Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prophetic Lying for Truth

In a lie often dwells a deeper spiritual truth—prophetic and something not to ignore.

When I was in college I nearly had an achievement breakdown. When I joined the world for real at about six I was already working on my strategy of choice to gain my father’s unconditional approval/attention—love by achieving in small matters like learning my letters and then bragging.

It didn’t work because, as I later came to know, my somewhat recessive, depressed, boozy (his own strategy) father loved me all along and it wasn’t for my achievements.

When I hit school in earnest I upped the ante on myself and achieved excellence in most things even Latin. It helped that I did and do love school and learning, but I was fast letting the world remake me in its own image and forgetting the God I’d met under the dining room table at three, the same one who, when I chattered on about all my thoughts, feeling, doings, neither applauded nor scorned but simply listened, made no corrections and, I felt sure, smiled.

Sadly I forgot about my early spiritual experience and took on American culture and its drive to success often at great cost. Even back in the forties we were a can-do culture and I became the most can-do-energizer-bunny I could be—compulsively so.

Phi Beta Kappa,When I called my parents to tell them I had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa, my father said “There must be some mistake.” Then quickly he laughed and added, “Just kidding, darling, that’s great.” I think that was the moment when, as inured as I was to my father’s style, I began to remember my God, began to glean truth fragments about myself, my dad and the American addiction to success, a profound cultural deception: if you don’t succeed (top grades, top credentials, top honors) you may not survive (get elected, get a good job, be a winner, survive.)

I remembered my own experience as I read about the recent exposure of painful lies, fabrications devised in worship of a false god. Religion calls this idolatry. It always stems from a ground zero spirituality of fear—not being loved and so engaging in efforts to prove oneself when there is in fact nothing you have to prove.

Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat got caught serving this lie in an effort to prove his worth. Blumenthal, attorney general of Connecticut, is running for Senate in Connecticut. It looked good until it was discovered that he had falsely claimed to have served in Vietnam. Why? Would this make him a hero? He already is a hero, or at least he has served his office well and was very electable—until his lie was discovered.

Most ordinary people, voters want/expect integrity. The biblical God in Genesis chose Noah to build a salvation ark because of his integrity (in Hebrew tam), not for his wood-working skills.

But I wonder if Blumenthal is a prophet in disguise. I wonder if there is a deeper truth under his unwise lying. I wonder if his action exposes the underbelly of the sin of this culture, the lie that drove him to lie in the first place now playing a role in revealing, not his personal sins but the sins of the system that enables, no encourages such behavior, even makes it almost normative.

The drive to succeed exceeds a normal desire for excellence when it causes one to lie to achieve something in easy reach. But before we condemn Blumenthal wholesale let’s look at the larger cultural context.

The paradox I discern is this: whether Blumenthal meant it or not his deceptive action exposes a truth we need to examine. Falsification could be seen as a symptom, a prophetic act of defiance against a system gone awry with rank ordering. The more inauthentic we get the more the deception is revealed and hopefully will lead to a change of ways, to ceasing and desisting from all these categories of who is acceptable and who is not. It is simply not the way of Spirit, not the way of God—and just plain not good for you at any level of being.

Could it be an honor not to have served in war or not to have straight A’s at Harvard?

All the great religious prophets exposed truth by doing something so counter-cultural, so deserving of dishonor that it got them ostracized if not killed. It happened to Jesus a lot and in the end cost him his life. Because he dined with society’s dregs and refused any honors himself he dishonored himself. He also called attention to the need for less competition and more compassion.

And from his dishonor itself we are still learning what true honor is, just as I learned and keep learning over and over not to sell my soul for the next accolade, no matter how sweet.