i’ve just started reading blue like jazz by donald miller, a book you can find in the christianity aisle of ‘spiritual growth’. but the subhead says: nonreligious thoughts on christian spirituality. i’ve been told this book is powerful in some chapters. true enough, i didn’t have to wait long.
i don’t care much for his writing style. he tends to lavish unnecessary poetic details in his description of certain things/feelings which i thought he could dispense with. especially because (nonreligious) people tend to be leery of christian books and a factual, sensible account might do better in alleviating that. at least i, tend to be leery.
but regardless, i was struck. just two chapters in. he quoted, and related to, C.S. Lewis (always apt in any christian writing):
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through;
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, reassurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin;
I talk of love- a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
in case you think this seems a harsh appraisal of myself/yourself/all people, it’s not. just reflect. lewis had to be tormented with shame, writing this, but so honest. so honest.
and then, a few paragraphs later, miller wraps up the chapter with:
“I realize this sounds very Christian, very fundamentalist and browbeating, but I want to tell you this part of what Christians are saying is true. I think Jesus feels very strongly about communicating the idea of our brokenness, and I think it is worth reflection. Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror.”
i know it is hard to grasp what christianity tells you about the human sin, that we are so unworthy, yet God sends his son to die for us. it’s an elaborate tale that you can possibly surmise is born out of a human longing to be accepted and loved and who else better to love us than this mythical being that we can easily build fairy tales around, if we want. especially at a time of hopelessness. no one knows for sure. and this ambiguity can pander to our delusion.
we could even say that selfishness is merely our birthright, our human nature. how could we shake that off? who are we to denounce our intrinsic character?
but what if it’s not? what if all the things we hate and protest against is a result of this unnatural selfishness? poverty, unrest, human rights, unemployment, public housing?
i hate to sound all church-going and righteous (i don’t, by the way, go to church regularly and i’m still fighting God) but reading this chapter, i finally understand the true import of me being a sinner. i could never really reconcile that, to be honest. (i’ve never actually seen its application to me. sure, i hear other christians say that and my brain picks it up as christian terminology.) obviously, i don’t think i’m a saint but i don’t harm others intentionally so that should count for something right? and i do good deeds sometimes, seemingly out of no personal gain. but i do, gain something, whether it is to alleviate my guilt or to portray a certain nobility about myself. and never have i committed to a good deed without some form of gratification. never.
i say i hate injustice. but i turn a blind eye to it everyday. i believe the government should be changing certain policies to uphold codes of human rights but i don’t see that change begins from myself. and no, social activism does not count.
i am very flawed. that much, i think we all know. but i think we do not genuinely know that it is not natural and that it can reversed.
and i’m not saying we need to go all ascetic about this but when you truly understand how flawed you are and that there is no reason to put up with this flaw, you go out and do the things you can do instead of appearing to do so. and this part of christianity is true. at some point, we must realize and reflect on this depravity of ours that we’re born into but don’t necessarily have to live with.
I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.