A short route to agony


On one occasion sometime between 1983 and 1990 — I can recall where I was living, but not where I was working — I came home from work and became suicidal. I don’t recall the basis of my agony, but it almost certainly pertained to certain foibles of “the flesh” that my “spirit” seemed powerless to overcome.

A former student had left a cassette tape at my door that day, full of music he wanted to share with me, beginning with “Bad” by U2. I had a second floor apartment, and had sometimes heard this from the boom boxes of people who walked by outside; and I knew what effect it would have on me, particularly the opening section, with the bells. Given my state, for that reason I intentionally delayed playing it.

When I couldn’t bear the pain any more, I put it on, and was at once transported from the pit of despair into a place of perfect peace. I count this as a case of divine intervention: by means of that young man and that music, God saved my life.

A portion of the lyrics:

If you twist and turn away
If you tear yourself in two again
If I could, you know I would
If I could, I would
Let it go
Surrender
Dislocate

This can be taken several ways, though it seemed perfectly to fit my situation at the time. The speaker, “I,” would “let it go,” but can’t, because only the person addressed, “you,” can do that for oneself. The person addressed is being torn in two either by clinging to desired outcomes that cannot possibly obtain (so that “there” is being torn from “here”), or by hatred of inconvenient and uncooperative features of oneself — one’s “flesh” — that one would rather be rid of, than love.

Saint Paul believed, taught and practiced many things that are exactly wrong (and exactly contrary to wisdom). Through his prominence — He wrote nearly half the New Testament. — and his influence on doctrine and piety, these have done a tremendous disservice to humanity.

From Romans 7:

14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

This is a short route to agony, to the sort of living hell I described at the beginning of this story. This is not what God desires for you.

Make no mistake: God makes no mistakes.

You are not a mistake. God made you the way you are, to give you opportunity to love every attribute you have.

ACCEPTANCE, INDULGENCE AND LOVE

(What I am about to say calls on me to reassess my attitude toward the foibles in question. They relate to my employability, and have been in abeyance during my homelessness given the shelter’s coercive structures, but may reappear once I’m on my own again.)

In terms of correctness, Paul’s brilliant portrait of the ideal for life in the congregation, in 1 Corinthians 12-13, lies at the opposite pole from Romans 7, and is applicable also both to the human individual and to life in community.

Distinctions are to be made among love, acceptance and indulgence. A spoiled child has consistently not been loved, but indulged. A wound that is indulged — used as an excuse for irresponsibility — will not heal, given one’s ulterior motives. A wounded member that is rejected — hated — will not heal, as one is sending him, her or it the exact opposite of what healing requires.

One must love the wounded or disagreeable member into wholeness.

Love your whole self.

Love your whole self.

Love your whole self.

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