Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
I turned 31 on Saturday. I guess there’s no denying I’m old anymore, but I really had a fantastic day. And if you’re one of my friends who posted on my Facebook wall, you were part of it. So give yourself a high-five for that.
Frequently, when we kneel, the heart follows the body.“Okay,” you’re saying, “this is not what I read LOL Interwebz looking for. Sentimental junk about birthdays? Ugh. I come here for butt jokes and questionable exegesis. Come on. Clearly, Luke is getting sappy in his old age.
“Besides,” you go on, because apparently you think that Thursday morning is your time to talk and not mine, “who cares about Facebook birthday wishes? People only give you those because Facebook tells them to. It’s so contrived.”
And I would say (because you finally decided to let me talk, gosh, thank you), “Is it?”
And your head would explode into a thousand pieces that would rain down like so much birthday confetti.
The truth us, I don’t think that the fact that you were reminded by Facebook to wish me a happy birthday made the sentiment any less genuine. It’s like when you see a vine crawling up a lattice—the lattice isn’t alive, but the vine is—and the lattice’s structure gives the vine the support it needs to survive and thrive. The structure isn’t there as a substitute for life; it’s there to support the life.
I’ve found that this is the case, for example, with scheduling. I used to fetishize spontaneity, thinking that if I did things whenever I felt like doing them, I’d be happier and possibly even more efficient; what I found, though, was that I rarely actually feel like doing anything. Give me permission to do whatever I want, and I’ll lie on the couch hitting “refresh” on Facebook over and over for five or six hours. But if I make a schedule, by the time it’s time to do something, I’m usually mentally ready to do it.
It’s the same reason, I think, that so many marriage counselors recommend scheduling sex every week. Waiting till you’re “in the mood” ignores the fundamental reality that body and soul exist as a two-way street. If you wait around till you’re in the mood, you might be waiting forever—but you can train yourself to be in the mood at the right time.
It’s the same thing with liturgy, I think. I’m lucky enough to have landed in a very traditional, liturgical congregation, where there are times of the year to fast in penitence and times to feast in exultation; where every year’s calendar has built into it reminders of who Christ is and what He’s done for me; where every worship service opens with communal repentance. Certain flavors of Evangelicalism eschew that last one in particular, insisting that repentance that isn’t heartfelt is no repentance at all, but I’m not sure that the fact that something is scheduled means it’s not heartfelt. In reality, we know that the whole of the human heart is corrupted by sin and, left to itself, will never repent at all. Theologically, though, we all know we are in need of repentance, whether we feel like it or not. And frequently, when we kneel, the heart follows the body.
The other day on Facebook, I was involved in a discussion regarding a Tumblr post by a prominent Christian musician who divorced his wife last year, after being unfaithful to her. The post was a long and contrite-sounding public apology, but a few people expressed skepticism as to the apology’s genuineness.
I couldn’t really argue with them. Frequently, even the best apologies are mostly trumped-up nonsense.
If I’m honest about it, though, a lot of what I write is trumped-up nonsense, too. Even a lot of the most heartfelt stuff I put on the page isn’t necessarily something I’m feeling at the moment my fingers strike the keys. But what am I ever actually feeling, anyway? At any given moment, I’m usually experiencing about 100 different and contradictory emotions, and it’s often impossible to sort them out from each other until long after the fact. Having some sort of structure to help me sort through them—like a rite of repentance—isn’t a bad thing.
One other participant in the conversation had what struck me as a wise answer. “I think it’s even harder because most people in serious bondage (including addiction) really do require a few tries at ‘repentance’ before it actually takes,” he wrote.
I think this is true, as well. Sometimes feeling the right things takes practice. Sometimes you have to rehearse the outward forms before the inward form takes root. Sometimes you need the lattice in place before the vine can grow into the sun.
Serendipitously, the repentant musician had obliquely referenced this in his original post:
i’ve said recently that my songs feel like my personal liturgy, things that i don’t necessarily or always believe but i show up to recite again and again in hopes of believing them. if i’m honest, most of the time i don’t believe the words in my songs. i have a hard time believing in a God that could make, let alone love a man who could do such things. so, i’ll go on reciting and adding to my liturgy in hopes of believing the words, because i wish to. more than ever, i wish to.
So I believe his repentance, not necessarily because he feels it in his heart yet, but because the repentance itself may lead him there. And I believe all of your “happy birthday”s not because I think you would have offered them without the Facebook reminder, but because I think you meant them. I don’t believe God faults me for needing a weekly reminder to repent, and I don’t fault the vine for needing a lattice.
Image via Pixabay.