Last May, when I stood in front of the Pawlet Community Church to deliver my first sermon on my first day as their new pastor, I had to do one of the hardest things humans are called to do: I had to admit to my mistakes, I had to own, in this case, publicly, that I had made some choices that weren't that great.
Big surprise? That I had screwed up in my life? Not exactly. But I knew that we would not bond or grow as a community if I didn't tell everyone sitting in the pews that morning what most of them already knew. I had to speak the language of truth before I could move into my role as their pastor.
Fifteen years earlier I had been married and living in that community. Both of my boys had been baptised in that sanctuary. And then I walked away from it all. The boys were young, it was a very unpopular and, I understand now, selfish decision. I had walked away from the very group of people to whom I would now be preaching.
Many of us knew, in the quiet of our hearts and minds, that this was a dicey proposition.
So I stood before the gang that morning and acknowledged that truth. I put it out there, making space for all of us to contemplate that reality...she left, she left her marriage, her family, her community, and she's back...and we are supposed to believe that she is going to channel the word of God, here, for us now?
Pretty funny, huh?
Two things happened to make that impossible possibility work.
One, the people sitting in the pews forgave me. They opened their hearts to the idea that a new day can bring new hope.
And two, I recognized, by some kind of mysterious and beautiful grace, that I could take the worst parts of me and put them to use as agents of change. That I could use my crappy choices and dark days and all of the lousy parts of me: the selfishness, the tendency to blame others, the inability to hear, and I could learn from them. And I could try to do better. Actually, I could do better than just try. I could actually choose to live a different kind of life.
Mud into clay into useful vessel.
Here's what happened along the road back to Pawlet: I got tired of myself. I got tired of trying to maintain an image of goodness and rightness. I got tired of repeating the same mistakes. I got tired of being selfish and of needing to control everything. Who I was wasn't working, and so in my weariness, I handed my life off to the great good thing that I call God, that I'm almost certain exists for that exact reason: to make something good with our imperfect lives. I handed everything over: the steering wheel, the mast, the tiller, the whole goddamned boat: It's yours, I declared to whatever or whomever might be listening, please put my life to good use.
It was a huge relief. And if I started telling you about all the beautiful things that have happened since then, you would fall asleep. It would take all day.
For a long time in my life I held a small truth. I believed I was right, I believed I knew best. I believed I knew a lot, more than others, in some cases. I did things to prove my strength and ability. I got a Master's degree! I trained to be a fire fighter! I jumped out of an airplane! And those things were OK, but they weren't important. What was important was that, along the way, I saw glimpses of something larger. Every once in a while I caught sight, I felt the goosebumps, I had a sense there was a Larger Truth. And then one day I gave in to it. That was really all it was. I traded in my small truth for a Larger Truth.
And that, as Robert Frost said, has made all the difference.
It is very hard for us humans to admit that we are flawed. After all, we are raised to win. We are raised to achieve and to succeed. Every parent in America wants their kid to go to Harvard. There is very little room in our life for screwing up and even less acknowledgement that our mistakes pave the road to a better, wiser, stronger, kinder version of us.
So I was thinking that it might help if we see our flaws collectively rather than trying to wrestle with them individually. We could agree that we are ALL deeply flawed, and then we can exhale and get on with the business of evolution. It could go like this:
You lied once? Me too!
You got drunk and did some stupid things? Me too!
You took something that wasn't yours! Holy cow, I've done that too!
You didn't pay full price at the honor system farm stand? I might have done that once, but only because I didn't have enough cash at the time.
NO CHEATING! No excuses.
You put your own needs, desires and ambitions before those of someone you love?
You refused to back down from a fight because you had to be correct?
You held to your addictions even though you knew they were harming you and the people you love?
You didn't try hard enough? You gave up too easily?
Me too, and a whole lot more.
I think it would help if we could all agree that we're...human. That life is hard. If only teachers would start expecting their students to make mistakes and parents would allow their children to slip and fall, that would be a good start. And can you imagine if we all stood before one another and said out loud, "God I really suck at this some days," and then we gave each other a warm hug?
What you see in me I see in you: light and dark, grace and disgrace. And it's OK. In fact, it's awesome. We came here to make some messes, so that we could grow.
This church and I, we are doing pretty well. We've had our moments, but no one has died -- not because of me, anyway. Babies have been born and people have gotten married; songs have been sung and spirits lifted. Not because of me, either. In spite of me, for certain. Amen.