Tuesday, February 17, 2009

God, How Honest Do You Want Us to Live, Part V- B




I’m moving on to a new post without finishing my thought on the last one. I will also incorporate Steve’s comments, or a response to them, here.

Now Steve, when you say that we should only live on the first level, I must assume that you do know what you are talking about and you do realize where the first level really is and how hard it is to live there. Trying to live honestly is alienating and creates chaos within the church. That’s why I even ask this question and I don’t mean to ask it rhetorically.

Looking at Christ, I, of course do believe that he lived his life on that first level. I often use the woman at the well, or the money changers in the temple as examples. Maybe that’s why he was so misunderstood. But Christ was able to do that. Maybe a better question for God is, can we, as mortals, live in complete emotional honesty?

I will give some examples of why it is so hard.

I have never liked Sunday morning church services. I’ve attended them faithfully for 50 years but I’ve never, ever liked them and I think that is personal taste. Any time I tell a Christian, especially a pastor, of my taste; they immediately turn it into a spiritual fault. “Oh, Mike . . . how can you say you love God, but hate his church?” That of course is spiritual manipulation but it is part of living on the 20th floor. One of the reasons I don’t like Sunday morning church is because I want to go deeper than that superficial practice.

My wife loves church services, but she works most Sundays leaving me home to take my 16 year old son. Denise would be really disappointed in me if I did not take Ramsey to church.

I would much rather sleep late on Sunday morning, watch a good news show, go down to the coffee shop and sip coffee, read a great book . . . . maybe even scripture, and have a wonderfully honest conversation with someone. I love deep theological, philosophical discussions. I am starving for deep emotional conversation . . . where I can talk openly about my struggles and where I can listen intensely to someone else’s struggles.

I don’t like dressing up, sitting on a hard pew, singing old hymns, and listening to long lectures. Our pastor is a good teacher, so I don’t hate his sermons . . .although they are too long for me.

Ramsey hates Sunday morning church service too, and I don’t blame him at all. But he enjoys discussing spiritual things over coffee.

About two months ago our church service leader asked Ramsey to do the computer power point for the pastor’s sermons. He felt obligated. But then he told me how much he hated the thoughts of doing that. He hated going anyway, and this may have been the last straw that when he finished his 3-4 month tenure at the computer . . . he would choose never to go back.

Seeing the serious nature of the situation, I e-mailed the service leader. I was polite but very honest. I told her how much I appreciate her hard work and how I realize they need someone to do the power point (which most of us could live without but it makes the pastor feel good to use it). But then I explained that Ramsey really doesn’t like coming to church anyway, and this would be his last straw if he had to do that.

She responded in an understanding way, but saying that she too has a son that doesn’t like church and it makes her sad (I realize she was trying to make me feel better).

At this moment I had to make a choice. Do I live this moment on the 20th floor with everyone else or try to live more honestly? I tried to live honestly in that situation. I mean it would have been very easy for me to have said, “Yeah, Ramsey makes me sad too.”

I told her, “I understand Ramsey well because I don’t like Sunday morning church services either.” Of course what I said became offensive. But it would have been a form of lying for me to shake my head and say, “Yeah I know, Ramsey is just a bad boy.”

Denise says, “Trying to be honest is no excuse for being cruel.” That’s the dilemma we face. Being honest is often interpreted as being cruel. When Frank Schaeffer talks about his father’s fits of rage and his mother’s personal pseudo-piety, Christians, especially his sister and brother in law, see him as simply being cruel.

I remember a group of women from a Church came to visit Denise on a Saturday night, and she had to get up early Sunday morning to go to work. They knew she had to get up early . . . but they stayed until 2 AM, talking about nothing (to a guy it’s nothing, like baking, dresses, make up, flowers). I had gone to bed and was sleeping. I awaken and heard them talking so I put on my house coat, went downstairs and asked them to leave. I was just being honest. “It is way too late for Denise to be up. You need to go home now.” I didn’t say it in anger, although I was. I don’t hate them. I don’t even think they are lesser of a Christian or human than me. I simply told them to go home. But this offended them and they took it personally and unfortunately, I think it damaged our relationship after that. I could have been the suffering servant (or allowed Denise to be) and let them sit and talk until Denise had to go to work. That would have been the polite but dishonest thing to do.

So, we (everyone including Christians) live so much on the 20th floor, that when someone tries to live on the ground floor, they see that person as offensive, cruel, unspiritual and it makes it very difficult for the one wanting to live in God’s truth. That’s when someone starts to become alienated.

I do think I would like for someone to tell me if I’m staying too late, if my breath smells bad, than for that person jus to sit and smile on the outside as they grow to hate me on the inside (down on the ground level).

Some other examples of living dishonestly on the 20th floor, but keeping the peace within the church include pretending to believe:

1) I rarely fail . . . and when I am caught in a failure, I mask it over with spiritual stucco by saying things like (with a big smile), “Well, I’m not perfect!” or “Jesus came to save a sinner like me.”

2) I always know the precise answer to every question of life. I also know the precise and correct interpretation of every Biblical passage.

3) All wars have a noble purpose, and America (and Israel) are always on God’s side.

4) Everything the pastor does is for the Lord. Hey, everything that I do is for the Lord.

5) My marriage is perfect . . . yet, I can use veiled super-spiritualized attacks to get back at my wife in public. “Pray for Denise . . . she struggles in that area.” Rather than saying, “Pray for Denise, I sometimes treat her like the jerk that I am.”

6) Saying that, “while I understand your mother’s depression I’ve never been depressed because I keep my eyes on the Lord.” (puke).

7) God has his favorite political party.

8) I am certain about everything.

9) I've never doubt God's existence because God is my buddy and I know him well.

It is interesting that I have known several men you suddenly have left their wives and children and ran off with much younger women. But as I think back, all four of them were leaders, self-confident and would never admit to any short comings. They lived up on the 50th floors (one was a high leader in YWAM, One a Navigator staff person, one was voted father of the year in Duluth, MN).

However, the humble guys I've known, who live lower in the building . . . guys who say things like, "I don't want to be left alone with those young girls . . . knowing me, I'll act silly to impress them, or lust for them." I've never known one of these guys to leave their families. They are so aware of the darkness in their cellars that they keep themselves safe.

I could go on an on.

So is it possible to take off the masks and live really honestly? Since I have tried, I am not invited to lead Bible studies anymore. I’m not invited to be elder anymore. I’m often seen as a trouble maker . . . even though I try very hard to keep my mouth shut. I don’t think I have much spiritual respect (and I shouldn’t even worry about that). But it does cause those trying to live honestly to be marginalized. So I would ask God this question to see if maybe, in this fallen world, living dishonestly makes Christian life possible . . . I doubt it, but that's one possible answer.

9 comments:

Justin said...

MJ,

Not answering for Steve, and not claiming to be anywhere near the 1st floor or basement...

IMHO, complete honesty should be the goal, and is my goal... even though I am far from reaching it. Here's why, the more I tried the live the "christian" life, the more compartmentalized my life was, and all the more miserable. But, when I tried shed the expectation of myself to live that way, it was like a cool drink of water. People don't like me because of it... heh, they didn't really like me the other way (it was/is all an act) so what does it matter?

Your story about your and your son's dislike of Sunday morning church hits home. Right now, just to get by, my standard excuse is the family pressues of getting all six of us out the door by 5 'til 9. The real answer is I can't stand it. I'm waiting with baited breath for someone who cares enough to ask me about it and want to hear the answer... I've been waiting a long time.

In other situations (with Christians) I have been thrown under the bus for my honesty. I've learned to take the "cruel" and "hurtful" comments with a grain of salt, and a whole lot of cynicism. It's resulted in me not trusting anyone, even longtime friends, when a recognized patter of talk and behavior emerges. So, I climb the steps to the 4th... 5th... 10th... or higher floor just to keep the peace.

As far as your list, I declare BS whenever I get the opportunity... it's the more nuanced statements that make me bite my tongue and climb to another floor. Which brings up James' discussion in his letter about the untamable tongue. Is he realy calling for dishonesty to some degree, or just dulling the edges of reality?

Or should we just be like Jesus and tell the truth... the world be damned?

You wrote: So is it possible to take off the masks and live really honestly? Since I have tried, I am not invited to lead Bible studies anymore. I’m not invited to be elder anymore. I’m often seen as a trouble maker . . . even though I try very hard to keep my mouth shut. I don’t think I have much spiritual respect (and I shouldn’t even worry about that). But it does cause those trying to live honestly to be marginalized.

I have very much the same experience. When I think about it, I really am happier this way. It makes things hard, sure, but in a lot of ways easier too... at least here on the... oh... 6th floor.

If the "christian" life is only possible on the 20th floor, or higher... count me as not interested in that life.

Good... very good... thoughts and posts, btw.

craig v. said...

There's much to sort out here and I hope you continue the conversation. Do we know what complete honesty looks like? Do we always mean the same thing by honesty? Is there a difference between always telling the truth and trying to reveal everything about me to anyone who will listen? Are there times when honesty conflicts with love (love sometimes covers)? Perhaps honesty has more to do with how we live than with what we do or don't say.

MJ said...

I think both Justin and Craig make some very good points.

No, I don't think we know what honesty looks like. Certainly the honesty that I'm talking about is not just a version of "self discovery ad nauseum.”

Ironically, maybe that’s why blogs have become so popular. There is excess in everything. I also wonder, if the bountiful blogs where people sit and contemplate the inner workings of their navels, is a sign that there is not a healthy place for honesty, where two people can sit over coffee and talk about real things . . . things that matter in their lives . . . but without judgment, or should I say without condemnation.

As a Christian, I think (as I’m not sure until it happens more) that I would be honored if a brother or sister confined with me that they were really struggling with something . . . if it was true, and if their motivation was to solicit my help.

A little over a year ago I tried to have a Bible study on marriage. I had 5 couples from our church in it. While I’ve done this before, and it was successful, I kept hitting a brick wall with this group. No one would respond to my provocative questions. Okay, one wife, in a soft voice, would suggest that she was having some problems with her husband.

In order to “prime the pump” I often shared areas where my marriage wasn’t perfect (and there’s plenty).

Finally two of the men approached me. To my great surprise, they were upset that “All you are trying to do is dig up dirt. We have good marriages and we don’t need to be in this study.”

I wasn’t trying to dig up dirt that wasn’t there. But if it is there, it is better to talk about it in the safety of a loving Christian group than to bury it until either the husband or wife suddenly runs off with someone else (like what happened three years ago to one central couple in our small church). That’s the kind of honesty I seek.

craig v. said...

You would be honored, I suspect, because to confide intimate details of one's life is to trust the confident with those details. Here might be another dimension to honesty. The question might be why don't we trust each other more than we do? Unfortunately, your book contains all kinds of reasons why Christians may be hesitant to trust one another.

I'd enjoy a cup of coffee with you without condemnation. Could we also rule out expectations?

MJ said...

Craig when you say,

"Unfortunately, your book contains all kinds of reasons why Christians may be hesitant to trust one another."

I think I hear you saying, "Anything you say can and will be used against you."

craig v. said...

No, what I meant was that your book is filled with professing Christians that prove to be untrustworthy. How do we know which brothers we can trust? It is true, though, that when we get it wrong we may find that not only is our trust betrayed but our words are used against us.

MJ said...

Craig, I think we are saying the same thing but I really communicated poorly in my last comment. What I was trying to agree with you is that, as Christians, we often do have to be careful what we say (therefore anything you say can and will be used against you attitude) because there are so many untrustworthy people. For example if we went to a certain brother or sister and confessed we were struggling with something (trying to get their help) they may be compassionate and helpful or they may turn around and use that information against you. SO, the church is not the safe place it should be.

Jesus was very dangerous and very safe at the same time. You couldn't hide anything from him, but you weren't afraid (unless you rejected him) when he found out your dirty little secrets.

When I look back at my comment I was not saying that YOU used things in my book against me. Sorry if it came across that way. But I stumbled trying to say the same thing you are and that's Christians are not always trustworthy.

craig v. said...

Thanks for the clarification. You're right, we're saying the same thing.

That leads to a hobby horse of mine (I'll keep it short because I don't want to hijack you're thread). As Christians, we often give the impression that we can know with certainty what can't be known with certainty. I believe this causes tremendous confusion and makes us look arrogant. There's no set of rules that we can follow that will make a relationship safe (especially before we enter it). The church can't be a safe place (it has too many sinners). That's what makes your original question so difficult. If the real problem is trust, there's no formula to make trust safe.

MJ said...

That is one thing that I liked in the book, The Post Evangelical by Tomlinson (http://www.amazon.com/Post-Evangelical-EMERGENTYS-Dave-Tomlinson/dp/0310253853/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1235090247&sr=8-1 ). He defines one characteristic of the Post Evangelical Vs the Evangelical, as the lack of certainity (in all things). Not to say we don't know that God is there are that Scriptures are true, but we don't have every little detail figured out with certainity.