I've shared before how I grew up in the Bible belt in that idealistic age of the 60s (which were like the 50s in more progressive areas of the country). In our Bible-belt culture, the Sunday school director at our Baptist church was habitually having sexual encounters with young boys, the pastor had a mistress, a narcissistic aunt and church lady manipulated everyone, stoled church money (and still does). My own church-going dad was a closet alcoholic. Speaking of closets, a Navigator leader (a man and now staff) was romantically in love with me and pursued me without mercy for my entire college years in the name of God. Every attempt I made to confront him or to bring it others' attention, he would manipulate the situation to make me out to be the bad guy.
So, I have never had fond feelings for this type of privacy, a dark, damp place where fungi can grow.
This came to my mind again on Saturday. I was listening to Garrison Keillor on NPR. I rarely catch A Prairie Home Companion because of it coming on so early here the west coast. I did live for 15 years in the upper Midwest where PHC is a weekly staple and Garrison a patron saint. But, I tuned in just has he was doing his Lake Wobegon dialog.
He was talking about in that small Minnesota town, people really don't want to know about others' private lives. (you can listen to the whole, long thing here). He first described the new Lutheran Pastor. The pastor was tough, rode a motorcycle, drank beer hard and liked shoot guns. Then, non-chalantly mentioned that she was a woman. He made the comment that there were things about their new pastor that no one wanted to know about (suggesting sexual orientation).
Then he talked about the Catholic priest, in a funny way. The priest leaves mass on Friday night and drives out on the freeway to a point no one knows him. There he goes into the truck stop bathroom and changes into a flamboyant pink shirt and drives down to the Twin Cities. The priest has a secret obsession (okay fetish) of being force-fed pureed vegetables by obese women. He drove around until he found a 350 pound waitress and paid her $100 to force-feed him pureed squash while holding him tight against her bosom.
The funny part was that this priest came close, many times, of confessing his private obsession. When he tiptoes around it, the congregation squirms in their seats. They are so afraid that he WILL tell them. They DON"T WANT TO KNOW!
I married a Minnesota gal and I know that culture very well. What Garrison says is so funny because it is so true. I think the cellars in the Midwest are the ones most full of fungi.
But it does raise a serious point and question. When is honestly healthy and when, if ever, is it not?
I constantly get myself in deep trouble by the honest things I say. I told the old pastor two weeks ago that I was mad as hell when he was screaming at me. He says he wasn't angry at all, but just doing God's work. I am confident that my words, about me being angry, will come back to haunt me. They will be used against me.
Denise has been approached several times by people (who have read this blog) thinking that we are having marital difficulties based on what I've said. I know that I'm fair to her here at times and I wish she would come on and comment to give her side.
I marched right down the middle of our old church a month ago and said stern words to Denise in front of everyone. I had gone out to the car after church to wait on her and she never came. I waited 50 minutes before I went back inside (she often talks after church) to discover that she was in the middle of an impromptu choir rehearsal. I said in a slightly louder than normal voice, and with just a twinge of irritation in my tone, "Where have you been? I've been waiting out in the car for you. I didn't know you were having a rehearsal?"
I saw the look of horror on her face as of those of the 20 people in the sanctuary. That was an out-outrageous thing to do. But here is the irony, I treat Denise exactly the same in Church as I would in the privacy of our home or bedroom (she speaks sternly to me sometimes too, and it is well deserved). But the pastor would only treat his wife with smiles at church while he screams at her (Denise said it was the most violent tone of voice she had ever heard a man use with his wife) in the privacy of their home on a regular basis.
I've known many other perfect surface marriages, only to have the husband beating the hell out of his wife in the cellar. I've known Christian leaders who treated their kids and wives (in the privacy of their homes) like crap, but in speaking engagements you would think they were faultless saints.
But where do you draw the line? Is there a place within Christiandom where the safety of love, the full acceptance and dependence on grace allows people to crawl out of their cellars into the daylight? Or do the cellars need to be preserved for that private life that is discongruent with the surface life? Does life work better, like in Lake Wobegon, when the messy stuff is kept out of sight?