Growing up, a lot of traps were pre-determined for me, and I was a hospitable Type-A place for accepting these immanent perils seamlessly. Through osmosis I gained a robust wariness of other ways of thinking, to both my benefit and my harm. I was a good host to the necessary and superfluous transplants–of right, ordered, and true, and the red, white and blue. There were so many traps to beware of; vigilance found a home in this Enneagram 1. To name a few: The liberal agenda. Those who baptized infants. Immodesty. Gays. Sexuality period. MTV. People who wouldn’t learn English. Feminism. Ferngully. People who wanted to take advantage of the hard work and generosity of others. (I did not grow up in fear of gluten, however, and I devoutly continue in this doctrine.)
When I read Psalm 31 with this sense of Christianity, I understand why the church can become a somewhat bureaucratic enclave of similar-thinking people. The WORLD is out to get US, and the vulgar and sinful traps of the other people are encroaching. The unity births from what is going on on the outside more than what is going on on the inside and the motivation is about safety and adding to the numbers. While a victim mentality is so often hurled as a discrediting insult to those reliant upon public aid or protesting systemic injustice, it also describes a segment of the Christian Church that primarily understands itself as persecuted and, therefore, justifiably and righteously self-protecting.
Of course the whole of scripture, the arc of the Story, warns us that the traps are much sneakier than Us vs. Them. The traps are inside the sanctuary. The snares are inside the postured martyr herself.
As humans, we look inward increasingly as we grow up. I might invite the Divine to show me where I am and what God would have me see, change or grow, as I become more self-aware hopefully. Parts of my defense mechanisms and the distorted lenses I use to view the world and God will hopefully become less required for survival, and less important to my story; those could be considered false parts of self. In exchange for the arms length between limiting but useful mechanisms of protection and performance, I hopefully gain greater value for things that do not rely upon circumstances–the true self God endows us with, that Jesus makes possible. The false self is not to be shunned and ignored as though it never had a purpose or affected the journey and relationships now, but it must have space enough to be examined and dealt with.
So too, as we look inward on this Bride, though our talk of Her is always imperfect, we grow in Self-awareness as its bought in members. We examine it as subparts of the one, holy, apostolic, catholic Self of Church for we are it. Good and bad. False and true. When we take inventory of where we are as Christians, we grow in the ability to peel away parts of the false Self we have collectively adopted and inherited and passed on, and, because our story is redemption, find a truer Self.
As I have looked and considered more of the underpinnings of this polarized time in our one-ness, and thought more about my background and the outspoken evangelical voices of the day, at least one thing has come into focus. One thing about the American Church’s false self has become clear: Whatever unity that comes from a collective sense of Christian-centric persecution has increasingly become a toxic and alienating death sentence.
It’s not that Christianity is in vogue. It’s that it’s not even a part of the conversation (unless you count political exploitation). And therefore, it’s not a band of the persecuted and the hunted. Self-protection limits the adaptability, discernment, compassion, and generosity of its bearer. Adopting this orientation has skewed our identity to a degree that causes us, 100 steps down the line (i.e. Franklin Grahams and Rod Dreher…), to resemble nothing of our Story, our Savior, and our supposed Hope. This false self in our Church has run a muck and instead of being simply irrelevant to our culture, we have become an official mechanism of hate and hypocrisy. It turns out the bunker is very, very deep. Insofar as we allow leaders with this worldview to represent this Church, our meaning will be continuously hijacked by a paranoid and bizarre narcissism. Where did the Good News go? Who is in charge of Our Story?
By placing ourselves as the sympathetic central character of every social and political scenario, we have normalized and prescribed the dismissal of truly vulnerable groups of people and problems that are actually central to our collective identity and creed. Or, in other words, imperative to our true self.
This reckoning time is heart-wrenching and the R-rated times this presidency has brought forth has certainly shed light on places that previously enjoyed a blur. Light, we believe, overcomes darkness. But it is grim to wake up sometimes.
May we release the traps we set in our sleep and wise up to the ones around our necks. May we listen to the prophets and shut up the liars. May we turn to the leaders who have walked with Jesus in this Church, without enjoying any power or privilege for doing so. May we reach a truer Gospel Self as we re-find our Way.