13 October 2022

You could forgive me

As the autumn returns, the same social media reminders come up for me, the same set of pictures of that day we first came here, that Wednesday night in 2008, with Naomi and Yoko and just barely the beginning of Mei. It feels far away and it is now, far away, well before there were five of us and when I was so full of hope that I was unrecognisable from who I am now, a version of me that won the lottery. I remember riding my bike in Milton Keynes in the morning to the University and feeling out of control, but lucky, genuinely and obviously lucky. Whatever you want to believe about dreams coming true, this was it. When you're that age and you're newly married, the sheer force of will is enough to accomplish things — I said we would do it and we did it, the end of a five-year period of my life where I was just ahead of the wave and couldn't seriously articulate any potential downsides for all the decisions I was making. The only possibilities were good ones. 

When the Queen was reported dead, we were all there as a family, watching the television and waiting for it. The last week I had been in London with Mei and her friend and we walked by Buckingham Palace and I remembered feeling the way that I felt when I first saw it, when I saw it as a foreign thing. I can still see it that way if I try. I can still feel whatever I felt when I saw the Houses of Parliament the first time as a fat American, the way everything in England seemed old and serious. Now, of course, the artifice is obvious, embarrassing even. From the inside, Britain's neither that old nor that serious. It's the two guys sitting on the pavement outside of the Co-op asking for change, that's Great Britain as it is, where you need to decide what it is you're going to do, if you're going to stop and talk to them, or ask them what they need, or just keep walking past. It's class discrepancy and racism and the sort of embedded colonial thinking that makes you think the apocalypse is the only solution, how can something so corrupt be remade into something good: it can't be.

The framing of the world, and the world to come, in biblical terms is not something I find useful, but I've come to accept that I'm beholden to it. Even if I can't mouth along with the Apostle's Creed, even if I haven't prayed in fifteen years and have no desire to, I'm beholden to it. I can still quote verses from the Bible that I memorised when I was eight or nine, earning trophies and certificates, and being the best Christian boy I could be. What's the point of denying it, when your first thought is some verse, when your whole worldview is to do good while there is time, Ephesians 5:16, the days are evil and the end is coming. It feels like everyone has finally caught up with the dread I felt when I was seven: you can conceive of the end any way you'd like to, it's coming.

I wake up every morning and the end hasn't come. Instead, it's another day wondering when salvation will arrive at the Pihlajas of Harborne, when I will be forgiven not for what I've done, but for who I've become, the person whose will is not enough anymore, who cannot will love or respect, but only duty now. Somehow that is the bit that hangs on, the disease without the cure. The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast in the bread, you can't see it anywhere, it's just there, but I'm still trying to disbelieve something else, some false gospel, some Moral Majority trick that got played on me before I was even aware of it. Before I can even remember, I was anxiously looking into the sky for Jesus to come back, to judge us all. I can curse it, I can deny it, but it keeps rotting inside of me somewhere.

The Kingdom of Heaven is good seeds sown among tares, it all grows together, who can differentiate which from which. So I get up again and say good morning, and keep trying for another day — if it's duty now, it's duty. Maybe forgiveness can come, maybe I can see my sin as sin and repent. Or maybe there is no sin, maybe I am the one being sinned against: who can tell, good seeds grow up with the tares and we all just wait. Forgive my debts and I will forgive those indebted to me. I don't believe, help me in my unbelief.