Monday, July 12, 2010

Excuse Number Seven

I really enjoy the theater.  I am fascinated by the art of an accomplished actor convincingly becoming another person.   Such a one displays expert play acting--and, by definition, is a hypocrite.  A hypocrite:  someone playing another part, pretending to be someone else.  So every time we go to see a performance, either live or on film, we are looking at a bunch of hypocrites.

Now, on the stage or in film, that kind of hypocrisy is accepted and admired.  While many of today's film stars have gained acclaim more by their off-stage antics than their on-stage abilities, most of us really do appreciate the hard work that goes into pretending to be someone else, especially when it is done live, with day after day performances.  However, we are less appreciative of those who claim to be God's people, but whose lives don't match that claim.  They also are play-actors, hypocrites.

And so, that brings us to Excuse Number Seven for avoiding times of worship:  "They are all hypocrites."

Yes, most of us are.  I know very few people who live lives of absolute authenticity.  In fact, most of us are taught hypocrisy from our parents.  "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  "Son, go apologize to your sister.  I don't care of if you feel sorry, just go say that you are sorry."  "Learn self-control.  Behave yourself.  Get a handle on your anger and learn to quiet it down."

People who say everything that they feel or think are, at best, considered strange and hard to be around, and, at worst, mentally ill.  We practice hypocrisy in the name of politeness and good manners.  No one really wants to stop at a stop sign.  But we do, because if we don't, we'll probably hit or be hit by another car.  We  don't particularly like waiting in lines.  But we wait anyway in order to keep chaos at bay.  Hypocrisy promotes civil discourse and makes society possible.  It keeps the traffic flowing and mob mentality at bay.  Airplanes fly, trash gets picked up, and schools teach children effectively because people are hypocrites.  Thank goodness.

That is the positive side of hypocrisy.  But there is another insidious and destructive side:  insisting that others adhere to behavioral and moral standards that we ourselves feel free to ignore or violate. The wounds from such practice go deep into the soul.  I know far too many church-wounded people.  They come from an environment where a hypocritical righteousness led to a such a level of self-deception that a toxic miasma spread over the entire worshiping body. 

We all know what happens in such places.  Children are abused.  Broken people are discarded rather than being offered a place and time to heal.  Those who momentarily stumble are kicked aside.  As I heard once, "The church is the only army on earth that routinely shoots its wounded."  I, personally, experienced much of this when I endured a very difficult personal time about fifteen years ago.  The "righteous" wanted nothing to do with me.  I made them very uncomfortable.  Best to kick me out.

Frankly, I think such toxic places should be avoided.  So, is the excuse, "They are all hypocrites" a valid reason for staying away from a worshiping congregation?  No, for it is simply not true that all worshipers are self-deceived and destructive hypocrites. 

Many people who gather to worship God and practice spiritual disciplines do so with an acute awareness of the fact that they don't measure up to their own standards, much less God's standards of purity and holiness.  They come with humility, wanting grace, forgiveness and reconciliation.  They seek transformation so they might actually integrate what they feel and think privately with what they do and say publicly. 

Hypocrisy has its place.  Sometimes, we must play-act.  At its best, though, play-acting will eventually transform the soul, especially if we play-act the holy practices of worship, prayer, giving and service with a group of like-minded people.  Do not let the poor performance of some keep you from the life-giving hope of a gracious God.

1 comment:

Vicki Attaway said...

I don't know what to say. What if I say something I think I mean, but really I don't...mean it. What if I smile at someone at church when I really wish I was at home nursing my splitting migraine headache? Most of all, what if I can do both. What if it's not one or the other. Hypocrite or not hypocrite. What if I fluctuate simply because I am human. From moment to moment I deal with my personal condition.

What doesn't lie to me is my heart, though sometimes I lie to it. Then, I come 'round and touch who I am as the imperfect person I was born into being. And I hope that people would not avoid me because I can't be all that I should be. In church, at home, alone with myself.

I am, with all my strength, as honest as I can be. In church, I see the people who sincerely seek the good in God and in each other, and the rest of the "hypocrites" just blur into the periphery, because what they do and say doesn't count toward goodness.

If, when I do fall into the category of hypocrite, I hope that I will be still loved enough to be pulled back into the authentic whole of the worshiping congregation, not left out because others don't want to come to church because of me.

I am rambling, but so does the stream of the life of an individual trying to forge his or her own way along life. Hummingbirds never really set down on solid ground. Neither do people. We are all hypocrites at times, and often a mixture of the two. A soupy mess it can become, but church is a place to sort it all out. So come. Your heart's relationship with God is what ultimately counts the most.