I recently wrote a post about freedom. This post was a starting point for re-articulating my faith. If you haven’t read it you might want to check it out before reading this.
The ideas contained in these posts are fresh, and like wet paint have the potential to make a mess.
I am stumbling towards truth, inarticulately.
I am starting to write about some new truths.
Some things my younger self would probably call heresy.
There is nothing safe or tidy about this.
I am good.
I spent many years believing the core of me was bad.
This idea sounded plausible and reasonable because, like every other sane person on the planet, I knew I got stuff wrong all the time.
But rather than seeing myself as a flawed human, comprised of both good and not so good, I saw my essence, my true nature, as bad.
I believed I was originally sinful.
And if I was bad, I thought the gospel was to make me good. To make me a ‘new creation’.
At baptism we talk of putting to death our old self.
I took this metaphor and applied it literally.
I understood my original self was not good or holy enough to be accepted and it had to be terminated.
I believed I should destroy anything about my old way of life, my old self, everything I had known as ‘me’.
I should try and be someone else. A better person.
Because I am bad. Right?
This idea got me into a lot of hot water. It fuelled the fire of ought, should and must. It pushed me to always be trying harder in my attempt to be more acceptable.
And because I believed I was not good, I concluded I couldn’t trust myself to make the right decisions about my life.
Instead I chose to listen to everyone else’s version of who I should be. I took on their expectations at the expense of my true self.
Following this course crippled my self-worth and made me unsure of everything.
I was constantly trying hard, never meeting the mark and often feeling like a failure.
I want to be clear: No one told me this was the truth. No one sat down and gave me chapter and verse about my unacceptability. I was very loved. I was very fortunate. But I had mixed my Christianity with a large dose of capitalist thinking: always-pursuing bigger and better and more, always thinking I needed to work just a little more to match up, always comparing, always despairing.
I had confused Jesus with someone who was only interested in how shiny my scorecard was and how impressive my life was.
But the truth is: original sin is not the first or last word of the story.
And we should be careful how about how much air time it gets.
(Especially, I might add, when talking to young people and children who hear about their faith too much through a list of dos and don’ts).
The first word.
For a long time I hadn’t rewound the story far enough, I didn’t know the first word spoken over me is ‘good’.
In the creation story, before snakes and trees and inevitable fig leaves, God made Adam and Eve, he made mankind in all their splendour and diversity, and pronounced;
“it is very good”.
Not just ‘good’ as attributed to the rest of the created order, but ‘very good’, made in the image of God.
I was created good, created whole and my faith is not about shedding who I am to become somebody new, it is about re-connecting with the core of who I was always made to be.
It is about forgetting what other people have said I should be, or I would never be.
It is about undoing the work of those who told me I was unacceptable as I was and needed to be more like someone else. It is about accepting my fundamental goodness.
The last word.
For a long time I hadn’t read til the end, I didn’t know the last word spoken over me is ‘grace’.
The last word is not that I didn’t make it, it is not disappointment and unfulfilled expectations, it is not ‘must try harder’ or ‘maybe one day’.
The last word of the story is grace.
There is a Hebrew word I have recently learned: T’shuvah.
It is most often translated as ‘repent’.
For me, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one, this word is loaded.
Loaded with guilt and shame. Loaded with all the mistakes and errors of judgement made by my aforementioned bad self.
However, the nearest translation of this word is actually ‘to turn around’.
To come back to the core of who I am and see that I was always good. Or even, very good.
To return and remember how to listen to my instincts, how to trust my judgement. To listen to my gifting, my personality, my desires: to the essence of who I are.
T’shuvah does not deny that I make mistakes, and am part of systems that are not healthy. But, importantly, its starting point is not ‘look at how you screwed up – can’t you just get it right?’, its starting point is ‘Remember your inherent goodness, you can return to this. Come home.’
It is an invitation not a reprimand. This the last word. It is the word of grace.
Of unequivocal restoration.
This idea, of my fundamental goodness and the grace that was and is always available, have subverted the way I have thought of myself and my purpose entirely.
The gospel is not about setting me free to do someone else’s bidding.
The message of the gospel is that I was always accepted and I don’t have to try and be anyone other than me.