Tony Woodlief | Author

Benediction from a bad man

I guess I stopped writing about personal things here because I didn’t like the person I had become. I felt stupid, the faith and family writer who gets divorced. This was compounded by coming to DC and finding myself—though alongside very decent and honorable people—exposed as well to a few ugly people for whom gossip and career knee-capping are sport. Aggravating this vulnerability was a confession gone awry, with details passed to people whose good opinion I often coveted but never earned.

Deadened by a toxic mix of drinking, self-pity, and stressful work, I felt too stupid and unworthy to speak. Maybe I still am. Someone like me doesn’t have any authority to hold forth on what Christ really meant, or how a life should be lived, or what it is to love rightly.

If you want to hear about failure, though, I am your man. I can tell you about days without shaving because I didn’t want to look myself in the mirror. About the gallons of whiskey. About a trail of women. About a gun in my hand and being too cowardly to pull the trigger, not restrained by love of my own children, even, just fear of what comes after the recoil and flash.

Even now, in this sober and prayerful place, I have been reticent to write of these stirrings in my heart, because my heart is such a faithless instrument.

A falsity I embraced is that only righteous men can say good and true things. This misconception was one vein of a deep-rooted arrogance within me. I believed I was righteous and enlightened and God-ordained to speak truth. I believed I was more worthy than others to speak of noble things.

Of course that’s nonsense, insofar as whatever is pure and lovely and praiseworthy doesn’t originate with man. The worth of benedictions doesn’t reside in the purity of the speaker, but in the holiness of truth’s author. We make ourselves gods at every turn, don’t we?

There is beauty within this shattered creation. There are true and good things, and our struggle, every day, is not the truth of them, but the truth of ourselves. The words aren’t made worthy by us, but maybe, by God’s grace, we can be made more worthy of the words, and even by them, because good words are a blessing, which is why the priest or preacher or rabbi sends us out into the world with them humming in our inner hearts.

Logos is a name for Christ because creation was spoken into being. Some of that power conveys to us as well, because with our every word we build up or tear down, we soothe our brother or we flay him, we call into this earth either a heavenly aroma or pungent brimstone. God knows, we need more good words.

Which means they warrant utterance, it seems, even when they come from bad men. This world needs words freighted with gravity and grace, and I suppose it would be a sin not to speak them, even if we’ve never once in our lives measured up to their fullness.

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