I really hate it when people say things like, "I'm an imperfect sinner." I don't know, it just seems like a throwaway to me. It's not really a confession or admission of guilt. To my ear it's actually a kind of excuse. "Well yeah, I came in your kitchen, and kicked your dog, and stole a box full of ballpoints, but I'm an imperfect sinner, so..." No. It's not ok to kick my dog or steal my box of pens. Ever. Claiming imperfect sinner status to avoid taking responsibility feels insulting. To me, true confession requires self-conviction.
And it's more than that even. Confession also demands specifics. It demands we step out from behind our generalization and really name what we've done. Every week at our early worship service we say a prayer of confession in which we say that we have hurt others and been hurt. We have taken others for granted and we have been taken for granted. Those words don't do us much good if we don't pause and think specifically about how we have done those things. "Who, John? Who have you hurt? Who have you taken for granted?" If I can answer those questions honestly, then maybe I've earned the right to consider who has hurt me.
[Note. One of my flaws is that I answer those questions in the wrong order. I think a lot about who has hurt me and not enough about who I have hurt. That is also wrong.]
So I'm pretty sure I'm going to hell. Not just because of what I've said above, but also because of this...feeling I get. I get it weekly, if not more often. It happens at moments when I realize I'm not living up to my best self. Sometimes it happens when someone points out my error to me. Other times I realize it on my own. I'd like to say I always realize it when it's too late to do anything about it, but all too often I could still fix it...but I don't. I let it go...and then climb in the handbasket and buckle up for the ride. And I get ready to "enjoy" a steady diet of "devil's spit" spicy boiled okra or whatever else it is they are serving on the level of hell I wind up on. It's probably one of the lower levels.
"Why this week?" you might ask.
We are having our roof replaced. We were told when we moved in that it had seven years left, at best, because it had been installed on top of the prior roof. We made it about half that far before the dreaded water marks started appearing in our dining room and in our bedroom. We considered attempting to patch it, but decided in the end we just needed to bite the bullet.
Having your roof replaced is miserable for a number of reasons. First there's the salespeople. All of them are required to tell you why the other guy's roof is crappy. They have to tell you that other roofers are going to cut corners. They have to tell you that your roof is horrible (and they are very sorry to have to be the one to tell you).
So a new roof costs like a billion dollars or something, and there are a few little asterisks on the contract where they can charge you even more...replacing decking and extra roof removal. As it turns out, this can get really expensive, especially if your house is old enough to have 1x6 decking instead of plywood.
They called us after the first day's work (mind you, there's more roof to go, so it's only going to get worse). Indeed, we had a whole lot of broken decking which is going to add roughly another billion dollars to the cost. Well, that's what it felt like. And like most families, we don't have gobs of cash lying around, so we were really having to be creative to cover the initial cost...only to have it significantly increased. Blargh!
I handled this very well. I sent an email to ask for a little clarification. I whined a lot. I looked over our finances to see if there had been any financial miracles in the previous 24 hours (there had not been). I wrung my hands for a while. And then the feeling started. Subtle at first, but by this morning, it was undeniable. I am a total tool, and I need to check myself right this instant.
Not all that far away, just a few hundred miles, I have friends who waded away from their homes in water waist-deep because the water was still rising. I have family who moved next door because their neighbor's house has 2 stories...so they'll only lose half of everything. There are people who have climbed into their attics with an ax, just in case they need to cut a hole in their roof to escape while water ruins literally everything they own. Poor me. I'm going to have to paint my ceilings and pay some extra money for my roof. But by tomorrow my roof will be whole. And if we get rain from this catastrophic storm, it will roll off the roof, down the gutters, and through our back yard without ruining a thing. The Very. Same. Storm.
How could I be so stupid? How could I be so petty? How could I be so callous to the suffering of other people? It's like comparing a paper cut to stage 4 cancer. There is no comparison. The answer is, of course, that I have once again been fixated on my own well-being.
Like a lot of people, we donated to the relief effort. We chose UMCOR for our funds because 100% of everything we donate will be used directly for relief, and they do a great job with both short and long-term recovery. (You can give here if you would like.)
Maybe that's a step in the right direction, but it's not enough. What I really need to do is pay more attention to those who have less than I do than those who have more. Let's be real--there will always be someone with more (literally true for all except one person in the world). Thinking about them will only make me want more. But thinking about the much greater number of people who have less, not just those in Texas but in my back yard, will make me thankful for what I have, which is a lot. I have an awesome family. I have a comfortable home. I have a calling to work I enjoy, and I have the health to answer that call. When I'm hungry, I can eat. When I'm thirsty, I can drink.
When I communicated with one of my friends who has been affected by the floods, he said, "We'll be fine. We have flood insurance, etc. Just need to figure out housing while the house gets cleaned up, etc." That's right. He just referenced his entire house being flooded in the way I might describe one of the children throwing up at night. "Yes, it's ok. Just need a place for the child to sleep while I wash the comforter."
Except HOLY CRAP HARVEY JUST THREW UP IN THEIR WHOLE ENTIRE HOUSE. I can't even fathom it. But for the love of God, don't charge me too much for my broken roof decking.
And I keep doing this. Over and over. The feeling comes. Something like this will adjust my attitude. I'll have an epiphany. The clouds will part and the angels will sing. I'll see everything clearly and understand my privilege. This moment will happen when I am truly grateful for what I have. Until something or someone challenges it. Until I feel like I am losing...or fear that I am losing. It doesn't matter how much or what or if it's cosmically significant (it never is). Rest assured in no time at all I will find myself focused on what I don't have instead of what I do until God grabs me by the sideburns and points my head in the right direction again.
The only hope--the-only-hope--is that Jesus, in addition to showing us how to love each other, also showed us that there is infinite grace and infinite love and infinite forgiveness. I certainly hope so, because without it, my ticket for the handbasket to hell is already punched.