Monday, January 27, 2014

Fake It 'Til You Make It

A few days ago, I found myself sitting around with a bunch of Jesus folks, talking about the impact of the prosperity gospel on folks who are struggling.  If being "blessed" is best understood in terms of material prosperity, then if you aren't visibly and materially prosperous, there must be something wrong with you.

We shared about folks we'd known who'd been presenting themselves as wealthy, when in fact they were financing their apparently comfortable lifestyle through credit card debt and an endless string of ever more punitive loans.

"Yeah," said one of my good sisters.  "You got to fake it 'til you make it."

The others in the group laughed and nodded.  The idea, as it got bandied about, is that if you project the image of prosperity, you are much more likely to prosper.  People will assume you're successful, and from that assumption, will treat you as if you were.  Work will come your way, and connections will be made, and you'll be in like Flynn.

That's the idea, anyway.  What happens with greater frequency is that our expectations of how we must appear to others drives us to make decisions that are ultimately our downfall.  Our debt-financed lives crash down around us.  The lies we tell the world about who we are back up into an unsustainable mess, and we crumble into nothing.  The only people this mindset serves are the folks who own us.

If the appearance of wealth and material prosperity are our goal, then our efforts to "fake it" will destroy us.  Just ask former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell about how that whole "fake it" thing worked out for him.

Then a day or so later, I found myself sitting around with another bunch of Jesus folks, talking about how we struggle our way through the relationships we have with those around us.  Those people who make themselves really hard to love, who are hateful and hurtful to us, who betray our trust and beat us down?  How are we supposed to deal with them, if we're serious about how Jesus taught us to love our enemies?

We all shared stories, about other church folks who'd done everything in their power to tear us down. How could we love those people?  How could we forgive those folks, when we don't really even want to try?

"Yeah," said one of my good sisters.  "You've got to fake it 'til you make it."  At which the others in the group laughed and nodded.

It was an interesting conjunction.

And I wondered, in those times where I've dealt respectfully with human beings I would really much rather have punched full on in the face in that moment, whether I was faking it.

I don't think so, not really.  In those exchanges...and I have had those exchanges...I recognize that my rage and my anxiety are a legitimate reaction to a broken thing.  I also recognize that the actions of the person in question aren't to be justified or glossed over.

But I also recognize that my primary allegiance is to my faith, and to the path that Jesus taught.  Even if I am required to discontinue relationship with someone, I cannot allow myself to imagine that they are irredeemable or that the possibility of their restoration is impossible.

If I rage at them, not just articulating my anger but being ruled by it, then I am acting in a way that would impede their healing and their growth.  I am reducing the probability of their transformation.

And given my commitment to the Gospel, I just can't do that.

It's hard, but it's not false, any more than duty is false, or faith, hope, and love are false.