Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Boundaries of Truth . . . When Honesty Goes Too Far

My wife set up our Netflix queue a few weeks ago. It is somewhat like a tug of war. I will go on line and set up 5-6 movies, none of which she likes, and then when those run out, she will go on an set up hers. We are in the "season" of Denise movies right now.

It is a standing joke that I say her movies are always the same thing . . . someone slowly dying of cancer. Well the latest Netflix movie, One True Thing, was exactly about that.

I had a lot of chores to do today, but I decided to sit and watch now and then. After all, I think Zellweger and Streep are tremendous actors (and of course Zellweger is cute).

The jest of the movie reminded me of something I've been thinking about since Christmas (at least). I'll start with the movie then bring it to our lives.

In the movie the mother is dying from cancer. The adult daughter (Zellweger) comes home to live (from NYC) to live and help take care of her mother. She starts to notice some things, which she had not noticed during her idealized childhood. The centerpiece of that revelation was the fact that her father was self-centered and everyone in the family had always existed to serve him, while he pursued his own career (and possible girlfriends on the side). She also learned that one of those "interests" of her father, was being a closet alcoholic. This really frustrated her because her mother should be the center of attention with the fact she was dying.

The Zellweger character started to confront her dad, as in the background, her mother was getting sicker and sicker. Finally one day her mother said something profound. I will paraphrase. "Hun, I'm not dumb. I know of all the shortcomings of our family and your father's selfishness. But leave things alone. Some things are better left alone, and not talking about. Life can be better when you pretend things are well."

Once I posted about the fact that Evangelicalism works best when it is lived dishonestly. You know, never bring up the tough things. I shared it in a frame of thought that I opposed that way of living (back to the red Vs blue pill choice). But I wonder if there are boundaries to honestly.

The reason I was thinking about this at Christmas was I had 4 of my 5 children with me. In the back of my mind, I had several questions I contemplated about asking them . . . but I didn't. I wondered why it was so hard to carry my zeal for honestly to my own family's level. What they currently believe about Christianity? would have been the first one. Denise was wanting to make sure they went to church on Christmas Eve. I didn't care if they went to church (and they did eventually go to please her) but I was deeply interested in what they thought about God. Other question I could have asked them if they are sleeping with their girlfriends, getting drunk, smoking pot? But emotionally, I knew that I would rather not know the answer to some of those questions. If they say that they presently don't believe in God, I know that I would have to respond to that some way, and I'm not sure how. Sometimes knowing can break that facade of peace, and bring in stress. Pretend Christianity is so much easier. Well, at least I'm aware that I intentionally avoid the hard questions many people don't realize that there is a game going on. These kids are all in their 20s. When they were younger, certainly these were topics that we discussed. Even now, if they asked me, which one son and his friends (band) did when they were in our home a year ago, then I wouldn't hesitate. But part of that awkwardness, is knowing that they hope and pray I don't ask those questions.

But I see, like in the movie, so much of the time that the obvious goes unsaid to maintain the appearance of peace. For me, I'm taking my barefoot and running my foot in semi-circles accross the ground, in the dark, trying to find the edge of honesty. So much of myself desires to live in raw reality . . . but some of me doesn't.

Already, I'm known in our circle of Christian friends for not being nice. I don't say hateful things (the abuse of honestly) such as telling someone they are fat, ugly, smelly or stupid. The reason is, I sincerely know that I live in a glasshouse. I would get mad if someone told me those things, even if they were true. But my lack of niceness comes out when pressure is placed on me to lie . . . and I try to refuse to do that.

So where is the balance? If we serve a God of reality, truth and honesty, shouldn't we live in that realm? But to fully live in honesty, where I can say to a extended family member . . . "Okay, let's stop asking the silly questions about when you are getting married . . . we both know you are gay," creates so much tension.

I do want to be nice. If my Christian friends knew my heart, how humble I feel and how dependent I feel on grace and forgiveness, and how I see great value in everyone, they would know I'm nice. But when a pastor orders me to do such and such, because this is God's will and everyone, but me smiles and agrees, I'm the trouble maker and not a nice guy.

Just for "research purposes" this morning, I watched Joel Osteen for about 15 minutes. Now there is a nice guy. I can see why so many people love him. He stood with his pleasant smile and told the crowd of tens of thousands (millions if you include TV) that really good things were coming their way. I want him to be my friend. I want to be like him. But if I were to tell people that I know for sure that they will succeed in business, family or life in general, I know I would be lying. So were is that edge between truth and not being cynical? That's the challenge.


Anna A said...

You are not the only person who struggles with the boundaries of honesty.

I do also. For me, its not so much telling folks, but how much do I reveal about myself. And sometimes hiding seems like lying.

Today was rough in church, between the people I was praying intensely for and the pastor's last sentence of his sermon. It was, "Who are you bringing with you to Christ, and who are you reaching out to for help.?"

It hurt big time because I still feel like a stranger there, even though I've been there and moderately active for almost 5 years.

But, I did have a chance to talk to one of my friends there about it. And she knows my parish situation.

May you find where the boundaries that work best for you.

GRIN my work is diciablo (almost diablo)

jmj said...

Anna, how would your church people react if you did share your real heart with them?

Anna A said...

I don't know. Midwest Catholics are about as non-sharing as the Baptists that have left scars on both of us.

Probably, disbelief for sure. Or a shunting away, as to a convent for holy women. Though I am far from holy, in fact God scares me like the dickens. And yet as a birthday candle and the sun can love each other so God and I can love.

But, even when I had a spiritual director, I never got to that level of trust.

I am grateful that I do have one or two tangible women I can open, at least a bit with. And non-tangible friends like you, HUG, and my sister whom I've never met, I can do more. (I have a friend whom I only know via the Internet, who I consider my sister. I just wish that we were closer, so I could help physically.)

PRS & ALS said...

I'm right there with you. I long for the church and the family to be a place of openness and honesty and vulnerability. But that would mean that all parties would be at a place they can handle it. I think that God doesn't tell us everything because, for one reason, we couldn't handle it. So, in the same way, we need to be aware of when people can't handle being told everything about us or we can't handle hearing everything about them. Also, people have the right to decide what they will and won't reveal to people. I just think a lot of wisdom is needed when asking questions of people or when revealing more about ourselves. But when you're asked to be deceitful (like in your church setting) you must find a way to graciously answer.

jmj said...

I know that I sound like I'm beating the ole dead horse. I just keep coming back to this dilemma of seeking truth, yet having to live in deception at times and finding that balance.

The least tension of course is where you live in the deception but convince yourself that you are living in truth.

Anonymous said...

I remember a statement credited to the "Bill" who founded Alcoholics Anonymous, back in the earliest days of that organization:

"If you don't want to call it God, call it Truth."