Monday, July 14, 2008

A Babel From a Different Angle

I started this whole topic after watching two Christian families, one ultra-conservative and the other, well, maybe liberal (Lutheran at least), slug it out on "Wife Swap." I know . . . low brow.

But it got me thinking how we as Christians use language sometimes for the opposite reason that God gave it to us. We use it as camouflage, behind which to hide, rather than to expose ourselves to others. While language was given by God as a mode of communion, is becomes a fig leaf to cover our shame.

First, the movie Babel, wasn’t so much about deconstructing language, but more about how . . . despite language (in the case of the movie, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic and English) that we are all linked.

So much time has passed since I watched the Wife Swap, I’ve forgotten most of the dialog that I wanted to draw from. Instead, I’m going to create a fictional, but realistic, story to illustrate my point. I will give the background of the main characters first. Then, on the next posting I’m going to have a dialog between this Christian group, but then “deconstruct” it, looking at the deep meanings of what they are saying. As I deconstruct it, I hope you understand the spirit that I’m doing it in. I’m not standing on a higher moral ground looking down on Evangelicals and showing how THEY mis-use language. I am INCLUDING myself in this madness. I live in the glass house too. I mis-use language as well.

I also don’t want to be cynical for the sake of cynicism. The point that I’m trying to make is that we, all, are much more fallen than we realize. Therefore, we must depend more on Christ’s righteousness. This is really good news, so we don’t have to go on pretending.

The Prayer Breakfast

Characters: Let’s call the three individuals in the dialog, Jake, Melvin and Lacey. I will describe their personality background so you can understand where they are coming from. Although I will pigeon-hole them for this exercise, I really don’t think human personality is so easily divided into neat groups.

The setting: A local café, in a small town in the Midwest. The occasion is a weekly Prayer breakfast that meets at seven AM on Wednesday mornings. It is led by Lacey, the youth pastor of the Small-Town Bible Church.

Jake: is a “self-made-man.” He is a business leader in the community and the sitting president of the Downtown Business Association. He is 47 years old and was raised in a family with four other siblings. His mom was a stay at home mom and his father was a very confident, career Air Force Fighter Pilot.

Jake’s father instilled in his children a lot of confidence and believed that they could achieve anything if they set their mind to it. They were a Christian family. It was a disciplined family and the kids never questioned their dad. Their dad routinely pointed out accomplishments of people in their town and the failures of others. He was always making the point how those people did the right or wrong thing in each case. The family didn’t believe in luck, but if something bad happened to anyone in town . . . it was the person’s fault.

Lacey: Is thirty three years old. She grew up in a single mother family with one sister. Her mother had to work two jobs to support her family (after her father left them with a much younger woman when she was only seven). Lacey wasn’t close to her mother only because her mother was gone so much working.

Lacey had a fairly happy childhood, but that seemed to change as she entered puberty. For reasons that were not clear, as her friends seemed to develop and become beautiful young ladies, Lacey seemed to just become fat . . . and thanks to her Italian heritage . . . hairy.

One of the lowest points in her life when she was fifteen and one of her best childhood friends, Matt, sat near her in the cafeteria at high school with several other guys from the football team. Lacey had been close friends with Matt since they became neighbors at age six. But her adoration had transformed over time to an infatuation. She dreamed of marrying him some day.

On that day, the boys kept giggling and she was not sure why. Matt had not spoken to her much over the past couple of years. Finally one of Matt’s friends said out loud . . . “Hey Lacey, do you know what Matt calls you?” Matt seemed embarrassed and got up and left.

She didn’t know what to say, but just looked puzzled. Then the boy shouted out, “Pig-cey!“All the boys all burst out laughing at her.

Lacey’s world seemed to end that day. She went home that night, alone in their trailer, and cried her eyes out. She even poured about thirty of her mom’s Sominex sleeping pills and considered taking them.

From that moment on, Lacey saw her self as just fat. She started developing an eating disorder where she would eat, and then force herself to vomit. Her mom knew nothing about it. She also became withdrawn and stopped associating with boys altogether.

Besides her eating disorder, she devoted herself to her studies and became an A student. In college, she started out majoring in social work, but after meeting a Christian campus ministry her future began to change. After becoming a Christian, she decided that she wanted to go into full time Christian work. She went to a two year Bible school after graduating from the state school where she got a Masters in Youth Ministries.

Oddly her weight problem faded away as she focused her energy on jogging, then running and finally competitive running. But she never regained her confidence with men. It didn’t help matters that she only went out twice in college, once at the state school and once at the Bible school. The outcome was the same. She slept with both me on the first date . . . and neither ever called her again. She felt a lot of guilt about that. It was only later that she realized that these men didn’t care anything about her . . . except for her body from the shoulders down (and did not include her heart). She told a friend that she could have worn a sack over her had and never said a word on those dates and the boys would have been just as satisfied.

She had been the youth pastor at Small-Town Bible Church for three years. Part of her duties was to organize the Wednesday morning prayer breakfast. She was the “facilitator” but could not be the Bible teacher, per the instructions of the elder board. A couple of men on the board didn’t even like the idea of her organizing the meeting because mostly men would be attending and, “Only men should lead men.”

Melvin: A 35 year old high school science and math teacher. He was a quiet man with two young children and a beautiful wife.

Melvin became interested in spiritual things as a young man. A lot of it had to do with him trying to find a way to feel good about himself. He became very involved with his Baptist church while other young men were playing summer league baseball our just hanging out at the park.

When he was young, his mother’s sister moved in with them after going through a painful divorce. She dated several men over the years. One man, whose name escapes everyone because she dated him so briefly, raped Melvin when he was seven. After the terrible ordeal, the man held a large hunting knife to his throat and told him if he ever told anyone, he would cut his aunt’s heart out, force him to eat it and then cut his head off. Melvin was terrified.

In many ways, the Melvin that could have been, died that night. He never, ever told anyone about that event. His parents knew that he wasn’t right, withdrawn, night terrors and always anxious and they showed their great disappointment in him for his behavior, but he didn’t seem to change.

But as he was just entering the very, early edges of young-manhood, he felt like his manhood had been taken, leaving an immense shame in its place. It seemed that nothing would make the shame go away. He stopped being a friend to anyone, because, deep inside, he felt like he was too dirty to be a friend.

This was big part of the reason that he turned to the church. When he participated in the Awana program, and started earning awards and patches for doing things like memorizing verses, he felt that small bits of his mountain of shame were chiseled away. But if he missed even one Awana program, of even if one other kid memorized one more verse than him that particular week, his intense guilt would return as strong as it ever had.

He also focused on his love of science. In high school and college he could spend hours in the lab or library and not have to feel the pain of self-inflicted solitude. He also faithfully attended his home church all through college even though it was thirty miles away. But he felt too guilty to consider changing churches.

He was lucky that he married his lovely wife Ann. He had never had a girlfriend, again because of his constant shame. But Ann was his lab partner in his biology class during his junior year of college. She had been thinking about med school, but about that time was becoming disillusioned with the concept. She took an interest in Melvin, and he couldn’t understand why. But, although she had many suitors, Melvin’s humility attracted her to him.

Introduction: Jake, Melvin and Lacey had met the previous Wednesday. At the end of that breakfast meeting they were taking turns reading the first three chapters of Genesis. They were following a devotional guide that the senior pastor had recommended. The point of that reading was to look at God’s glorious creation.

The meeting became a little side tracked at the end when Lacey brought up the fact that the church board was discussing the possibility of making the belief in a literal story of a seven day creation and an earth that was six thousand years old, official church doctrine. This would mean that every one that wanted to join the church or serve in any capacity would have to sign the doctrinal statement.

Just before adjuring Melvin raised the point that he didn’t really believe that he could sign that document. The doctrinal statement didn’t seem to bother Lacey, she just smiled and told Melvin, “Don’t worry about it, but if it ever happened just sign it and not make a big deal about it.”

Jake, on the other hand, looked troubled. As they were paying for breakfast he said to Melvin, in a confident voice, but with a strong smile, “Mel . . . I’m a little bothered by the point you made that you can’t trust the Bible.”

Melvin was feeling defensive and his face blushed a little as he answered, “I didn’t say I didn’t trust the Bible, I just said that I’m sure I could sign a statement that says I believe the earth is only six thousand years old.”

Jake, frowning a bit and shaking his head, “Hmm . . . that really worries me. I mean, give me the form today and I’ll gladly sign it. God has been so faithful to me and my family, that I couldn’t imagine denying him so quickly.” Then Jake patted Melvin on the back and smiled and added, “I’ve got a business meeting that I’m late for . . . let’s discuss this next week.”

On the next posting, I’m going to share their dialog and try to deconstruct what is really going on in their heart of hearts.

1 comment:

Ctenuchid said...

I'm really eager to read more about where you're going with this, Michael; I really liked your earlier post on language. Admittedly, I haven't seen Babel yet, but at least you've given me yet another reason to do so.