There’s room at the top, they are telling you still;
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the Hill.
John Lennon, Working Class Hero
I don’t always assume the worst in people. I always look at them and wonder what their motives are, however; especially if those motives somehow involve hurting me, or scamming me, or may in the future cause me untold pain.
Have you ever shaken somebody’s hand and knew you were going to be hurt if you allowed this person to get much closer? I do this. If a person rings false, I can detect from a mile away. That’s me. I have me some serious industrial-class Bulls**t Detector.
Maybe this comes from years of spending time with pastors, and future pastors. I don’t fault these people, nor do I classify all of them as hypocrites. I know many wonderful people who I would even term “Godly”. But I know an equal number who have discovered a way of sliding into a second skin so people won’t see their true selves. One can’t really blame these folks. Their holy selves are much more palatable to a congregation in the short term, but far more disingenuous (and dangerous) in the long run.
I think it comes from our desire for perfection. Do you lie to yourself to deny our nature? How many parents have told their kids about the stork bringing them a baby sibling? How many women have looked at a scale, then miraculously dropped 25 pounds at the DMV? A recent study has discovered that 70% of men have masturbated some time in the last month, the old joke tells us. It goes on, That same study has found that the other 30% are perpetual liars. I’m not exempt from lying.. I exaggerate all the time, and constantly fight the desire to add another half-dozen cops to the “You-couldn’t-imagine-the-number-of-cops-I-saw-tonight” scenario. Just stretch it a little bit. “I must have had a dozen cups of coffee yesterday.” Or four. Nobody will know but me. Right? I’m ashamed even thinking about it. We are afraid of the secret truth, in our hearts so we bleat lies to ourselves, and then to family, and then to strangers.
We’re even more ashamed of speaking our sin as if, somehow, everybody else on the planet hasn’t also somehow done a sin before. I still stand abashed, cringing at things I’d done when I was 12 years old: things I’d like to forget. I think, in this, Catholics who still go to confession have an easier time of it than we Protestants. There is solace in speaking aloud the disaster has come our lives; by laying open the sin, we diminish the pain. Do you have a friend or a partner or a lover to whom you’ve confided? Can you? It’s another trap ministers of the Gospel find themselves in: top dog on the totem pole can’t have a sin, right? to confess is to admit defeat. The Pastor has to be above reproach , right? Or not.
I think this is the origin of the kind of people who unnerve me. When you deceive yourself, you find it easier to deceive others. I’m not perfect, and I resent the fact that people think they are, or feel they need to be.
I’ve gone far adrift from the original intent of this post.
When I was nineteen, I went through a period that can only be described as an emotional breakdown. One night, late in October, I heard the voice of God telling me to leave my college behind, to travel by night, and walk to Los Angeles, where I would become a minister of Christ to the homeless. I brought nothing with me. It was 2 AM and I left Bethany and began walking. The back roads, God told me. That way, they’d never find me, and I could do His work unrecognized, and for His glory alone. I got about 6 or 7 miles away from the college–about a 2 hour walk, when I passed a friend’s house. I decided to “lay a final fleece” before God to determine if this was really His will. I quietly knocked on the door. I decided if somebody answered, I’d ask my friend what he thought of my plan, and do what he told me. If nobody answered, I’d assume that God had spoken. My friend answered the door, and drove me back to the college, where I spent the next 2 hours in prayer.
Why did I do all this? Because of advice from a trusted minister, who told me that if I only prayed, fasted, confess my sins and read the Bible more, God would supply the answers I needed. that’s what a Man of God is supposed to say, right? Of course it was. So that’s what I did. I realize now that the trouble came because he never really listened to my problems, he just supplied me with the answer. You see, I was *already* spending my mealtimes praying and reading the Bible, and malnourished sleep-deprived Brian was not a person who needed to be force-fed more God. He probably needed to be on medication at least, and an intravenous tube at most.
Each day, I’d see this person on campus, and marvel at how little this supposed minister of the Gospel really knew about humankind, in his supposed enlightenment. I gave up God for years. I loved the intellectual puzzles of Biblical criticism and theology, but I couldn’t trust a God who would place a person in charge of the life of students only to worry more about his unconfessed sins than the state of his mental health.
Years later, I could trust nobody who claimed affiliation with the church. I went through the motions that were expected of me but could no longer hold to the tenets that so many uttered. My Bulls**t detector is sharpened like a blade. Even today, I don’t go very far into a Church without sniffing for the scent of a fresh pile of it, cleverly disguised as a pastor, deacon, or missionary.
For the record, I’m mostly better now. I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive the man for the pain he caused me. It sounds insignificant after the fact, doesn’t it? Just one episode? So I walked. Big deal. I came back. Stop whining, man up, and let it go already.
Yeah. What if I’d done the other thing God told starving, prayerful Brian to consider that night: walked to San Jose and jumped off the Lexington Dam?