Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cellars . . . a Good Thing . . . or a Bad Thing?

I've talked a lot about honesty here and the fact that we all have these secret lives, or what I refer to as the cellars, where things can be quite differently than they appear up on the surface. I'm not a big fan of cellars, because throughout history, they have been notorious for collecting some pretty nasty stuff.

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?


Anna A said...

I agree with you about the Midwest seeming to have a lot of people with Cellars. I've run into that a lot since I moved back about 4 years ago. Techniques that used to work to make connections, etc. failed miserably.

About whether we need cellars or not. I have mixed feelings there. If a person hides who they are, then bad. If it is preventing too much information, like the priest and his hang ups TO the whole congregation, then good.

For myself, I'd love to have a trusted friend/spiritual director to help me go through my cellar. To clean up some of the dirt, and to share some of the treasures that I have hidden. When you think you have some pearls, but don't know how others will react, you hide them.

Anonymous said...

This posting and Anna A's comment brought three images into my mind:

1) The Christian Culture War ideal of 1950s Small Town America. Basically a mythic 1950s Midwest as the archetype of Christian America.

2) The New Earth and Heaven in Left Behind: Volume Whatever -- a never-ending American Midwest, endless prairies dotted with eternal Pleasantvilles & Mayberries & Lake Woebegons...

3) A comment (a joke, actually) on the same subject from some blog somewhere:

A Protestant minister told a Rabbi that he'd had a dream of the Jewish heaven -- a massive city filled with people eating, working, playing -- and how that view of Heaven was so crowded and bustling and chaotic it gave him the creeps.

The Rabbi then told the minister that he'd also had a dream of Heaven; the minister's Heaven -- "A small rural town of evenly-spaced cottages with white picket fences, all picturesque and orderly, in the middle of rolling grassland."

"And what were the people there like?" asked the minister.

"What people?" replied the Rabbi.

Headless Unicorn Guy

peaceofchange said...

Hmmm...well, I was raised in the South...and although I don't really want a cellar (dark private life)..I'm probably "over-polite" in public...using your example of a husband/wife exchange...I wouldn't allow myself to be abused at home...but I would expect him to be overly nice in public...just normal at home...Like he would have come into the church and said, "Honey...why didn't you tell me you were having rehearsal so that I could have listened in and enjoyed the music"! Then tell me what he really thinks in the car...nicely of course. ;)

Eagle said...

Yup...I'm fmailiar with the culture in the midwest. I saw it for years in Wisconsin. That explains what happens when you got pounded for discussing your weak spots while my acountability partner who was leading a double life got more invovled in ministry. I don't know how some evangelcials can look themself in the mirror and take themselves seriosuly. How?!?

As I said before the evangelical faith is an act. And I am not a good actor; that's why it had to go.

MJ said...

So here is the next (honest, not rhetorical) question based on the comments.I'll use the situation with my wife.

If I came into the church and said in a sweet (but insincere) voice, "Oh, there you are sweetie pie. Enjoying God's beautiful music," with a big smile on my face, would that be lying? I would be what Holden Caulfied would call a complete phony.

On the other head, if I said what I did, and the people in the choir and band (who were watching with their mouths gapped open--but again, even Denise didn't notice that I was irritated so it was very subtle) and the people assumed that I'm a hateful madman and that Denise and I have a terrible private home-life (where I beat her or belittle her on a regular basis like I've so many of the husbands in the church do) . . . then, am I giving the appearance of sin (a view of I Thess 5:22)?

peaceofchange said...

Who knows? The funny part about our being from the my husband is from New when I ever so politely ask him to not be so rude in front of others...he has no clue what I'm talking about...he says if I want to see rude he can show me, I have to laugh...and I think... that is the important thing...that he and I agree on how we will be treated..not what other people think about it. I don't really think it has anything to do the Bible, it has to do with where and how you were raised, personality type and things like that. I mean seriously, when the Bible says to be kind to one husband and I have completely different views on what "kind" means. I think we have to find some humor in it and let the chips fall where they may.

Anna A said...


About your question. I'm not sure that there is a good answer. I tend more toward the honest tone, myself.

But, my tongue got me into a lot of trouble so far, I never learned the niceties of being Southern, even though I was born and raised in Kentucky.

What has happened to me a lot is that neutral observations have been interpreted as criticisms, when all I was doing to pointing out what I noticed. sigh.