“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Remember the song? Country singer Collin Raye, 1994. I don’t remember one more word of the song and will have to listen to it completely before deciding whether to include it but if he, or whomever originated the phrase, received royalties for every time it’s been said (even just by me) they could have retired early. I know, right? It’s an easy phrase to use when what we say may be factual, or mostly factual, or we’re not sure it’s factual but it sounds good, or if it isn’t factual it should be. It’s really a riff off ‘my dog ate my homework’ or ‘my alarm clock didn’t go off’ or ‘the check is in the mail’. Now that everyone banks online, I wonder what the excuse is for late payments… oh, oh, oh, of course: ‘the server was down!’ Duh.
We hear them, we recognize them, we use them. Why? Because they’re absolutely true every time we use them, I know, I know. But what about when they aren’t? Is it a way of hedging that feels more acceptable than admitting the truth? If we say that our homework is late because we simply didn’t do it, there may be negative consequences. If we say we’re late to an appointment because we didn’t plan enough time to get there or we were doing something else, it might hurt someone’s feelings. If we say we simply didn’t make the payment by the deadline because we procrastinated, because we found other things to do we thought were more important, because we chose to buy something we may not have needed with the same money that was supposed to pay a bill, it doesn’t feel like we’re being responsible – and we know we’re waaaay more responsible than (some, visualize air quotes here) of our behaviors might make us look.
What if we gave those phrases up for Lent along with the host of others that we use to appear more or less of the self that we actually are? Would we die? I can’t promise we won’t, but it’s highly unlikely it would be because we spoke our truth about why we’re late, or why we didn’t get something done, or why what we did get done wasn’t on time. But it feels like that sometimes – like maybe we’ll die a little bit if people realize we don’t meet all of life’s expectations every single time. It’s such a balance. How we show people that we care about them, about the world’s issues, about living a good life, about setting priorities and at the same time recognizing and admitting that sometimes we don’t care about any of that, sometimes we’re doing our best simply to survive and live and keep a job and try and help our spouses, partners, children, parents, friends and other significant people do the same thing. And even when it feels like it’s not enough, telling ourselves that it is and we are.
So the family who took the young man who purchased an AR-15 legally into their home after his adoptive mother died were on every news station the days following the shooting, saying that they had no idea he had this weapon or that he was contemplating the destruction he brought on his former high school. Why? Why would they put themselves in the national spotlight at such a horrible time for them and for their community? Were they seeking notoriety? Were they trying to compete for fame and sacrificial glory? Of course not. We live in such a context of blame, I believe they wanted to tell their story for self-protection, to name their reality in the midst of shock, to try and deal with what I’m certain are such mixed feelings of care and horror and guilt and numbness and alienation that this young person they believed they knew enough to invite him into their home had something they didn’t know about living inside him. The brother of the shooter of the AR-15 in Las Vegas did the same thing. The wife of the shooter of the AR-15 in Orlando did the same thing. A friend shared a book with me written by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the students at Columbine High School that many point to as the beginning of the mass shootings taking place in schools. It is a heart-wrenching and honest look at the reality of life for these families. (A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy) We try to find some reasonableness out of that which is unreasonable and beyond that – unfathomable. What does it take for us to survive in the midst of the parts of life that are, and the parts of life that are not, our responsibilities?
Should we take wisdom from “failed” parents, siblings, children? Should we have compassion for those who “bring trouble on themselves?” Should we listen to the strident voices of young people in pain whose fear, instead of keeping them quiet listeners and learners, is empowering them to call the rest of us to accountability for trying to hedge our way around confronting the reality that NO ONE outside trained military and law enforcement needs an AR-15, and no sane person would disagree with more in-depth background checks that take a longer amount of time, no matter who pays what to whom for pretending differently?
Do you know what the weapons of destruction were in Biblical times? Isaiah 2:4 says in part, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Evidently, they had swords and spears. Jesus is never shown to carry either one. He did have enemies and adversaries – note that whole crucifixion incident – but he’s never shown to carry any weapons. When he was angriest, the gospel of John says then, “making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple… he also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables… he told those who were selling to ‘Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’… His disciples remembered where it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:15-17) All four gospels have some rendition of this incident and it’s really the only time shown that Jesus’ anger is put into physical action. He used a whip of cords to drive folks and their selling of sacrificial animals out of the temple courtyard and then turned over tables and dumped out the offering plates.
So when we decide we should carry the “weapons of our time” that’s fine; simply don’t use the rationale that it’s because of our Christianity. Jesus didn’t carry the weapons of his time – so I’m simply asking for consistency. If we want to have weapons, it’s because we want to have them. If we want to carry concealed weapons wherever we go, it’s because we want to carry them. Let’s agree to name it and claim it, and not hedge around or hide behind some distorted view of Jesus.
I’m going to try my best to give up the “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it” phrases, or more importantly, the insecurity that lurks behind those phrases, during Lent at least, and see how it goes. I’ll see if I can handle some likely disappointment from others as well as myself. I’ll see if giving up how the dog ate my homework might make me stronger in claiming some weakness. And maybe in the midst of attempts at being more generously honest with my own failings, I’ll find myself more able to be more generous with others. And maybe the weapons of choice that we all too often use on ourselves and others in words and phrases will become to us as plowshares and pruning hooks, and studying destruction of selves and others will be no more.
Here’s the Youtube of the song by Collin Raye – beware mullets and feathered-back hair wings!