Friday, January 18, 2013

Pretending to be a Hero

We all want to be the hero.  We do.  There's a deep yearning, grounded in human nature and our competitive culture, to be the one who is the most amazing and astonishing person ever.   We want to be the one who is recognized and celebrated, whose story will be told by the firelight for a thousand generations, or at least be the trending hashtag on twitter for a week or so.

The problem we encounter, though, is that most of us won't be.  Yeah, I know, Warhol said we'd get our fifteen minutes, but that's hooey.  There are just too many of us.  Our culture does elevate a few A-listers up there, spinning out their stories to all of us and forming a false sense of communal intimacy in our society.   But the reality of American life is that there are over three hundred million of us.  Most of us, in the entirety of our lives and relationships, will just be part of the background hum.

In the face of that daunting reality, there is always that temptation to misrepresent the actuality of who we are.  In that yearning for public recognition, we tell lies about ourselves and our gifts, sweet bright lies that illuminate us with their synthetic shine.

We are the greatest naturally gifted bicyclist in the history of the world, with a heroic backstory of recovery.  We are a figure woven of the stuff of epic and noble tragedy, motivated by our love for that girl who showed her faith in us with her last breaths.

Does it matter to us that we're pumping ourselves full of chemicals, bullying and deceiving as part of a carefully fabricated reality?  Does it matter that our tragic dying girlfriend never actually existed, no matter how much the press about us runs with it?

Not at that moment.

Because we desperately don't want to be average.  We don't want to be mid-pack.  And so we misrepresent and deceive and spin, driven by that sense of hunger to be the most and the best and the one everyone talks about.  Our story of ourself becomes completely separate from the actuality of ourselves, and not just in that way we all spin it on Facebook.

We're spinning it so hard that the self we present has been torn away from the flesh and matter of our reality.

Churches do that too.  We have that vision of ourselves, of how dynamic we are, of how we're growing like a weed, of how passionate our worship is, of how remarkably welcoming we are, of how warm and loving our community is.  We say these things.  They are how we present ourselves to the world, part of the story we spin out to those we encounter.

But if they are not real, if we are not actually that thing we claim to be, then all that the world will encounter when they try to grasp us will be the cutting shards of that shattered mask in their hands.  That falseness is what shatters trust, what drives away the disenchanted and the disappointed.

It's better to be what you genuinely are.  If that's flawed, then being truthful about your intentional moving away from that flaw is essential.   Speak the hope.   Lean into the vision of that hope.  But be the truth, and don't hide the truth.

If that truth is that you're humble, then be humble.   It's OK to be a human being like every other human being.

That's kind of what it's all about.