if not infinite implications here. We are each in copious supply of good AND evil. This is illustrated in the character of Cal. Aron chooses to walk the pious path, which eliminates him from the beauty of humanity, while Cal is fully aware of his sides and fully baffled by why he does what he does (Rom 7).
In Evangelical Christianity we’ve been dumbed down to this belief in holiness and perfection, so we strive and strive – we have a pile of Arons, but what about the Cals? Well, these are the beautiful multi-faceted souls who provide us with art, music, truth and redemption. These are the souls who fill churches like Highlands (the church Jen and I attend.) These are the souls who can climb into the depths with another, for they have been there.
I have no interest in accountability groups and prayer circles whose aim is to rid me of my poor choices (sin). These will only feed my Aron. I want the wrestle that renders me with a limp, like Jacob, like Cal. This is the greatness, the depth.
One of the blessings of becoming a pariah is that you quit striving. Transitioning and losing almost everyone and everything gifted me with a necessary holy defeat. I would not have chosen it, but I have come to receive it as a gift.
Walking with a limp helps me walk more slowly. I see my sins more clearly. There are so many. Lately I have been remorseful about not coming out earlier in support of LGBTQ people. I am embarrassed by my lack of integrity.
I am not, however, embarrassed by my humanity. I feel guilt where it is due, but I no longer feel shame. It is good to be human, and broken, and defeated, and redeemed. Jen is right. Therein lies the greatness, the depth.
And so it goes.