I’m an English Major. Specifically a Creative Writing Concentration English Major. One of the biggest things I love about being an English Major is the community that I’m surrounded with as a result. In my experience, English majors are honest. They’re not narrow minded, and they’re not afraid to live outside the box.
Today, I got to go see the movie Blue Like Jazz with some English Majors, and I was reminded yet again of why I do life with these people. This post is the result of that movie, and the conversation that followed…
Honesty is something that you just can’t buy, and if you could, it wouldn’t be all that honest anymore anyway. I’m not talking about when someone just tells the truth, like when some mobster agrees to reveal the dirty secrets about his 2nd cousin Tony who is secretly The Godfather in a courtroom if they pay him enough to do it. I’m talking genuine, raw, vulnerable, messy, ugly, beautiful truth. The kind that comes out when your pastor isn’t around to hear you. The kind that you’re still convinced God is ashamed of you for. The kind that Jesus died on the cross for.
It’s not that we mean to lie, we’re just insecure. Just like almost every other person on the planet. We’re afraid of what others might think of us if we show them the “real me.” we are afraid of being rejected, or of being alone. Sometimes, loneliness feels worse than hell itself.
And it’s not like these fears came from nowhere either. You can remember exactly where they came from. That dad who was never there. That mom who could never love. That neighbor or realative who…you stop before the memory surfaces and you have to face it again. Wounds, buried and locked away behind stone walls in the depths of our heart. We pretend their healed, but warm blood still drips from the coffin. We embalm ourselves in religion, in being “biblical” or “walking by faith,” wearing Jesus’ smile on eyeless masks. We condemn the world for hiding behind sex, drugs, and loose living, but the world sees through our false faces, just like we do. Truth takes off these masks, unlocks the tomb, and we’re forced to face the tragedy of ourselves.
But this isn’t the end of the story. Truth never stops there.
While films, poems, novels and art may only awaken the life that Truth carries, Truth Himself always takes us the rest of the way, if we let Him. While a poem like “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath may only take off the mask and expose the truth of abuse, the living pain we feel will drive us to the Man who died to heal that pain. Truth shows the ugly for how ugly it really is, but it thrives on what is beautiful.
The problem with religious systems and Christian masks isn’t that they prevent Jesus from healing us; He’s so good He’ll work behind them. The real problem is that when Jesus is doing all the work behind closed doors, all the world sees is the hypocrite in front of them. I know, because I’ve been that hypocrite.
There is one friend from High School that I will never forget. Her name is Kelly. Kelly was a few grades below me in high school, and far more popular than I could have hoped to be. She was a cheerleader, she was bubbling with personality, and she was absolutely beautiful (actually, she still is). My heart was drawn to her in a profound way, and I loved that girl for exactly who she was. Before you assume it was a crush, I’ll explain that while sometimes I did feel that attraction, it was mostly something far deeper and more familial than that. I think it was because God gave me eyes to see her a bit like He sees her. I could see not only who she was, but who she was made to be. I could see the Kelly she would become, and trust me friends, it is spectacular. She was not a Christian, and she had no good reason to want to be one. Her life was filled with heartache, abandonment, and pain I’d rather not talk about. However, she was still curious.
We would talk a lot about each of our beliefs, partially because I wasn’t very good at talking about anything else, and she was a good listener. She thought I was a bit out there, but at least she’d hear me out. I remember one conversation in particular. This is the one I desperately wish I could re-write.
We were sitting at dinner, talking about who Jesus really is. I was telling her that He wasn’t who she had made Him out to be, and that He loved her at a level she couldn’t even fathom. Then I said this:
“He really is the best thing that could ever happen to you. His love is more satisfying than anything this world has to offer.”
This is true, and now I can stand behind it even more than I could then, but I was lying when I said it. I remember looking into her eyes, my heart raw with Jesus’ heart for her, saying those words with tears in my eyes…all the while thinking in the back of my mind “I hope she doesn’t see that I don’t even know if this is true yet.” I wanted it to be true more than anything. My church said it was true, and the bible taught it to be true, but that was not my truth. As I talked about in my previous post, I was living hollow. I had never been satisfied like the satisfaction I was offering. I was still bleeding out under that mask. Although I had seen miracles, and I knew God existed, and I had genuinely felt His love, I was not healed enough to declare something so profound. To me, God was still the God of mostly enough; the God of “I love you, but I’ll never show you like you want Me to.” I was offering a Jesus I hoped to meet myself as if I already knew Him at that level. I was offering her my mask.
The hardest part is she took it. She came to an event at my church, and God genuinely touched her. She began a real relationship with Him that night, and I believe that she started that day was 100% legitimate, but she took my mask too. She gave her heart to Jesus, which brings me joy that I can’t put into words, but she also took my theology that I’d preached in the weeks before. She took my “more satisfying than anything” hook, line and sinker. She expected to experience that because I said it like it was what I’d experienced. Life kept hurting, and her faith didn’t live up to that expectation. She became quickly disillusioned, and our friendship began to fracture. Things became awkward between us and we stopped talking as much. I think I destroyed her trust in me. I haven’t had a conversation with her in nearly two years. Partially, because I’ve been to ashamed to admit that I failed her. I still wonder how things would have went if that conversation had gone more like this:
“Kelly, I’ll be honest with you… I still haven’t found total satisfaction. God hasn’t healed all my problems or made my life perfect. Sometimes, I wonder if He is really even the most important thing to me. I’m still broken, hurting, and confused, but I know He is real. I know that Jesus is the most loving Man I have ever met, and I know He will be gentile with your heart. He won’t force Himself on you, even though sometimes my abrasiveness may make it feel that way (I’m still working on that one). He’ll be kind to you, and He will heal everything you are willing to give Him. It won’t happen in your timing, and sometimes you’ll feel like He’s not even listening, but somehow you’ll always know He is. He won’t make everything all better all of the sudden, but he will make everything better than it could ever be without Him. Kelly, I still don’t have it all figured out, but I know 3 things: He is real, He is God, and He loves. Without this Man in your life, I promise you that something will be missing. God created you to know Him, and you’ll never be complete until you do.”
I’m not sure if that’s the best answer. I’m not even sure if it’s all theologically sound. But I am sure it is true. It has no mask, and it would let her see that while I’m still wounded, the Healer is at work. I could say that without thinking in the back of my head that I might be lying. I could say that and know what I’m saying isn’t a fairy tale or wishful thinking. I could know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was pointing her towards the Way, the Truth and the Life. Because in the end, Truth is a Man, and to know that Man is the only thing I have found that’s worth living for.
And Kelly, If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. Know that I never meant to let you down, and that I was never being your friend just to convert you. You are incredible, and you are worth my time. I’m still here if you ever want to talk, and I miss you my friend.