“Look, you’ve been a bad boy”
Odd, at age 34 I have heard this phrase or some equivalent more in the last four months than I had in the previous years combined. It’s a strange phrase to throw at a grown man. I’ve been letting the phrase roll around in my head these couple of days, trying to think of what the intent behind the use of such a phrase might be. Is it meant to make less of the things that I have done? Is it meant to be patronizing? Is it something else? And what am I supposed to do with it?
Do you remember Gabbo? Of course you do. He’s the ventriloquist dummy from a classic season 9 Simpsons episode. He had a catchphrase. “I’m a bad widdle boy”. It was supposed to be charming, a way of diminishing the effect of the mischief that he caused.
Is this what people are trying to do for me? Diminish the impact of my actions? Is that what I need right now? It seems unfair to those that I have hurt to make light of what I have done. Perhaps it’s an attempt to keep me, a walking ball of melancholy, from hurting myself by making less of the matter….
… or it’s meant to make light of me. I’m nothing but a child. My behavior has been childish. That could certainly be seen as the case. But it’s demoralizing to be called a “boy” in any context, it’s particularly damaging for a black male to be called “boy”. I don’t feel like being reduced to that level. I also think about how “bad boy” is something we yell at dogs. Whatever else I may have done wrong, I didn’t pee on the rug. I don’t think anyone meant it this way when it was said to me, but it’s hard for me to not hear it this way at least a little bit.
… but most of the people in my life are wise and nuanced. I don’t think they would use a phrase like that without some consideration to the possible negative connotations. I think they want me to acknowledge that there is a selfish, immature component to my personality and that I have given that part of my self more sway over decisions than I should. I’m sure they would spur me on to “put away childish things” and to grow into the full maturity of the faith. I can see that and I respect that viewpoint. It is one that is completely apropos for Good Friday. It’s my bad boy side that drove Jesus to the cross, right? I get that line of thinking…
… but what if my attempts to purge myself of my “bad boy” side are what brought me to this point in the first place? What if the goal isn’t to purge myself of that side but to integrate it fully into my life in a way that doesn’t hurt others. Or what if the point is to have a community of people that knows about my “bad boy” side and holds me accountable, keeps me in check, and loves me despite myself?
Coming to terms with the dark side of myself seems to be my current challenge. I think I’ve expected a certain level of perfection from myself, a level that I simply am not capable of achieving. At least, not capable of achieving on my own. I’m wrestling with this. How do we go about accepting our dark sides, maybe even integrating it into an authentic expression of ourselves, without condoning the selfish actions and desires that spring from that side of our personalities?
So much of Christianity is crazy-making. On one hand we say that we can not achieve salvation without the grace of a loving God and on the other hand we set impossible moral codes for ourselves and others as if we are somehow perfectable. We are not perfectable. Maybe we are to some extent in community, but I don’t know very many perfect communities. It seems to me now, as it always does, that the answer is now and always will be grace. Grace for others, grace for and from our communities, and grace for ourselves.
I’ve been a bad boy. I have a bad boy inside of me and most likely always will. He will always want to selfishly get his way and I guess what I’m trying to figure out is do I need to keep him locked up in the basement or is it healthier to let him out to play every once in awhile. Is there safe space for him to play where he won’t hurt others? Because maybe he’s not such a bad boy after all. Maybe he’s just lonely and misunderstood…