Your Sins are Forgiven

When I was going to the park today I chanced by the local video store. Yes, we still have one of those in my neighborhood. The front of the place is covered in movie adverts and other kinds of posters for upcoming concerts and events. There was also a marriage notice, for the gay owners who had decided to take advantage of their newly found freedom. There were those things, and something altogether less enthusiastic, a notice of a reward offered for the arrest of the perpetrators who had spray painted the front of the place with graffiti. The notice showed a couple of white guys. The resolution of the security camera wasn’t very good, but they looked a lot older than teenagers, maybe even in their early thirties. There they were with their spray cans out, doing their thing.

It made me think about some of the arguments I have heard for graffiti: that it is an art form, or that the makers of it have just as much right to pollute in that way as the advertisers do. That made me take a second look at the stuff in the video store window. I didn’t really see pollution. I did see curation. The windows weren’t really filled with random posters. In fact you could see inside pretty well. It wasn’t all clogged up with endless image upon image, like some college bookstore poster board would be. There weren’t that many posters after all. What was there was what they allowed there. For those who think any advertisement is pollution there might be some point, but not to those who can read using the middle line.

But what about saying that graffiti is an art form. Well, I suppose it is. So why don’t we expect artists to have inner crap detectors? Why pick on some business that had its own take on edginess and art, by being aficionados rather than producers? There is this line in the art world that goes something like this, the artist is an artist because they say they do art, so that whatever they then do must be considered as art. According to this logic they were doing the video store people a favor by spray painting their business. What they really did was to make a value statement about their art as opposed to someone else’s. Passing lightly over the fact you are reading about this in a free blog, wouldn’t they be more justified in making that statement if their work had been subjected to public and professional scrutiny, such that there would be no doubt as to who the artists were, even if their art wasn’t signed?

The point I want to make, though, has something to do with the perpetrator’s ages. Look, it’s entirely possible that they were really just teenagers, whom you might expect to be about exploring who they are and what their “voice” meant in the world around them. It could just be that modern hairstyles, making them look balder than they really were, and the fit of their clothes, as they looked like adults trying to wear baggy streetwise clothing, made them look so old. I don’t know. Probably they were more indicative of the human condition.

The other day I had occasion to remember something from my high school days. I guess it was from my junior year. It’s tough to say because these kinds of memories don’t always come with a lot of other things to cross reference them with. The fact it happened within that period of my life seems good enough. What I recalled was me on the ground, working on some kind of art for a school thing. I was over at somebody’s house, I have no idea whose. I wasn’t alone. There were a group of us. The group consisted of both boys and girls. I think there was one girl there with whom I was particularly concerned that I impress in some way. In what way, I haven’t the foggiest. Anyway, I remember smelling foot odor. I remember figuring out that, because I was so close to the action instead of standing, it came from my shoes. I remember looking at my shoes in a new way for the first time, with an eye toward how worn they were. I had always worn shoes until they fell apart. I suddenly realized this wasn’t the best idea. But the state of my shoes, like the state of so many other things in my life wasn’t up to me in the end. At that time in my life it was up to my parents. Why hadn’t they noticed that I needed new shoes? I mean those things actually reeked, and they were torn and full of holes. Why was it that I was wearing those things every day? Was it neglect?

Maybe you have heard people say, “Give me a child until the age of six and I will give you an adult.” What this means is that everything that any adult has packed into them, all of the complications and personality quirks get embedded during those years. All of our frailties, strengths, misconceptions and the drive to do or be are loaded into us when we are young. It may not be that six is when all of this stuff gets finished being handed to us, but it is certainly about then that the first cycle ends. What we do in the West, hell, what we do throughout humanity, is to make a distinction between boys and girls early on. We separate the boys for wildness and the girls for domesticity. Lest you begin to think that this domesticity is somehow a special and good thing, an advantage because it offers an early plug into the power of civilized life and an understanding of the interconnectivity that comes with society, just think about it as an entirely sexless thing, and I think you begin to get the picture of how poor a trap it really is. We put girls here because they can get pregnant and we don’t want them to, not because we are especially empowering them. Little girls benefit from this tremendously. They excel in school. They do better than boys for quite a while, until they hit puberty and are mostly unprepared for what happens next. They are supposed to accept what their elders tell them at that time, but not all of them do.

We hand boys over to wildness. We encourage them to compete. We want them to learn how to come out on top. Little boys are traumatized early on with taunts of how gay they are if they don’t fight. Thankfully, there were things like Star Trek, and other nerdy interests, like religion, that saved me. Alright, so maybe they didn’t exactly save me as give me the time I needed to fill in some pieces in my life with some meaningful thoughts that would help me later, when I realized I wasn’t going to win. You’re supposed to adopt some kind of attitude, like find your own way to win at something other than what you thought was your heart’s desire if you can’t win at what is placed before you as your heart’s desire. My interests allowed me to ignore that whole struggle and simply be interested. I’ve never been too caught up in winning. That’s the world I was snapped out of when I realized my feet stank. It wasn’t that I suddenly needed to win. Sure I was embarrassed before that one girl, but she wasn’t my life. I didn’t need to look good in front of her or I would die. I needed new shoes. I could just as easily have had an existential crisis. I could have decided I needed to win. I could have caved into wildness over my introspective approach to life. Lord knows it’s what society, and probably my parents, would have liked. Stranger things have happened, like when a high school boyfriend and girlfriend break up and the boy has no idea how to understand his self-image in her absence. We boys are taught that love is about possession. Jonathon Livingston Seagull aside, that talk about when you love something you should be able to let it go and if it comes back to you then it loves you too is for queers. It takes a while to understand that not even queer people get that. You don’t have to win. You don’t have to possess. In reality you are up against every other boy, and every other girl. Even in what you are good at, you can’t beat them all. Not winning, you can still be interested.

There is a story from the early part of Jesus’ ministry that impresses me. He was in this house and the people were piled up outside trying to see him. This one man was paralyzed. He had four friends. They carried him to the roof of the house and tore through it to lower him in before Jesus. Jesus looked at the man and had compassion for him. He didn’t immediately say to him, “Rise and walk.” Instead he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” The bible tells us how upset the teachers of the law, the way of doing things, were with Him saying this. He perceived how upset they were and said to them, “Which is easier to say, your sins are forgiven or rise and walk? So that you may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins I say to you,” the man, “rise and walk.” That is then what he did. Now, which is easier to say, overcome your childhood and everything that it has taught you falsely about how to be an adult, or go out there and live that life you need to be living? To unpack that stuff you learned when you were small you have to repent, that is to recognize what is wrong and the truth that it is what is wrong, and to decide to go another way. Repentance isn’t about claiming some tenet of doctrine saves you, it is about walking it out, which the paralyzed man couldn’t do, but his friends could (what does that mean), failing and starting over, again and again. Clinging to some tenet of  doctrine only puts you into the same place as the Pharisee who went to pray and prayed, “I thank thee, God, that I am not a sinner like that tax collector over there.” You are doing that when you claim “grace” and “salvation” aside from the necessary repentance. You have to be like the tax collector who couldn’t even raise his head, and wept bitterly calling out to God for forgiveness because he was such a terrible sinner. You have to for your own good, so that you can get at what is wrong, at what would be wrong regardless of which person you were. The Church largely does us a disservice when it sugar coats this process. It takes water, which is knowledge and truth, and it takes repentance (willingness to discover that change). It hurts to repent because you haven’t got anything else to fall back on. You need the water too. That’s what baptism represents.

There is another bible story that relates to this. It’s the one where Jesus goes to this one Pharisee’s house to have dinner. There is this woman there who is obviously a sinner. She takes this flask of perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet with it, then she wipes them with her hair and washes them with her tears. Jesus says to her, “Your sins are forgiven, your faith has made you well.”

There is one truth that we deceptively keep from both ourselves and everyone else, that we were not meant to occupy the place in which we find ourselves. I don’t mean the station in life that you are at, fitfully pining to be recognized and moved up from. No, I mean we were not created, if you can believe such things, to be consciously where we are in the scheme of our minds. That center point, that focus, was taught to you. It can’t help but try to win, look at what it has had to overcome. That seems natural to it. It will lie, cheat and steal to enjoy itself and the position it can gain that represents some sort of victory over its history, regardless of whether it reassures that history with what it does as it goes along. It is the devil, or can be, if you give it the power of consciousness. It is something far different from that, if you don’t. Your heart is a much better place to be. It can believe while that thing you think is you can’t. I know these are entirely foreign concepts. If you repent, and are baptized with that water that is water indeed, you can get there.

October addendum:

I’ve been thinking about the point I am trying to get across in this post off and on lately. Another passage in the New Testament comes to mind frequently when I think about it. That’s the one where the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus. He rebuked them saying, “Suffer the children to come onto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Looked at in this light, that much of what he was saying when he spoke was in reference to our need to repair ourselves (the damage done to us going all the way back to our childhoods and passed on from generation to generation), and how he had a means to help us do it, you can see the compassion perhaps more clearly in this quote than the other examples I gave above. Also, while the water of knowledge and wisdom is important, there is the spirit which must be recognized in all of this as well. It is the spirit, of man, which must be born again. It is the Spirit of God which accomplishes this. And how else does that happen but by faith?

December addendum:

Repentance is sort of the central tenet of this piece. Why is that so important? In the October addendum I suggested the role that the Spirit of God is intended to play. I say ‘play’ because I want to use a sports metaphor to get my point across. When we decide that we are who we are, warts and all, as being the self that we receive from a world gone wrong, we are being like a sports fan who cheers for their team no matter what. It doesn’t matter if the coach is terrible, or the management has chosen all of the wrong players, or the players are selfish, or that the owner is milking the fan base, knowing that they don’t have to invest in their product to get people to pay. We are going to root for our team no matter what. What’s funny is that teams like that, which rely upon fan’s acceptance to become so dysfunctional, could change if the fans did actually turn away in such a manner as to call into question the things that are wrong with the team. Applying this metaphor to ourselves, we are going to choose our side no matter what, even if our side is wrong. Repentance is about asking whether we are wrong or not. It is about acknowledging our faults, and actively seeking to understand them. Repentance is what God asks before He will come and help you because the number one way that God speaks to us is through our own thoughts. He doesn’t ask it so that He can come and run your show. He asks it because He wants to work with you and the way that works best requires you to listen and not assume so much about who He is and what He is saying. That’s the way that He has chosen to make you a better person, not that of frightening you or threatening you. We are the ones who glorify hell, not God. He’s not out to punish you. And He’s not out to remember every little thing you’ve ever done wrong.


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