About a year ago, I started to understand the concept of why people make art. A good artist, in my humble opinion (or perhaps this opinion is a projection of my own reasoning for making art) makes art not based on the market that is open, or based on what the consumer wants, but based on what they’ve been through themselves (the artist, that is.) I heard musicians talk about how they don’t make music for other people, but they make it for themselves, and it’s starting to make sense.
When I was a senior in high school, I wrote a lot of poetry and a lot of lyrics, but they weren’t based on any personal experiences, they were just based on things I heard musicians say in songs and I tried to make it sound really nice and philosophical. And, honestly, I was probably a better writer (aesthetically) then than I am now. I abandoned writing just after that year because I felt such a lack of fulfillment doing it – it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy writing or that I didn’t even enjoy my product, it’s just that I didn’t feel anything.
But recently, with the help of a few friends and a lot of listening to music, I’ve started writing again. In fact, I think that my ability to write blogs, for instance, has suffered a little bit, because I’m getting used to being concise and writing my thoughts over the course of a few bars, a few stanzas, a few lines.
My latest piece is one that came out of a time of processing my life – so in a sense, this is just a fleshing out of the thinking that went into that one – when I pondered my own mistakes, my own failures, my own humanity, and my own righteousness (or, as some would undoubtedly say, lack thereof.)
What does it really mean to be only human? And, as a piggyback to that question, what does it mean to be human and righteous?
See, I feel as though the biggest misunderstanding I have as a result of being in among Christian culture is that as a Christian, I have room to fail and make mistakes, but not the types of mistakes that the world would make. It’s almost as though Christianity subtly preaches, “there’s grace for your past, and there’s grace for your future, but the threshold changes a lot once you’re saved.” Let me explain…
Say there’s a young man who comes to Jesus at an early age, like 17. He follows hard for a few years – goes to youth camps, conferences, attends every Sunday, etc. then at age 21, he and his (Christian) friends start a band. They start playing shows locally, and it turns out that this band thing could really blow up and they could really start doing it full time. So they start booking tours. They start going on the road. They start meeting a lot of new people. They make friends in a band, and in the interest of friendship, they start going to bars before or after shows. A few times here and there, they get caught up in the fun, excitement, and overall strangeness of the situation, and they have a few too many drinks a few too many times. One or two of them even get in a fight. One of them meets a girl and starts kissing her and goes back to her place for a night. One of them has so many drinks that he blacks out and remembers NOTHING the next day.
Does that sound like post-conversion behavior to you? Probably not. But it’s sounding like it moreso to me every day, and here’s why…
I totally believe that spending years in church is a really good thing, and it’s a really great way to build a really great theological foundation, and it is a good way to determine the sort of behavior is good and what isn’t good, etc. But I also think that it’s easy to think that there are two categories of behavior: things Christians do, and things Christians don’t do.
Things Christians do include: read the Bible, hang out with friends at coffee shops, listen to worship music, read C.S. Lewis, listen to Christian podcasts and sermons, work at Christian businesses, witness to their co-workers, etc.
Things Christians don’t do include: go to a bar, have a few too many drinks, make out with their girlfriends or think of them in an even slightly sexual way, work at a secular or otherwise non-religious business, hang out with their co-workers just for the sake of hanging out, read a book by Richard Dawkins, cuss, listen to a non-Christian band, etc.
At least – that’s how I feel I was taught. Not by anyone in particular (I always want to be careful because I don’t want to make it sound like I grew up in a bad church or around bad people, but I feel like being in among Christian culture all of the time [this includes music, books, etc.] this is the impression I got. The church I came from taught me all about grace and I understood it in a very theoretical sense, it seems to me like this season of life is a season spent learning what grace means practically.)
So what happens when a Christian does something in the Things Christians Don’t Do category?
If he’s anything like me, he freaks out. He questions the whole thing, he beats himself up for being too selfish and having no self-control (perhaps true) he might even start to resent Christian culture a little bit. He wonders if God still loves him, he wonders if he’s stupid for being so subject to temptation, so on and so forth.
– here’s where I become a heretic.
Christians are full of it, too.
As in, Christians make mistakes.
Christians probably most strongly condemn the things they’re most prone to doing. Christians probably most harshly judge the things they don’t understand, or the things they’re most afraid of.
I’m encouraged when I read the Bible because I realize that there are heroes we praise in the Bible who were absolutely full of shit and made horrible mistakes.
I realize that Peter was a coward – Peter, who swore he’d follow Jesus to death, denied Him without any threat of persecution.
I realize that Abraham was a coward and a liar – he pimped out his own wife for safety from the Egyptians (or whoever it was.)
I realize that David couldn’t keep it in his pants and he sought out the hot, naked chick on his neighbor’s rooftop when he saw her bathing. Oh, and then he had her husband killed.
I realize that one of our biblical heroes (can’t remember who off the top of my head) got drunk and his daughters went in and slept with him. HE HAD SEX WITH HIS DAUGHTERS.
I realize that Job was a bit of a whiner and a complainer when things went wrong.
I realize that humans are human.
I realize that there was never a threshold at which people stop making mistakes – these guys didn’t just stop making mistakes once they started believing God. Their lives didn’t take on this façade of sanitary morality – they made real, big mistakes in the middle of what most modern-day preachers would call “fulfilling their destiny” or the promise that God had for their lives. They did bad things in the middle of their “faith journey.”
I don’t write this because I want to justify the mistakes I’ve made – I write it because I’ve experienced first-hand how, in some cases, there’s a level at which the mistake you make becomes too big for the cross, according to this clean brand of Christianity we practice nowadays. I write this to cope with the thoughts I’ve had after a night when I had one drink too many and I felt the voices in my head saying, “don’t you dare open that Bible. What can you expect to find there?” When I’ve worked long nights and have had borderline murderous thoughts about people I work with or work for, or customers who made the day hard, and I find myself thinking that the last person I can turn to is Jesus, because if I really knew who Jesus was, I would have never done or thought those things in the first place.
Jesus, who is so full of grace and truth, who deals with us with such a tender heart and a faithful love. Who never rejects us for our mistakes – no, the only people Jesus seemed to come down on were those who didn’t realize their mistakes were mistakes in the first place.
Jesus, who loves us, even when we don’t understand in the least what that entails.
Jesus, who isn’t done with us, whether we stumble blindly in the dark or willingly turn away.