02 January 2012

Dear Lord, we paid for this food ourselves, so thanks for nothing.

I have trouble with the concept of grace, and its close cousin, forgiveness. I am, as most of you will know, a control freak. To quote the board of the Very Big Corporation from Monty Python's Meaning of Life, I am continuously disturbed by how much of the universe doesn't recognize me as its overlord yet.

*ahem* Yeah, it sounds hilarious now, but for most of my life I was bedeviled with the idea that a) becoming such an important person in the world that I could change it by my own efforts of will was not only possible, but indeed the only hope for a future; b) that if I didn't do so the world was doomed and I personally would probably end up on a street corner with a sign saying WILL DROP PANTS FOR FOOD, if not dead or behind bars. Todd Rundgren appears to have hit this stage by the time of his Initiation album - "I can't let the world die / because no-one would try". This of course was the outcome of growing up as something of a "child prodigy" in a very chaotic and emotionally unsafe environment, of being told that just about everything bad that happened was my fault and that it would stop happening if I could just be good. Of course, I could never be good enough. (Todd Rundgren was of course also a prodigy.)

For a long time I preferred to believe that I was "bad" inside, because the idea of being a good person who sometimes did things which hurt others was intolerable. I would have to ask for forgiveness, an unforgivable weakness which would never be forthcoming. Far better to have a fantasy of control, where I could always make my life worse whereas making my life better required risk. "You know where you stand in a hellhole", indeed.  

Grace and forgiveness are both concepts which are based on a fundamental relinquishing of control. They are based on the idea that you just can't make the world, or even your portion of it, "right" by your own efforts. If you've done something wrong, and you know it (and who hasn't?), and you can't personally put it right, all you can hope is that the person you've wronged, or God, or the credit card company or the District Attorney, will decide that you don't have to pay the debt you ran up. Otherwise, you will have to deal with the consequences forever and there ain't nothing you can do about it.

But believing in things like grace or forgiveness are the only things which make what we would know as revolutionary action possible. Believing that you are not necessarily to blame if things go wrong makes it tolerable for things to go wrong. Being able to handle the fact that you ballsed things up and possibly made things worse is the only thing that makes it possible to handle ballsing things up. And it's the only way that one can handle love.

Control issues in relationships kill the heart-opening bliss quicker than anything. If you understand that you can't change your partner, that's one step; the next is understanding that you can't change yourself any more than you can lift yourself up by your bootstraps. Of course you can always change your behaviour, but that's not the same thing.

It's always better to act than not to act, because acting at least allows the possibility that Grace might enter the world, that we might actually be forgiven our debts as we forgive our debtors. Here's what Robert Fripp has to say on the subject (scroll down to where he starts talking about the Chief Rabbi).