Newsletter: “The Loser Edit”

Yesterday’s Times had a thoughtful column called “The Loser Edit,” by the novelist Colson Whitehead. (You can read it here:

Just briefly, a “loser edit” is a particularly merciless expression from reality television, referring to how those shows take hours and hours and hours of footage and edit and condense them into coherent story lines, fit for an hour long program, with people playing particular characters—heroes and villains, golden boys and golden girls or chumps, brains or brawn, etc.

As Whitehead puts it, “if you have ever watched a reality TV show and said, ‘He’s going home tonight,’ you know what the ‘loser edit’ is.”

It can be a rather willful process, of course—a person might just as well be presented as a kind, considerate hero, or a lovable, harmless schlub, as a dark, selfish snake. It all depends on who does the editing, and what the story seems to require.

This has me thinking about Lent.

Some people push back against the self-reflection and conscious self-denial of a penitential season. At one extreme, some grew up in religious households where “pride” was a particularly grievous label that covered a multitude of situations, some sinful and some perhaps not. They grew familiar with a God was, above all, a Righteous Judge who saw all things, for whom squirming seemed almost more important than redemption.

Sad to say, Lent can remind them of that time, and of trying to live in the light of what seemed like a grace-less God, in painful ways that are long in healing, even many years later.

But they are not the only ones who struggle with Lent.

Many are put off by it, because Lent seems like a season when the Church asks us to construct our own “loser edit” about ourselves — to retell the story of our own lives in terms of our every moment of weakness or selfishness, our every moment of hesitation before doing the right thing, our every angry and impatient word, our every extra helping of bacon or snuck cigarette.

Life is hard enough without dwelling on the negative—how can seeing our story as the saga of our unfolding flaws help anything at all?

Let’s be clear: I’m quite sure that it cannot.

And yet, how often is it that we create the time and space to think deeply about our lives? What kind of story do our lives seem to tell? How often do we step back from the living of our days, and seek to trace the coherent story lines, the slow unfolding of who it is we have become, or the likely destination toward which we’re tending?

On any given day, each one of us is, of course, any number of characters: a kind, considerate hero; a lovable, harmless schlub; and even a dark, selfish snake. But in time, the story emerges, and the plot becomes clear.

In Lent, we are reminded that God is the ultimate author of our story, and that the story of his love for all that he has made is the grand narrative within which our little stories find their place.

The disciplines of the season are not meant to punish us, or to show us the “loser edit” of our lives. They are meant to invite us into a sense of that larger story, and to live our lives more fully as a part of it.
See you in church,

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