Monday, March 23, 2015

Building Houses With Stone Facades

I wrote about this topic not long ago, but I decided to expand on it a little more. At first I was just going to repost it, but that never really happens. I always end up working on older posts and developing them further. So hang in there even if some of this sounds "familiar":

We have heard that the Church is made up of "saints and sinners."

It would be useful to introduce a third category: hypocrites.

The difference between the latter two is that the sinners appear just as they are, whereas the hypocrites -- while not usually trying to pass themselves off as saints (this would hardly look humble) -- spend a great deal of energy trying to convince others and themselves that they are not in the "sinner" category.

The hypocrite scrubs the outside of the cup forcefully and energetically. The world is not going to think it sees a saint, but the hope is that it will see a "good person," an admirable person, perhaps even a person who is "making progress in spiritual growth" and who therefore deserves some credit. Indeed, most hypocrites like to see themselves this way.

I know all this stuff, because I'm a huge hypocrite.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ....but I admit it, so at least I'm not like those other hypocrites who don't even care about their hypocrisy. I'm humble about my hypocrisy, so at least I'm better than them!
"Thank you, God, for not making ME like the rest of those hypocrites. I openly admit my hypocrisy. I try to be better. I'm not judgmental, not like all those other judgmental and obnoxious people; I'm not like those people over there who run the 'Smash ALL The Bad Guys NOW' website and the 'Prudence and Compassion are for Wimps' blog, oh no, NOT ME. And I'm not like all those messed up immoral people in the secular Western culture, either. I'm good, basically. l follow the Church. I pray. I'm balanced and charitable. I'm...
Wait, what's happening here? Who do I sound like? Here I am, "in the back of the church" because I want to LOOK like the repentant tax collector, and meanwhile I'm saying, "Thank God I know I'm a sinner, not like that Pharisee up there in the front. And that I'm here at least, not like all those nasty people who don't come in at all!"
That's not what the real tax collector did....~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It seems that I'm the biggest hypocrite of all, because I want to fool everyone!

I can thank God for one thing: I'm also a terrible actor! Not many people are actually fooled by me (other than myself: I'm a master at fooling myself).

People who know me can easily see the wildly incoherent mess that I am as a human being, but also the good that is mixed into it (often in qualities and actions that are not the focus of my attention, that I don't particularly nurture in my efforts to construct my outward appearance).

They see it better than I do, because I'm desperately intent on fooling myself and I always at least partially believe the self-image that I try (or feel compelled) to construct.

Thank God, there are some people who love me anyway; they love the whole "package," and put up with my blindness as they try, gently, to lead me in the right direction. For me, there's no question that my wife ranks number one on the list of these people.

It's a patient and slow and long-suffering process for these people, to chip away at this hypocrisy that pains them because they can see how much it obscures the real beauty of the one they love. It's a great work of mercy.

Of course, I know I'm not the world's only hypocrite. Of the "saints, sinners, and hypocrites," the third category is probably the largest by far.

Hypocrisy can be a complex thing. There is the kind of hypocrisy that just plain fakes exterior goodness because it provides a disguise; a deceptive exterior allows greater freedom to rip people off and do all kinds of bad things without incurring suspicion.

But then there is a kind of hypocrisy that grows out of a genuine but desperate desire: people really want to be true heroes and saints. They see that it's good, it's beautiful, it's "what the world needs from them," but a subtle discouragement has worked its way into some deep places in their souls. They realize that they can't make themselves be really, truly holy. And yet, they know that's the way they're "supposed" to be, and the way they really wish they could be.

Most of us who consider ourselves "good Christians" probably know this feeling. We try to be "good," and we wish we could be "holy," but even with all the books and retreats and spiritual practices we just can't seem to make it happen.

So we try to do it on the cheap. We try to construct ourselves into the people we think we should at least "look like." So many of us are building houses of rotting wood with stone facades. There is real goodness in us, real aspirations, real gifts, but we try to use them to decorate the outside.

And we are afraid to look any deeper than this exterior, this facade, because we want to believe in our strength; we don't want to see the naked, cold, hungry, lonely person inside that house. We are afraid of that person -- that unsolved riddle that is at the deepest core of ourselves -- because we don't know what to do with that person, and we can't imagine that anyone else would want to love that person.

I know I'm being hypocritical in this way all the time, but I suspect that my experience is not uncommon. 

Really, who among us is not, in some way, in some respect, cheating (just a little bit?) in the project of building themselves? We're fibbing or we're faking or at the very least we're hiding the messy stuff.

We're hypocrites.

Woe unto us?

What can we do? After all, our Christian vocation and mission is all about witnessing not just with words, but with our lives. So if our lives are a mess, shouldn't we at least have a strategy to try to make them look good, y'know so as to "attract people..."?

What else is there? We can't just give up completely.

I think there is another place to start. None of us want to go there, because it means "going to the margins," to the furthest existential periphery, to the greatest real poverty we know. If we don't go there, then no matter how many things we do to help other people (even poor people), nothing will really change for us. 

We must seek out that one person whom we really wish more than anything would just go away, that cold, hungry, sorrowful person inside ourselves, that poor person. The person we are trying to make disappear behind walls of hypocrisy is our own self.

That person is starving for life, gasping for breath. Let us not suffocate that person entirely. Let that person breathe. Let that person show the wounds and admit the helplessness and feel some of the aching of the endless hunger and thirst.

But also, let the light of faith touch that person. Take the risk that Jesus has really gone all the way down... down even to there. Let that person cry out to God.

Because Jesus is there. He has already passed through all of our stones. He knows us behind all our hypocrisy and all our facades. He brings His love, especially, behind the walls.

Let that place inside us where there are no illusions be a place that begs for mercy. There is that place where we recognize that we are a total need for Him, and from that place let us cry out and give the whole mess and the hypocrisy and everything else to Him.

He will build us up.