David Cox | Unscrewing up

+ I screwed up.” -Barack Obama, 2/3/09 after Tom Daschle withdrew as a cabinet appointee over unpaid taxes.
+ “I screwed up.” -John McCain, 10/16/08 to David Letterman after finking out on him to be interviewed instead by Katie Couric.
+ “To err is human.” -Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1711

Confession seems to be in. Politicians are evidently making up for eight lost years when the only presidential error admitted by the then-occupant of the White House concerned some appointments. The honesty is refreshing.

Even these pale in comparison with, say, Bernie Madoff informing his sons that he had bilked innocent investors and trusting foundations out of $50 billion. That sort of honesty is not so much refreshing as literally depressing. At least he came clean, before the Feds had to figure him out: who knows how long that would have taken?

“Confession is good for the soul,” goes an old Scottish proverb, for, as another one says, “Confessed faults are half-mended.” Why? Because fessing up recognizes two realities: first, that the fesser-up did truly, honestly, indubitably blow it; and second, because, unlike, say, God, the one who concedes error admits, as Pope suggested, to being truly, honestly, indubitably human. Humble pie is a diet that trims the soul back down to size.

And thus, today begins the season of Lent. For many Christians, Lent among other things provides 40 days for self-examination which entails both giving up and taking on: giving up that which separates a person from God and others, taking on that which opens anew to one’s Lord and one’s neighbors. For many, it will mean giving up the chocolate of life for humble pie.

Humility is a meal that is so healthy for every person from time to time that many religious traditions encourage it: Lent for Christians, Yom Kippur for Jews, Ramadan for Muslims. Considering personal errors and offenses offers at least four possibilities:

+ Admitting that one is not perfect, and thus conceding that one is, in fact, human, and thus reestablishing one’s proper place in the universe;

+ Recognizing how others might have been hurt, opening the way to mending relationships (see Scottish Proverb #2, above);

+ Acknowledging specific failures or shortcomings, opening the way to correcting them and thereby becoming a better person; and, for those of religious conviction,

+ Drawing closer, as a mortal, to one’s immortal God.

It all starts with seeing one’s fault, and actually fessing up: not in escapist drips and drabs like A-Rod and Roland Burris are doing, but actually conceding, “I screwed up.” Then, and only then, can a person begin to rectify the wrong, like repenting to David Letterman, or changing the way one operates, like better vetting Cabinet candidates, all on the more prosaic levels where we ordinary folk live.

It helps, too, to consider the wrongs we have abetted as members of society: Right now, there’s a lot of atoning for the spendthrift, devil-may-care (and he does) attitudes of recent years. One silver lining of our economic woes is the hope for turning back to the values of previous generations that helped make this nation strong and growing. Have we learned our lesson? This Lent of our discontent gives time to ponder.

Paradoxically enough, then, humble pie is a delicacy to be savored that can actually help save our lives.




This Lent, the Rockbridge-Lexington Ministerial Association offers Thursday noontime services, all at Manly Memorial Baptist Church. Various clergy will lead the worship and offer thoughts.


– Column by David Cox


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