The Gift of Human Folly
And how faith enables me to be honest as a writer
“Usually, it’s the worst thing you can admit about yourself that most people can relate to.”
— David Sedaris
It’s so easy to fall prey to glorified sentimentality when we write about things like faith and spirituality. The human ego holds tight to glory. And in the religious realm, moral/ethical ‘goodness’ is the idol.
American Christianity has ventured into these dangerous waters.
But it’s not real. It’s not true. Sentimentality connects with no one. It sucks humor dry and creates a fake version of humanity. The world doesn’t need more faux sentimentality or righteous performative moral/civil posturing. We need realness.
If held in an honest way, this is what my faith enables me to do. I can be transparent with my flaws and my fumblings (or, at least, I’m getting there) because I know that though I’m bound to fumble and fail, my propensity to “sin” is forgiven.
It’s easy to think that this gives me a license to sin. If all my bad stuff is forgiven, then why not just go out and rape, pillage, plunder, listen to K-pop, etc.?
But it’s interesting… My juicy transgressions lose their weight when I know they’re not being used against me by God. They’re just useless things I do that hurt myself and my neighbors. Why would I want to do that?
In Christ, the old sinner in me has been killed. It’s dead. It has no weight, existentially.
This means that I can remove myself from them. I can point to them. I can talk/write about them from a distance because they don’t define me. I can, as Sedaris mentions, admit the worst parts of myself because I know that this is how I find common ground with you, dear reader. Not through my aspirational mumbo jumbo, but through my follies.
I can talk about the time 20 years ago when I got drunk and barfed on a blackjack table in rural Nevada before getting kicked out and proceeding to get in my car, blackout in the middle of the highway, drive it off the road through a barbed wire fence and become high-centered on a huge pile of cow shit.
I didn’t hurt/kill myself or anyone else. I didn’t get thrown in jail (and I totally deserved to ). White privilege is real, but anything could’ve happened. Grace had its way with me, thanks be to God. I had nothing to do with my own survival nor the survival of anyone else on that stretch of road in the wee hours of that morning.
It was the last time I was drunk. Drunk Jonas was killed off. But this body and soul made it out as fresh molding clay.
Now, I have to be careful here. My ego wants to derive pride out of that event. It wants to brag about how I survived and how I have a ‘dark’ past (how cool, right?), etc.
No, I’m not proud of it. I don’t hope I’ll do it again someday. My faith liberates me to honestly confess this because I can know that I can call a thing what it is. I can call this a ‘bad thing’ and admit to my sins knowing full well that God is loving me into a new life. It holds no weight over me. So I can write about it. I can be human again rather than a fake who tries to hide it. I can share this story with people who might think that because I’m becoming a pastor, I’ve never had bouts with substances.
I can look back on that horrible event without utter shame. I can see my old self for the harmful idiot he was (and will likely continue to be) knowing that now, he’s dead and gone (luckily, not literally) and God has created (and is constantly creating) someone new in his place. Someone new, yes, but also someone who will continue to be human, tinged with fallibility (and no, this doesn’t go away with ordination).
I’m ranting now. But it’s freeing, this perspective.
When I think too highly of the human individual self, I get aspirational. Everything I write is a stretch. It’s too lofty and unreal. It might sound good to the ego, but it has no foundation in truth. It’s like bubblegum for the soul — it might taste decent for a minute, but it doesn’t last long and you wonder if you’ve just ingested a plethora of chemicals that were mixed up in this mysterious undigestible compound for no real reason.
When I lower my egoic anthropology, my writing gets better. I’m constantly on the lookout for human folly — not in an accusing way, but with a knowing smile. I can laugh at stuff, even as I cringe. I’m not shocked when disaster strikes because I see it all in me. And I’m thankful that the ultimate goodness of God exists outside of my own. A God that surrounds me, cradles me and beckons me home.
This faith, if held in the most truthful way, is like rocket fuel for good writing. And I’m never disappointed by what I find when I look into the mirror of my own fallible human experience.