Thursday, December 11, 2008

Change

The Rolling Stones are millionaires
Flower children pallbearers
The Beatles said "All you need is love"
And then they broke up
-- Larry Norman, "Reader's Digest"

Is it possible to change? Really change, not in some superficial way, but be re-oriented, re-wired from the heart outward? This is the promise of Christianity -- "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" That was written by a cantankerous man named Paul. He was cantankerous before he met Jesus; full of himself, sure of his righteousness, confident in his actions. And he was cantankerous after he met Jesus; full of Jesus, sure of his righteousness, confident in his actions. He did change. In some deep, deep ways he changed. But he was still a sanctimonious asshole many days. He didn't always get along with people, including people he was leading in and into the faith. He and the apostle Peter, another headstrong individual, didn't particularly like one another at times. They quarreled. Paul told Peter he was a hypocrite. Peter later wrote a couple snide comments about how Paul's letters weren't very easy to understand.
These irksome individuals actually give me hope. Because I am an irksome individual. And perhaps I can still be changed.
I can't do it. I can't make it happen, although I recognize that I'm not some passive vessel that will somehow magically be filled with Change Juice. But I can't do it. There's some evidence -- 53 years' worth now -- that some patterns, some ways of thinking, some ways of behaving are pretty ingrained. I don't know how to not think that way, feel that way, behave that way. I need to be re-wired. And this is after 34 years of my so-called Christian walk, or stumble, or whatever term you want to use to indicate lurching, spastic movement that finds me flailing convulsively on the ground as much as it finds me moving forward.
There are certain attitudes that I know are right, though, even when I find myself wholly disheartened by the asshole I can be, and am. Here are some them: I'm wrong. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Help me. Save me.
All things have not become new. I still act out of insecurity, and need, and just plain selfishness. I've seen the futility of such actions. I just don't know how to change. I need to be ripped wide open. I need a new heart. This is change I can believe in.

10 comments:

gb said...

Stop reading my mail.

Zena and Joshua said...

oh, you're here too? i didn't see you on this boat before.

i pray sincerely that we become who we're becoming before our ship runs aground.

seriously, those attitudes you referenced -- depending on who you're asking to help/save you -- are just about the only tool available for changing hearts.

-Joshua

t clair said...

I can't tell you how important is for me to learn from a fellow asshole like you.

nancy (aka money coach) said...

Yeah, count me in, too. And I'm supposed to be a Canadian! Whoever heard of a Canadian asshole? You have, now.

Brother-in-law Bill said...

I've learned through experience, faith, and continuing education that there is a difference between personality and behavior, and what we have the greatest control over is behavior. Like you and every other fellow sinner, I am tempted toward certain behaviors that I know are wrong. And I know that my personality wiring makes it easier for me to succumb to these temptations than for others, who, because of their personality wiring, are not as seriously tempted.

To digress somewhat, I have a theory that the reason so many evengelicals and fundamentalists are so vociferous in denouncing gays is simply because that's a temptation that the denouncers, and I, do not experience. Don't know how true my theory is, but one result is that I tend to hold back denouncing those whose weakness is not mine.

Anyway, regardless of how much more tempted I may be toward certain behaviors, they are still wrong, and I need to fight the temptation. I'm not off the hook when I fail, just because I'm inclined toward that particular failure. It was still my decision to say yes rather than no. Whether God chooses to change my personality or not is up to him; making the difficult but correct decision is up to me.

The worst thing about these failures is the harm they do to others. I'm not sure there's any such thing as a "victimless crime." Unless I am a true hermit, someone close to me is going to be hurt by my failure to make the right choice, regardless of what that is.

My prayer is for strength for you and all the rest of us to resist, to summon up that strength to say no when we so much want to say yes. Maybe the answer is to think of those we will hurt by making the wrong decision, to really consider the possible consequences.

I do know that waiting for God to change my personality does not get me off the hook.

Waiting for God to change us is not

Andy Whitman said...

I agree with you, Bill. I'm not trying to justify wrong behavior, and I am not "off the hook" because I'm tempted in ways that others may not be tempted. It's wrong. I want it to change.

And a big "Yes" to the notion that these behaviors harm others, and not just myself. I see that pretty clearly. And it's a horrible realization to know that that is true.

Where I would push back a little is the assertion that "making the difficult but correct decision is up to me." I can't will this to happen. I've tried. I do fine for a while -- sometimes years -- motivated by shame and guilt and fear and a genuine desire to do what is right, and then ... I don't. That's not saying that my choice is right in any way. It's not. It's wrong. But I am saying that, in and of myself, I can't will myself to make the right choice over the course of a lifetime. It hasn't worked.

I need God to change me. I am praying that God will change me. Whatever hope I have that things can be different -- for my marriage, my family, my life -- lies in that statement. I have no hope in myself that anything will change in the longterm.

Brother-in-law Bill said...

"I have no hope in myself that anything will change in the longterm." On one hand, I agree. Every temptation gives us the chance to succeed or fail, and no one bats one thousand. On the other hand, the statement translates to "Don't blame me, blame God," which seems to absolve us from personal responsibility. I guess what I'm saying is, don't use that as a crutch, because that's its own trap.

Elliot said...

It's an old, old dilemma, isn't it? Paul, Augustine, John Donne... "Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend..." etc.

caparoon said...

Hi Andy. I don't check your blog very regularly, so I just caught this post. Sorry I'm late to the party. :(

Yes. This change does come.. or can come.. but it's kind of amazing how it hasn't come or doesn't come for so many of the self-identified "evangelical christians" that are so popular with the barna-research-quoting crowd.

I grew up in the church. I've been that evangelical. I've been that same ass as paul, and I'm sure still there a lot of days in a lot of ways. I've been at this a long time, and I know what it's like not to change.

As a ray of hope, though, I think I've probably changed more in the last 3 years than the previous 30. At least more noticeably. And it all comes from forgetting pretty much everything I've ever learned other than the short mantra, "be jesus." I try to remember it every day, and the days I succeed, I change. I don't have to resist the temptation to surf porn, or hate my boss, or scream at my kids--because I'm being Jesus. And Jesus doesn't surf a lot of porn, from what I've seen.

And for what it's worth, I really wish you were the crabby guy living next door, because I'd love to sit on the back porch and have a beer with you and ponder our own stubborn flesh, and the mystical nature of change.

Plus, I'd totally like to steal a big bunch of your music collection. Thanks for keeping it real.

Anonymous said...

Hey Andy, I would like to add a few words on this topic "Change".

I came across a verse in the Good Book. Ephesians 4:17-32. Its whole meaning was in renewing or rewiring one's self.

I don't believe that God had meant that we should change over night. But in fact renew ourselves daily.

We get stuck in are own ways of thinking and doing that we can’t see the way out for our recurring problems. Change may not come when you want them too. But if you use the old method of practicing you will get there.

It's like when you start working out the first few weeks, it‘s really hard to stay with it.. You fill like quitting but you know if you keep going it becomes easier to handle latter, And the end result you have gotten stronger, faster and maybe have lost some weight. You have improved your life successfully and tide in a new routine or two.

No one is righteous enough, but we have guidelines that help us rewire our whole being.
There have been times that I have changed my routine to avoid a problem I had with porn. But in my weakness I messed up a few times. That’s when forgiveness and grace comes in. We are human facing real problems like Christ did. He showed us an example on how to leave knowing that yes we can fall. So he gave us hope to continue on the next day.

But it’s up to you to decide, God is not a god that tries to make you like a robot. He gives us the choice to make up our own minds. If we need help he’s set down the guidelines for us. And if you still need help in the matter you have prayer and other believers to encourage you on. How great is that you have the correct instructions on how to work out effectively, eat right and couches to help you on the way to a better you.

Work on yourself a little at a time as long as you consistently make it a point to continue and not give up. Others will see the change in you before you do!