We each have our personality quirks. Sometimes we might say that “I love myself just the way I am.” While that may be a product of 1980s popular psychology, there is one place for it. The one, proper place is to help counter-balance the attitude of self-hatred.
I do believe that we are who we are based on genetics and life experiences (nature and nurture). Because we live in a fallen world, we too are not right . . . none of us. The one thing that evangelicalism and pantheism share in common (and I say this as an ex-evangelical) is that they often believe that the way we are is exactly how God (or the Universe with a capital “U” as the pantheist would say) intended us to be. I disagree. We are an amalgamation of the good, the great, the not-so-good and the horrible
One bad trait of mine that I would like to change is this horrible combination of being a risk-taker and a sufferer from severe anxiety. I could give many examples of that but I will pare it down to one specific area. That area is the fact I have social anxiety and, yet, I speak very candidly. My standard for what I will say is not “will it make me look good” but simply “is it true.”
One book, which I loved dearly, is Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety. I bought the book on an m3p format and listened to it on a mountaineering expedition. That experience was a microcosm of my problem. I really, really wanted to do it . . . but was scared shitless. Listening to the book was a good distraction while I stepped over and sometimes jumping over 200-foot-deep crevasses.
The author tells a fascinating story and I can’t remember if I read this in the book or I heard the author, Daniel Smith, say this during his interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It is a story that I related to well. He was working for a magazine publishing company (The New Yorker I think). He was a proof-reader, which was relatively safe for him. Then he was challenged to be a reporter and write a story, which he did.
His story went out with the journal to a few million people. He got some compliments from his colleagues. Then the hate mail started to arrive. He was ill-prepared for such an onslaught upon his persona. It was a terrifying experience that made him want to hold up in his apartment forever.
In a couple of months, I have a book coming out. It is an important book. It took me ten years to write it and I had a lot of help. Parts of the book are very candid. I tell stories that are absolutely true, but will invite a huge amount of criticism. I take criticism very hard and that is the social anxiety of my persona.
My wife, who does not suffer from any type of anxiety, is appalled how vulnerable I am when I write or talk to people. She says she could never do that. I say things that reveal personal weaknesses that are chinks in my armor. These chinks are irresistible to those who like to shoot flaming arrows at anything that doesn’t support their own narrative.
When I was an evangelical, both with a parachurch organization and working with churches, it was a golden rule that we never talked about or revealed the weakness of our perspective groups. As an elder, I had privy to much awfulness within our churches, but that bad stuff was top-secret. In other words, we had to give the façade that we were perfect.
I remember being scolded in graduate school that I was “airing dirty laundry” when I explained to someone (who had asked why a certain campus ministry closed) that it was because the Christian staff left his wife and ran off with a young coed. I didn’t mean to spread rumors. We all knew it was true, but we were not supposed to talk about it. We were supposed to say that it was God’s will that the ministry closed and leave it at that.
So in my book, I tell some ugly but 100% true stories. I don’t do this to create drama or sensationalize my personal history. I tell these stories to illustrate what is wrong with some of the ways that we think. It is story-telling with a serious purpose.
I suspect that I will reap tremendous criticism, especially from my old evangelical friends. They will be mad as hell that I talk about some really ugly things that have happened within church life, including the life that we shared. There is a code of silence among evangelicals in the same way that some Catholic circles had a code of silence around the habitual molestation of children by priests. These old friends will hate me for breaking that code.
But when you cloak the bad with a pretense of the divine, the badness sits and rots. It is good to air the dirty laundry so there is hope of bringing redemption. Now, if only I can bear the consequences.
One response to “To Air the Dirty Laundry”
“My wife, who does not suffer from any type of anxiety, is appalled how vulnerable I am when I write or talk to people.”
Your wife, “who does not suffer from any type of anxiety”, is vulnerable to mistaking that personality trait for The Holy Spirit, i.e. “Since I was SAVED I have never had any doubts or worries whatsoever — PRAISE GOD!”
And like Job’s Counselors (i.e. anyone who have never been there themselves), she is in danger of being first with the pious spiritual platitudes towards someone who is really hurting.