Thursday, June 5, 2014

What I've learned from Holly Hunter and Martin Luther

In the movie Network, the character played by Holly Hunter spent a few minutes every morning crying her eyes out and then went about her day. That’s stuck with me through the years because it seemed so bizarre, and yet normal, because I often do the same thing. There are days when I awaken in the morning and I am beside myself with remorse.

I’ve taken great comfort in the way that Luther describes the significance baptism has for our daily lives in The Small Catechism. He suggests that the drowning of the old person and the rebirth of a new person is a process that continues for us each day of our lives. Every day a new person rises. I love that. We can forget about all the stuff that mired us down the previous day and start with a clean slate. Aaaah!

And so, I tried to live as if that were true. But along the way I got tired of pretending and finally came to the conclusion that that’s just not how it works for me. It may be that way for some people, but not for me.

My big problem is that every day when I awaken it’s not just the garbage I’m carrying around from the previous 24 hours that is burdening me. It’s the garbage I’m carrying around from the previous 62 years. And that’s a lot of garbage. It’s the stuff that causes me shame and regret, the stuff I just can’t let go. Particularly disturbing to me are the times when I know I have hurt other people. No doubt there are countless times when I have hurt people unknowingly, but the ones I am consciously aware of are more than enough for me to deal with. It’s mostly stupid or careless things that I have said. I can wake up in the morning beating myself up over some hurtful words I said 50 years ago. Seriously, I can. So, the whole clean slate metaphor doesn’t work for me. But, is that really what Luther was talking about?

One of the things I’ve come to understand about being a Christian is that it’s not about trying to become a really good person. For a long time, I thought that was the case. Life was about striving for perfection, knowing I could never achieve it, but trying to get as close to it as I could. So, what a lovely idea to know that every day I had a fresh start, that I got a free pass and all of my failures were hereby declared null and void. Then I could start all over again... and accumulate a whole new set of failures. (I suspect this is the way many of us look at weekly confession at worship.) But that theology just doesn’t work for me anymore. It’s not how I’ve grown to understand God and it’s not true to my experience as a person of faith.

Instead of striving for perfection, I see the purpose of my life as striving for wholeness. That means not only accepting who I am with all my imperfections, but even embracing my imperfections. They are a part of who I am, a part of the person God loves. God doesn’t just love the bright, shiny things about me. God also loves the dark, crazy things about me. All those things are me. The burden that my failures place on my life comes from my tendency to make them a burden, to see them as negative, and a source of shame.

I still see myself as a sinner, to be sure. But my sin is not what I used to think it was. It’s not a series of acts I commit in the course of a day that I might label wrong or bad. My greatest sin is my failure to embrace the person God created in love by denying a big part of who I am.

And so, when I wake up in the morning kicking myself over those times when I wasn’t the person I thought I should have been, it’s a time to begin again. And once again God drowns my sin. So I rise again, no longer kicking myself, but dancing through the day as God’s beloved daughter.