Fathom Magazine: “Teaching Confession, Learning Repentance”

A few years ago, a student in one of my lit classes recommended a book to me, based on the readings I assigned in the course. “It’s about a guy who hears voices that tell him to murder everyone, but he acts like this really nice person who everyone loves,” explained; “It seems like the type of thing you’d like.”

“Does it?” I wondered. But then I realized that she was right. I always constructed my classes to include a variety of voices, but my favorites were those about bad men. I never saw these as celebrations of the characters’ behavior, but rather critiques — they exposed as rancid the motivations of bad men, motivations that are too often excused as normal “locker room talk.”

But revelations from the #MeToo movement have forced me to rethink that approach. Hearing the stories of women who have been abused by men, and seeing how systematic sexism allowed them to get away with it, I realized that I share responsibility too. I haven’t abused anyone, but I have normalized the actions of others and, by making people read stories from this perspective made women relive their abuse.

Prompted by the revelation of author Junot Diaz’s actions, a onetime mainstay on my course syllabi, I wrote about the responsibility I need to take:

But I didn’t read these works to escape my normal life. They were never a means to live out the fantasies of what I longed to be but knew I couldn’t. I read them as confessions of the selfishness inside me, confessions of what I could become if I started buying into American myths of masculinity and success. Reading them wasn’t just interesting—it was, for me, fundamentally Christian. After all, the “ABCs of Salvation” teach that Christians must admit that we’re sinners. And Díaz, Updike, and C.K. provide admissions in lurid, eloquent detail. Whether it be Updike’s overwhelming imagery or C.K.’s discomfort humor or Díaz’s hyperactive voice, all of these writers go too far in their depictions of the straight male mind. In their perspectives, “getting the girl” wasn’t an admirable achievement for cool, handsome dudes; it was a desperate goal of loathsome failures.

You can read the whole thing here at Fathom Magazine, and I’d love to hear about any similar realizations you’ve had and the steps you’re taking to correct your assumptions. How do you repent?

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