Wednesday, February 28, 2007

[slightly revised]

Here are the recurring themes [or mantras] in chronological order:

What the hell do I know?

I'm fucked.

All religious acts are "stupid."

These three themes comprise about 99% of my thinking these days. Obviously, the last is the most hopeful. But it is also the hardest to hold onto. The power of the second lies in its ability to draw strength from itself; the more it appears, the more it appears, if you know what I mean.

I look at the mess I have made of my life, and I wonder what the hell I thought I was doing. But that is nothing compared to what I have done to my wife and my children. I look back wondering what I could have done to avoid this train-wreck, and a hundred possibilities rise before my wondering eyes:

I could have steeled myself to commit myself to an exclusive emotional commitment to my wife, as I had in fact done for over twenty-five years. That was the demand in response to my offer never to act on any of the feelings I could no longer deny. Could I have done it? At the time I thought not, but now I am not so sure, because...

I could have realized that the problem of being "on fire," which ate up a lot of my life last spring, would necessarily diminish once it met the realities of real life, and did not feed on fantasy. Oops.

I could have lived in sorrow and suffering without inflicting it on others. It would be one thing if my departure had been liberating, if I were reveling in a new life rather than mourning my old one with every fiber of my being. Surely it would have been better for one of me to suffer than to inflict untold suffering on four other people. I think I will never be able to get over that one.

But the sad fact is that I did not feel I had any choice. I am fairly sure now that if we had managed to actually talk to each other, rather than reacting to each other and what we thought we heard, this whole sorry mess need not have happened.

But as it was, I felt I had the choice between freedom and continuing to live my life in purely negative terms, where the most I could claim for myself was what I was not doing. No real life can be lived negatively; it has taken me forty or fifty years of trying to figure that out. You have to choose something. And once you do that, you have to pay the price.

The hook, as usual, comes along after...
and in this case it is that I had
made a choice thirty years ago, and finally found I could no longer live with it. For whatever reasons, I could no longer live with myself. Which is the one thing I can't make anyone else understand: it was myself I could no longer live with. The problem was me, not anyone else's failure, or shortcomings, or evil. The only thing I regret is that other people have had to suffer for my mistakes. And God has brought blessings even out of them. But He also knows I have paid a price.


And mine is one that I sincerely wish I could have avoided.
But freedom is mine. For all it's worth.

Here's the other thing. What this freedom brings is a life not without rules, but a life beyond rules. And what I have to live with is the fact that living in this freedom is in fact living in sin. Not, I think, in the sense that I feel I am personally going to hell [which at this point actually sounds like an improvement -- at least it would be warm], but because my freedom has been bought with the suffering of others. And that everything I do in my freedom will be sin to most others, and in some sense even to me, because of that. Which slot Tab A goes into is completely immaterial; that is not what I am talking about. But the very nature of my existence is subject to the judgment of scripture, and I enter into it knowing the judgment and the price and the fact that it is the same scripture that calls me to live in freedom.

Most church people do not really accept the idea that we are in fact all sinners -- Calvinism's dubious claim that it could separate the sheep from the goats prior to Judgment Day still goes unchallenged, which, considering the fact that it flies in the face of scripture, seems remarkable. But to really take on the fact not that you may once have sinned, but that the very way you were created means that you will constantly live in sin, means that you can penetrate to the real meaning of the gospel, which is that we are forgiven. I realize that it gets more complicated from here on in, and that the whole question of repentance is very tangled and has been the subject of endless [and generally pretty useless] debates for a long time.

But what I am trying to say is that we can't let those questions, which, like everything of any importance, are all tied up in mystery, hinder us from really focusing on what Christ meant when he said that we should forgive our brothers not seven times, but seventy times seven times -- if that is the standard we are held to, we who are made of clay and end in dust, how can we possibly think that God is smaller-minded than that? This is where faith understood in the meaning of trust becomes so important, as Luther was told when he was driving his confessor crazy by obsessing over every tiny fault... To Luther's credit, he went on to say: sin boldly, but trust in Christ more boldly.

And my pal Augustine said: love and do what you like. I think that's the key...
I'm not sure I can explain it any better than that.

But I accept the judgment of scripture. [How many times have I called my brother a fool, which I seem to remember is considered on a par with murder? Actually, I have a number of brothers who have practically forced me to comment on their foolishness for so long, that I am an unrepentant serial killer by that standard...] That's far more serious than what happens on some weekend in the woods, no matter how evanescent its joys may have been. Or how unlikely ever to be repeated. That was chosen, and a gift, and many other things I had better leave unsaid.
Let me just say that big words like "gratitude," "generosity," and "patience" crowded my mind until I tried to force them into expression.

[And gratitude, as David Steindl-Rast has said, is the heart of prayer.]

As usual, I hit the "send" button long before I was finished with more than a stab at it, so it didn't come close to what I intended, but I have always said that it is better to say something half-assed and say it poorly than to say nothing at all. At certain moments.

I hope I am right... in any case:

Out of the abundance of the heart,
the mouth speaketh.

Oh, and if you haven't heard Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson's CD of Bach arias, go and get it and listen to it. The drawback is that you have to listen to the text [or follow it in translation] to get what her singing is all about:

giving voice to the human soul in fear and in consolation



  1. Somehow I have the lyric, "freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose" playing in my mind right.

  2. WOE:

    Gotcha. There's also:

    you aint gettin' no younger
    Your pain and your hunger,
    they're drivin you home
    And freedom (oh, freedom!)
    Well, thats just some people talkin'
    Your prison is
    Walking through this world all alone.

    That one goes through my mind a lot these days, too.


  3. Troll:
    Here's an alternative lyric that I think fits:

    All we have to do now
    Is take these lies and make them true somehow
    All we have to see
    Is that I don't belong to you
    And you don't belong to me
    You've gotta give for what you take

    You're free, Troll, in every factual way if not in your heart. Seize the day.
    Always my best,

  4. Hi Troll,

    I have been praying for you each morning and night...praying that you will find peace. The God of my understanding loves you just the way you were created. He does not judge you.

    Each morning I read from several "inspirational" books, one of which is a rather old one entitled "Streams in the Desert." It's pretty heavily Christian, which I am not, but I often hear what I need to hear when I read it.

    I thought of you when I read today's entry:

    "Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked." (Eccles. 7:13.)

    Often God seems to place His children in positions of profound difficulty, leading them into a wedge from which there is no escape; contriving a situation which no human judgment would have permitted, had it been previously consulted. The very cloud conducts them thither. You may be thus involved at this very hour.

    It does seem perplexing and very serious to the last degree, but it is perfectly right. The issue will more than justify Him who has brought you hither. It is a platform for the display of His almighty grace and power.

    He will not only deliver you; but in doing so, He will give you a lesson that you will never forget, and to which, in many a psalm and song, in after days, you will revert. You will never be able to thank God enough for having done just as He has."

    Hang in there.

    Your friend,