Photo by Markus Thorsen; used with permission under the Creative Commons license.

Thank God I’m Full of Holes

What Scott Hutchison taught me about brokenness, love, God, and community

The past couple years have been an important time of self-discovery for me, and I recently uncovered (with help) that I have been a mostly emotionless person throughout my 41 years of life. Not only have I lacked the words to express emotion, I haven’t even really known the meaning of some emotions.

Sadness is the prime example. I didn’t know how to properly use the word “sad” until earlier this year, and my experience with that feeling came from an unlikely place — the death of someone I didn’t know personally.

Scott Hutchison, lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, took his own life on May 10. His death came a couple months after my emotional awakening and his loss has truly saddened me like never before.

Hutchison’s suicide has had a radical impact on me. I have contemplated his life, death, and art, and almost daily questioned why his life ended prematurely at the age of 36. Never before have I been so affected by the death of someone I didn’t know.

Until he died I never considered I had much of anything in common with Hutchison. He sang openly about depression, loneliness, and his struggles with the church. He was angry with God and doubted his existence.

While I have never been clinically depressed, I have been lonely. As a lifelong struggling Christian, I have been angry at the institution of the church, but unlike Hutchison I ultimately feel loved by God and have been encouraged by faith in Jesus. I believe Jesus to be God incarnate. Hutchison did not:

Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name
How come one man got so much fame?
To any me, it’s pointless to anybody
That doesn’t have faith
Give me the cloth and I’ll wipe my face
When it’s all gone
Something carries on
And it’s not morbid at all
Just when nature’s had enough of you
When my blood stops
Someone else’s will have not
When my head rolls off
Someone else’s will turn
And while I’m alive
I’ll make tiny changes to earth
So you can burn me
’Cause we’ll all be the same, the same way
Dirt in someone’s eye that’s cried down the drain
I believe in a house in the clouds
And God’s got his dead friends ‘round
He’s painted all the walls in red
To remind them they’re all dead
”Head Rolls Off” from The Midnight Organ Fight (emphasis mine)

Suicide is sadly something Hutchison had been contemplating for a long time, and even wrote a song about it called “Floating in the Forth” a decade ago:

And fully clothed, I float away
Down the Forth, into the sea
I think I’ll save suicide for another day…
…Am I ready to leap
Is there peace beneath
The roar of the Forth Road Bridge?

Hutchison was found dead in the River Forth on May 11.

Much of my life I’ve had a judgmental spirit in regards to suicide, internally blaming the individual. Rather than being upset or sad when I heard of someone who died by their own hand, I would think to myself, “they got what they deserved.” It is a sickening thought that I ever believed something along those lines, and clearly I did not understand depression nor mental illness.

A couple months ago this Tweet came through my feed, from journalist David Leavitt:

I was shocked and outraged when I saw it — as were most sane, compassionate people in this world. However, his tweet is all too familiar because it is the opinion of the fundamentalist, Evangelical Christian culture I grew up in. Twenty years I ago, I wouldn’t have been outraged by Leavitt’s tweet — I would have agreed with him.

(I struggle to still call myself a Christian because of the baggage that word carries. I try follow Christ and his example, and I believe historical statements like the Nicene Creed, but am I a “Christian”? I don’t know.)

Thankfully there were wise, loving people who responded to Leavitt, including Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest:

Suicide doesn’t send people to hell; it is because people are already living in their own personal hell that they contemplate that route or follow through with it.

Besides the themes of loneliness and depression that run through Hutchison’s lyrics, there is also the theme of anger and frustration with the church. I wish Hutchison had met people like Fr. Martin, but unfortunately he was powerfully influenced by those who led the church as a legalistic, corrupt institution, rather than a place of love and forgiveness.

I didn’t need these things I didn’t need them
Pointless artefacts from a mediocre past
So I shed my clothes, I shed my flesh down to the bone and burned the rest
I didn’t need these things I didn’t need them
Took them all to bits, turned them outside in
And I left them on the floor and ran for dear life through the door
The useless objects, the gathered storm of shit
A dim and silent shedful of your life’s supplies
When all you need’s a coffin and your Sunday best to smarten up the end
At the front gate, what a reward awaits?
One bite of loaf from a holy ghost
An eternity of suffering the company of all those Christian men
~“Things” from The Winter of Mixed Drinks
I cursed in church again and the handclaps all fell quiet
I watched a statue of you cry
A candle is blown, we start the black march home
Through a stale and silent night
There’s a funeral in your eyes, and a drunk priest at your side
Staggering sermons never wash
No reproach from a lit touch paper, both
Got stubborn marrow in bastard bones
Can we just get home, sleep this off?
Throw some ‘sorry’s and then do it all again?
Folded arms clutch homicide
The bridge is out and the river’s high
This is a March death march
March, Death! March!
There isn’t a God so I’ll save my breath
Pray silence for the road ahead
In this March death march
March, Death! March!
~“March, Death! March!” from Pedestrian Verse

Hutchison was described as an atheist, but based on what I know of him, it seems he objected more to a specific view of God rather than objecting to divinity altogether. In a 2010 interview, Hutchison says, “It’s not necessarily about denouncing or denying the presence of God — it’s actually very real to a lot of people — but I don’t think anyone should live their lives counting on another one happening afterwards.”

What Hutchison rejected was the black or white, us vs. them, saved vs. lost, heaven or hell version of faith. Hutchison clearly had been told repeatedly that if he didn’t get his life together he was going to hell, and he wisely didn’t buy it.

“When the atheist rejects such a god, he is absolutely justified. Indeed the protest of atheism against such a god is essential. The God of Christian prayer is an involved God, a social God…God is not private, but personal and social, Being in relationship…that in God there is social life, community, sharing.” (Kenneth Leech)

Western Christianity has sadly become a religion obsessed with who is in and who is out; who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. If you’re in, you get to spend eternity in heaven at God’s side. If you are out — in the words of an upsetting portion of the ‘Statement of Faith’ on the website of a church I recently visited, “God will…assign the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment.”

Hutchison rejected that. Thank God he did! I reject that now as well, but I accepted “eternal conscious torment” for so long. I accepted it because I was “in”. I accepted it because I was taught I was one of the “chosen” and didn’t want to admit how broken I am. I accepted it because I thought I had it together and had made a decision to follow God that other people had not made. The reality I had been taught — in which God allows the majority of the billions of people he has created to suffer eternally — eventually became disturbing and unacceptable to me.

Not only do I no longer believe that anyone will suffer eternally, I also no longer believe that we as humans have the ability to make a decision that affects our eternal destiny. We don’t have to “accept the Gospel”. The Gospel — the reality of who Jesus is and what he did — transformed and changed the whole world. And I believe that transformation and forgiveness takes place whether or not we understand or accept it.

Can you hear the road from this place?
Can you hear footsteps, voices?
Can you see the blood on my sleeve?
I have fallen in the forest, did you hear me?
In the loneliness
oh, the loneliness
and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist
In the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to bring
the blood to the front of my face again
Am I here? of course I am, yes
All I need is your hand to drag me out again
It wasn’t me, I didn’t dig this ditch
I was walking for weeks before I fell in
to the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist
in the loneliness
Oh, the loneliness
and the scream to fill a thousand black balloons with air
We fall down, find God just to lose it again
Glue the community together we were hammering it
I fell down, found love, I can lose it again
but now our communal heart beats miles from here
~“The Loneliness and the Scream” from The Winter of Mixed Drinks (emphasis mine)

Hutchison understood better than myself that he did not have it together. He knew he struggled with depression and thankfully he spoke and sung of it often.

However, most people don’t understand him or others struggling with depression or mental illness. In one of the many interviews with Hutchison I have listened to and read over the last few months, the interviewer asked Hutchison if he had trouble singing and writing about his depression and pain now that he was “successful”. It is disturbing that the interviewer asked, and displayed a complete lack of understanding of depression as an illness. Hutchison was thankfully gracious and did a good job of explaining that his success or lack of it had no affect on his mental health.

The song “The Loneliness and the Scream” hit me like a bolt of lighting after Hutchison’s death. I had never really noticed the song before, but it’s lyrics became vivid and personal.

About a week after Hutchison died, and just after I had listened to that song, a friend sent me this passage:

The human struggle goes on deep down us, and we need to stay with it, and attend to it, entering into its pain and its richness. This involves the acceptance of our fundamental aloneness, not seeking to reduce it, not hoping that friendship, marriage, community, or group will take it away. That aloneness is an integral part of being human, and an essential element in love.” (Kenneth Leech)

Until that moment I didn’t understand the difference between loneliness and aloneness. I didn’t know there was a difference, and had never understood the word or concept of aloneness. A Huffington Post article defines the terms:

“Loneliness is a lack, a feeling that something is missing, a pain, a depression, a need, an incompleteness, an absence.”
“Aloneness is presence, fullness, aliveness, joy of being, overflowing love. You are complete. Nobody is needed, you are enough.”

The Huffington post article concludes that love is the solution to curing loneliness and discovering aloneness. I somewhat agree, but I personally believe a love that powerful can only come from God. We can experience God’s love from our friends, but we also have to remember our friends are as broken as we are.

Hutchison was lonely and tried like me to fill that loneliness with friendship and community. But that only works for a time. Eventually everyone needs to become comfortable with one’s self, and that is “aloneness”. Hutchison sadly never found that, but he had identified the challenge. He said this in a Line of Best fit interview about a romantic relationship: “…You cannot exist with one person alone. I think that building that place that’s so private works up to a point, but you need to let other people in — needing to bring other social aspects into your life but not knowing how to let go of this thing you’ve become.” Hutchison knew where to find love and acceptance: in a loving community.

Through community, through friendship, through each other is how I believe we can experience God. “…there is no knowledge of God except through communion with people.” (Kenneth Leech)

Being comfortable in aloneness and finding true community is a delicate balance. It took me decades to find it. The key for me was initiating a community with friends I could be truly open with. That pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to talk about uncomfortable things. But with these friends (J., J., J., D., D., and M.) I could be honest about my doubts and struggles. My friendships with them allow me to experience God in ways I never had previously. Opening up was difficult and scary but worth the effort.

You read to me from the riot act
Way on high
Clutching a crisp new testament
Breathing fire
Spare me the fake benevolence
I don’t have time
I’m too far gone for a telling
I’ve lost my pride
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re acting all holy
Me, I’m just full of holes
I could dip my head in the river
Cleanse my soul
I’d still have the stomach of a sinner
Face like an un-holy ghost
Spare me all the soliloquies
I’ve paid my fines
And I’ll be gone before my deliverance
So preach what you like
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re acting all holy
Me, I’m just full of holes
Don’t mind being lonely
Spare me the brimstone
Acting all holy
When you know I’m full of holes
Don’t mind being lonely
Don’t need to be told
Stop acting so holy
I know I’m full of holes
I don’t mind being lonely
Leave me alone
You’re oh so holy
And I’ll never be good enough
Don’t care if I’m lonely
It feels like home
And I’ll never be holy
Thank God I’m full of holes
~“Holy” from Pedestrian Verse (emphasis mine)

Hearing the song “Holy” back in 2013 is what first connected me to Hutchison on a deeper level. I was struck by how honest and open he was with his own brokenness. He admitted and accepted his holes while I was in denial.

As I let go of beliefs about the afterlife I thought were necessary, I was unsure if I could or should still be a Christian. Thankfully I discovered that there are millions of Christ-followers worldwide who don’t obsess about heaven vs. hell and don’t claim to know anything about what happens after we die.

Through my doubts and fears, I still believe God created me, loves me, came to earth as a human, suffered, was crucified, and was resurrected. Those are difficult concepts, and I don’t blame anyone — including Hutchison — for doubting any of them.

The Bible is often difficult for me to read at this point in my life, as I have heard the “breathing fire” far too many times. But I recently found encouragement in this passage:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8–10).

I am broken, “afflicted”, and “full of holes”, but I hold on to hope. God made me, God loves me, and God draws me to himself. I feel these things through our “communal heart.”

I hope and pray Hutchison has found God and is with him. My lifelong religious beliefs had taught me the opposite, but I reject them.

I must believe God loves, forgives, and accepts everyone. I choose to believe that Hutchison is with God and has been freed of his depression, pain, and hell. I hope that I will join them one day in a perfect community.

“Get together now, find hope
There is a life beyond what we already know
Get together now, build a home
There is a life beyond the one you already know”
“Lump Street” from “Painting of a Panic Attack”

For more thoughts and a playlist of all the songs mentioned here, see my blog.