An old adage: “You are not who you think you are. You are who you think other people think you are.”
Who do we want to be? As Christians, what is our goal? How do we want others to view us? Chuck Swindoll used to say (and I quote loosely from an impaired memory), “If you really knew me, you would not listen to me. But don’t worry. If I really knew you, I would not let you in this church.”
Who are we really? No, really?
Martin Luther once made a controversial statement: “Be a sinner. Sin boldly.” I love Luther. He did not hold his hair back when vomiting. He let the vomit shine for all to see. Luther was keenly aware of his sin, and of grace. Luther’s comment was meant to provocatively communicate something much deeper. “Sin boldly . . .” the statement begins; it continues, “. . . but believe more boldly.” Luther did not care much for self-righteousness. He did not like masks. He did not like trying to impress people. He was continually attempting to make those who were satisfied with their own works recognize their own utter depravity. “Look in the mirror,” he might have said. “You are a wretch. Let your wretchedness be seen. If you clean yourself up, you may fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need grace.” What a terrible place to be: Self-fooled and graceless.
It was not so much the case that Luther wanted people to sin with a sense of comfort; he preferred they recognized their sin and its presence in their own life. When we sin and play cover-up, grace becomes invisible. Yes, it is there, but when we are so quick to clean ourselves up, we cannot see grace. We have to live with such a recognition of our brokenness that we are continually kneeling at the foot of the Cross in utter dependence on him. We never deserve anything.
But others need to see this mess. Quit cleaning yourself up. Let the vomit dry.
There was a scene in a recent episode of Breaking Bad (yes, I do watch this show). The main character, who is dying of cancer, broke down crying in front of his son. His son watched as his dad fell apart. The next morning, dad came in to have a father-son talk. He apologized and told his son that he did not want him to remember him the way he was last night. He wanted him to remember a strong father figure who kept it together. The father had vomit in his hair and he wanted to clean it up in an attempt to erase its memory and smell. However, his son responded, “No. I want to remember you exactly the way you were last night. It was the first time you were real.” Who are we? We are controlled by others’ perception of us, a fact which frequently motivates us to clean up too quickly. In the process no one is helped. All of us need to see the vomit. All of us. Please. I want to see your vomit.
I am glad Paul did not hold his hair back in Romans 7. I am glad Abraham’s fumble – handing his wife off to another man out of fear – is recorded. I am glad Moses’ clothes are soiled with filth. And Peter…God bless Peter. His failures created such a stench of repulsive odor, similar to that which I smell on my breath each and every day. As a result, I have hope. If all the biblical characters were clean, well-shaved, and manicured, I would feel isolated and alone.
Yes, shampoo will cover it up. Yes, mouthwash will help. Change your clothes. spray your cologne, apply your deodorant and cover up. Remake your image. Fear what others would say if they really knew. But when we hold our hair back when we vomit, are we following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us? Is it biblical? From what I can see, the Scriptures go out of their way to reveal the brokenness – the vomit – of its greatest heroes. Why do we go out of our way to cover up our vomit?
Why do we hold our hair back when we vomit?