Monday, December 16, 2013

Survival of the Guiltiest

lane severson, author, guy who wrote this article, husband, father, zombie apocalypse casualty
by Lane Severson 

God has blessed me with a wife and five children. But when the zombie apocalypse happens, they are out of luck because this guy could never make a fire, or build shelter, or fashion a weapon to fight off zombies – much less figure out how to wipe our seven butts without glorious Charmin Ultra Soft. We would all cake ourselves in feces just to survive the cold, and then we would starve, and then, many days later, the zombies would find us and take a pass on cracking open our poop-encrusted heads. Even zombies would be smart enough to realize that our brains just wouldn't be worth eating.

Jack London would have never written a book about me.

There used to be this ad for Hummers, back before everyone owned one, and the copy read: "If your life was a movie, would it go straight to video?" And the idea was that you need to stop doing whatever people did back in '95, and get out and encounter your enormous luxury vehicle...with the A/C on. At least, I assume the A/C would be on. It gets pretty hot outside. Jack London would probably write a book about me if I hunted bear in my Hummer. (Picture me driving through the woods at top speeds, shooting at a bear with that gun from Predator, and screaming at the top of my lungs.)

But that’s not me. I am at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

I'm not joking. The other day I almost sold my car for scrap metal, only to find out it hadn’t actually broken down; the battery was just dead. I ALMOST THREW AWAY A PERFECTLY GOOD CAR BECAUSE I COULDN'T JUMP THE BATTERY!

battery, clamp-on battery, car, jump start
Image by Wtshymanski
My children, young as they are, already sense my utter dependence upon the modern world. They understand that my ability to "provide" is a step removed at best. When we ordered a pizza recently, they thanked the delivery guy, but not me. "But Dad, he's the one who brings us the pizza," they said. The vacuous act of purchasing the pizza holds no intrinsic value for them. 

Of course, I know that I'm perfectly well equipped to survive the modern world and that a zombie apocalypse probably isn't going to happen, but I still feel guilty that, if I was born ten thousand years ago, I would have been told to stay with the women and children to "take care of them," while the other men went hunting for our food.

Even as a child, I sensed the potential importance of being able to provide for myself should my plane crash into an ocean or my sled dogs all die, thereby stranding me alone in the Alaskan wilderness. I read a lot of books about how to build a shelter out of snow, or how to avoid sunburn when stranded in the ocean. I don't remember any of that now; a much more effective strategy for survival is to not explore the Alaskan wilderness with sled dogs in the first place. But I digress. 

Somehow, human evolution has produced me - a man who could have never survived at any point previously in all of history. 

Don't worry, dear reader, I'm about to go all David Blaine on this post and pull a heart-wrenching point out of this insanity and guilt.

oreo, cookie, delicious, broken cookie, filling
Image by Natasha
Because the truth is, there are two kinds of guilt. Let's say that one kind of guilt is two chocolate cookies, and the other type of guilt is that delicious white stuff in the middle. They seem easy enough to tell apart: one is the guilt you feel from doing something wrong; the other is the guilt you feel because you don't measure up to the ideals society has set for you. It seems like it should be easy enough to tell the difference between the two. I mean, one is a cookie and the other is filling. But in our brains, the cookie and the frosting have been blended up into little pieces, and now there are gummy worms all over the place too for some reason, and it’s pretty hard to figure out where the filling starts and the cookie begins.

So, the idea that I need to be able to survive a zombie apocalypse without Charmin Ultra Soft is crazy, and obviously the kind of guilt that comes from other people or society or something. But I also feel the other kind of guilt too, because I'm an idiot and make bad decisions. And if that's the case, that's on me. On the other hand, maybe I’ve made the best decisions I could, considering the information I was presented with, and so I'm off the hook.

But then, there’s this other layer here where the idea of self-sufficiency is to be lauded, and is the measure of being wise and responsible in America.  Except maybe that has nothing to do with the things that should be important to me as a Christian. Yet, being wise is a big deal in the Bible, at least in Proverbs.

And then there is that entire part of me that is obsessed with the idea that, if I'm not providing "value," people will abandon me. Actually that's the worst fear of them all. The zombie apocalypse I'm really worried about is the one where I'm alone, not the one where I can't provide. This whole line of reasoning is a messy, messy thing. That’s because it’s the Oreo-Cookie-dirt-pie that is guilt. You can't pull these strands apart cleanly any more than you can reconstruct a whole Oreo cookie out of dirt pie.

convento de san francisco, mexico city, prayer, man, kneeling
Image by ProtoplasmaKid
Maybe this is why I love the Christian practice of confession so much. Some people have told me that they find ritual confession depressing. But for me, it is the place of freedom. In the Anglican Church, we have a phrase during the prayer of confession wherein we ask forgiveness for "the things we have done and the things we have left undone." It is "the things we have left undone" that seems to cover that dirt pie mess of guilt in my head.

So when the priest stands up to absolve our sins I hear something like: 

May the Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins – even your stark dependence upon Charmin Ultra Soft, and your persistent navel gazing, and fear of failure, and persistent longing for affirmation – through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness to go live a Christian life – despite the dirt-pie of guilt in your brain – and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, keep you in eternal life. Amen. 

And I say, “Amen.” And then, I believe a double miracle happens. Miracle one: I'm forgiven for my guilt and my insanity. Miracle two: God uses me, in my weakness, to help other people. And the coolest thing for me is when I say all of this and it’s actually helpful for another person, because they feel the same way about their guilt and insanity but have had bad experiences with confession in the past, or else have never really done it before. Because God has made us as communal creatures, and has called us to bear one another’s burdens, and when we go through public confession together, we’re doing just that; we’re helping one another. Oh, and also, if I can help you by giving you info on how to jump a car battery, I totally know how to do that now. 

Lane Severson blogs at On Pop Theology and Out of Ur. He likes charismatic liturgy and listening to Kanye West or Jay Z with his wife and five children. Lane can be found at or on Twitter @_lxnx.

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