Forgiving God, Forgiving Me

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The sophomore poetry notebook was a thing of legend in my high school. It required that students collect and analyze a plethora of works from various different traditions. I’d I entirely forgotten about the affair. Until I found my notebook a couple weeks ago.

In addition to studying canonical works, we were also required to write several pieces of poetry ourselves. Dear God, was that a painful read. I can’t remember writing most of mine, but they all must have been crafted sometime in the twilight of hormonal despair, perhaps after my parents had grounded me or unjustly revoked driving privileges (damn mailbox was too close to the road anyway). Turning the page from Frost to a sheet of my pimpled angst was like being taking a bite of sensuous cheesecake right before being jolted with a cattle prod.

Thus, and understandably, I went to tear out the pages with the mind to burn them. But then I paused and reconsidered. I think I understood, somewhat at least, how a parent might enshrine childhood photos of their kid looking- by all standards- ridiculous.

“Mom, not the fat, pre-braces picture. Really?”

“Oh, but don’t you look so cute?”

The act of begetting- it seems- is coupled with forgiveness for pudgy doofuscity.

Andrew Elphinstone was an obscure individual, even for a theologian. He was born Armistice Day of 1918 into the margins of royalty. He was educated in theology at New College, Oxford and ordained to serve as a curate. He wrote one book, which went through one printing after he died relatively young of from an ailing heart condition. I found a copy of his work in my school’s library. It’s not been checked out in several years.

Said Elphinstone: “Perhaps God stands…not only as the bestower of forgiveness, but as the Father who even stoops to invite the forgiveness he cannot deserve in order to make it one degree easier for man to be drawn into (his) love.”

I’ve been doing a lot of running lately. Luther once remarked that baptism was the drowning of the old self during which one quickly discovers that the bastard can swim. In my case, the bastard is a dual athlete. Which is to say that when I’m out running, as of late, I feel as though I’m trying to outrun my demons. That sounds (overly) dramatic. But sometimes I feel as though I spend all day in the libraries of my mind, and by the end the stacks of comprehension are closing in on me. And so I run. Which is nice, because I enjoy it. But I do wish my brain wasn’t claustrophobic.

Because when I look at my notebook – at the scraps of near unintelligible chicken scratch that I once submitted as ‘poetry’- I see nothing wonderful. I see angst, and self-righteousness; emotionally vague terms bathed in gruesome attempts at iambic pentameter.

And yet, I can’t throw it away.

I want to say the world is beautiful and I want to say that all poetry- even my own- is good. But sometimes I wonder if the world is the demon God is attempting to outrun, and the race leads to the cross. Elphinstone’s words haunt me, almost as much as my crappy poetry.

But maybe God is in the poetry, together gasping for breath over the miles of good earth we run to escape the bad demons we cannot leave behind. Maybe God is not the author of injustice, as we’ve struggled to presume, but is in fact the perpetrator. In every discrepancy He is the judge and the judged. And the demons I’m trying to outrun are God himself in my heart, begging me forgiveness so that he might then save me. It’s startlingly humble of him; a paradoxical of humility only God could attain. Such lunacy might even be called ‘grace.’

And even still I struggle to believe it.

I want to say that the world is beautiful. But sometimes all that can escape my lips is “I forgive you.” I forgive with the fear that I will also be struck down, for I know I am asking first to be forgiven. But the love that brings me in is the love that allows me to be judge, allows me to be angry, allows me to run and yell and scream and write poetry that makes Billie Joe Armstrong sound like goddamned Shakespeare.

If I can forgive myself for such poetry, if I can withhold my hand from its destruction, then maybe, just maybe, I might also forgive God for forgiving me. Forgiveness is eternity dripping from mortal lips; just come down from the cross- you’ve made your point! I want to believe it’s possible. I hope it’s possible.

But if not, then I’ll burn the damn thing. Trust me, its good riddance anyway.

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To Women Everywhere, Regarding Yoga Pants

Yoga Pants

Dear Women of the World,

Here’s what I have to say about you wearing yoga pants:

Ladies, please, take note. You can wear yoga pants. You can not wear yoga pants. It’s up to you. It’s none of my business. And honestly, I really don’t care.

And yes, I am a male. And yes, I am a Christian male. And I believe that your body is a wonderful and beautiful thing, one that bears the imago dei. And I hope you know that you are wonderful and beautiful as well.

But women don’t cause men to lust. Lust is not forced upon anyone. If you are intentionally trying to seduce me, that’s one thing. But I don’t interpret your ordering a vanilla latte in front of me in Starbucks as an attempt at foreplay.

And it’s not your fault if I see you, in whatever clothes you are or are not wearing, and hold you in my mind as a sexual object the sole purpose of which is fulfilling my desires. None of that = your fault. 

Can I be honest? Sometimes I think men are just jealous. Should I chose to don leggings and stroll through the mall with my buttocks firmly, thinly clothed- the only thing I’d be enticing women into is spluttering giggles. Maybe a few vows of celibacy.

The female body is-generally speaking- more appealing to the eye than the male body. And men are also more visual creatures on a physiological level. That’s not an accident. That’s creative design, God’s design. And I’m frustrated with purity movements that attempt to shroud the beauty of that connection, to stifle it. This is not to say that I- or any other husband- should have eyes for anyone other than my wife. Nothing is further from my point. Rather, I should have eyes for my wife, eyes that behold, eyes that absorb, eyes that witness her beauty in a way that prompts worship of her creator. But those same eyes should be able to look into those of another woman and see her as a woman. Not a sexual object. Not an object of lust. Not a threat. A woman, made in God’s image, made with the intention that one day she and I would live in perfect, heavenly community.

The answer to lust is not unplugging our computers, putting on blinders and demanding that all women wear sweatpants in public. Such denial of beauty is akin to burning poetry and shattering priceless paintings. Nothing could be less Christian. For the only god who demands such things is the one named “Decency.” And he would have felt pretty awkward in Eden.

Rather the answer to lust is looking at women, in whatever they’re wearing, and acknowledging their beauty in an attitude of worship for their Creator. Is this natural? No, because we are fallen creatures. Do most men act as such? Heavens, no. But- going back to my previous analogy- don’t burn the novel because you can’t grasp the plot.

And so I say that we, as Christians, have a higher calling than prudishness, covering and hiding anything our evil nature could possibly corrupt. We have a calling to worship. Within this calling we must learn, accept and believe that the beauty of a female body is not ours to possess (which is what makes pornography so vilely unChristian while nude depictions in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is of the highest art). And sometimes God grants it that one woman’s beauty may be a man’s to behold, intimately and in a wonderfully exclusive and heightened manner. That’s sex. That’s marriage. And it’s the physical foundation for love, love that foreshadows a new creation, a new Eden, in which yoga pants won’t be allowed because of everything they’d hide.

Men need to learn to see that beauty. And we ought to all be striving for the ability to see beauty without lusting for it’s possession. The gospel is not about denial of the goodness around us; it’s about adopting the proper eyes with which to see it.

So women, hear me you, if you want to wear yoga pants then it’s between you and God. Personally, I’ll spare the world. But I don’t care what you wear. What I care about is growing in my ability to see you not as a thing to be owned or possessed, not as an object or means of arousal, but to see you as beautiful, wonderful and sacred.

I hope and pray that Christian communities can focus on exposing beauty, not hiding it. I hope that men pursue the eyes to see the beauty in women. Eyes not for pornography but humanity. Eyes for neither lust or puritanical purity but for the imago dei that’s in all of us. Yoga pants or not. 

It probably won’t happen in this life. But hey, a guy can dream.

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Sincerely,

The man in the Starbucks line

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