Low Anthropology Is My Love Language

Often, when I try to explain what Mockingbird is I am faced with the daunting […]

Sarah Condon / 4.28.15

Ultimate-Chocolate-Cupcake-02-428x642Often, when I try to explain what Mockingbird is I am faced with the daunting task of articulating a “low anthropology”. That is, an unflattering view of humanity. People accuse me of being negative or of losing sight of the fact that human beings are “mostly good.” So I pause and consider their opinions. And then I start to judge them for having those opinions. “How naïve” I say to myself. Then I realize I’m sinning in the middle of a theological discussion. Which brings me back to square one: low anthropology it is.

Recently, I met a lovely person who told me that she spends her time with incredible people. When the topic of low anthropology came up, she suggested that perhaps I just wasn’t being choosy enough in who I spent my time with. At first it seemed like a helpful reflection. Have I surrounded myself with good-for-nothing rascals and not realized it?

Less than two minutes later I got into my car and switched on the news: human trafficking, helpless refugees drowning, and yet another black man died in the custody of law enforcement. Things are bad, folks. And we made it that way. But what interests me is that strange time between these optimistic conversations with people and the reality of the world smacking me in the face (again), either through an interaction with another person or my own sinful narrative.

I experience this gap of time over and over again. Like everyone else, I want to believe that people are well-meaning. That we always strive for excellence and are all on the fast, or even slow, train to self-betterment.

Since these conversations tend to happen within the confines of my gentrified, shiny context, it’s hard not to wonder if having a high anthropology is a point of privilege. Americans, generally speaking, are not a desperate people. We are not persecuted and tortured. We have not been sent to work camps or had vast parts of our country taken away. The glossiness surely makes it easier to believe in the righteousness of ourselves and our fellow citizens.

We do not know how we would respond to a Holocaust or to ethnic cleansing. But if our fellow human beings are any indication, I suspect that we would hide in our homes and hope the horror would leave us unscathed. Certainly, there are always heroes in these instances. People who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of others. But those people are heroes because they are the exceptions. And so while we would like to assume that we would be the Dietrich Bonhoeffer or MLK of our generation, the odds are against us.

Recently, I’ve started reading Mbird’s newest publication, Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints). If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy, I’m told they’ll available by the end of the week. I cannot recommend it enough. Here’s one excerpt:

“Regardless of how good we feel ourselves to be, how well we think we are doing, or how much better we think we’re becoming, there is no getting around the accusation, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). To hear those words clearly is to hear that we are significantly worse off than we imagined ourselves to be—and when it gets down to motivation, even the best things we do have something in them that needs to be forgiven.”

Whether we like it or not, a low anthropology isn’t a negative view on the state of humanity, it is an honest one; it calls a thing, a thing. Admittedly, this drive to see ourselves as #worldchangers comes from a well-intentioned place, at least partly. In a world hammered daily by pain and torment, we are all desperately on the lookout for some hope. We intrinsically need faith in something. So if it isn’t God, the onus falls on our shoulders–and eventually life wears us down to the bone. If you think a low anthropology is bleak, just try to imagine the comfort that Soul Cycle and clean eating will give you the moment you get a cancer diagnosis. Spoiler alert: It ain’t pretty.

Hoping in ourselves and our ability to create good vibes (or positive energy, or light/love, or something about vibrations), is like thinking we can make chocolate cupcakes out of horse manure. Sure, for a few seconds, maybe even a minute or two, we can sit in a dark room and believe that humanity is bootstrapping its way into a collective #bestlifenow. But then we talk to another human being who wants something from us. Or we pause to reflect on our bosses, in-laws, and/or spouses. And there it is again, good old-fashioned sin and pride making itself known.

Fortunately, there is another gap in my life that brings me undeniable relief. It happens for about 25 seconds most Sunday mornings. Each time I receive the bread and wine of Communion at church, all of my sin meets all of God’s forgiveness. Inevitably, I have approached the rail burdened by myself. I have snapped at my children for crawling under pews. Or judged other people’s children for crawling under pews. I have been anxious about my young son’s clothing choices while also wondering why the acolyte doesn’t have her hair pulled back. It turns out that my low anthropology follows me even there. Whatever sin is usually swimming in my head, it is still treading water on Sunday mornings. After all, church isn’t a transgression-free zone.

And yet, there is this beautiful moment when I fall to my knees and the body and blood of Christ, broken and spilled on my behalf, is offered to me and my brood of zoo animals.Then it hits me again: forgiveness, mercy, blood spilled on the floor of my life, washing me white as snow. Christ sees my low anthropology, my sin, my mistakes and he points to himself hung high on the cross.

That short gap of time is one of sheer liberation. It is what gets me through to the next week. In a flash, my judgment and anger are exposed for what they really are: depravity and brokenness. So, go ahead and call me negative and fatalistic. I’m okay with that. Because I know that’s the only reality where I can honestly hang my hat, the only reality I can bring to the communion rail, where I am reminded once again that it is not on me to fix myself, where I am invited to fall to my knees, hold out my hands and hear that Jesus took my sin and exchanged it for love.