Wednesday, October 19, 2011

clay feet

I wrote the parking place post last night, but didn't publish it until this afternoon because I wanted to let it sit overnight.  When I started it, I was going to try and describe my experiences as a process-- this happened, then this happened, then this.  But I've realized that's not possible.  Partly because I just don't remember it that well-- the 50-year-old brain doesn't do details well.  But also partly because it didn't happen that way.  Much of this was going on at the same time.  It's just different pieces of what happened.

So another piece was dealing with hypocrisy.  That's such a cliché that it seems kind of dumb to bring it up.  Of course I figured out that there were a lot of hypocrites in my religion, including myself.  Duh.  Can any of us live up to our higher ideals?  There are hypocrites in every religion.  It makes you wonder if it's even worth it to have higher ideals.

But I'm pressing on because there's stuff I need to process here.  The hypocrisy hurts more, I think, when you hero-worship someone and then they fall off the pedestal.  And it hurts even worse, I think, when you compound that hero-worship with a long-term resolute determination to not see the person's faults.  So that you spend years, decades, shoring up your hero's heroic-ness, and when they fall off, you realize not only their flaws, but also your own participation in the whole mess.  You have to deal not only with anger and disappointment, but guilt and self-recrimination (how could I have been so dumb?)  You would have been better off--both you and your hero--if the hero worship had never happened.

This is my dad, of course.  He had faults, plenty of them.  Who doesn't?  He was a brilliant teacher of the Bible, and he created a version of Christianity that was compelling and beautiful and....oh, what's the right word.  real?  He could take the stories in the Bible and make them come alive-- the characters, the settings, the teachings.  He'd re-tell one of the scenes from Jesus's life, and turn it inside out, so that you'd think, whoa.  I never thought of it that way.  He was very clear about grace and forgiveness and love.  And I bought it.  All of it.  Hook, line and sinker. Not just the theology, but his projection of himself as the Teacher, the Man of God.

the problem was that he couldn't live in his personal life what he taught in his public life.  He wasn't exactly a horrible father; there are many who are far worse.  He just wasn't a very good one, and we had to cover that up so his ministry could continue to thrive.  He was by turns--turns that were completely unpredictable-- angry, cold, withdrawn, funny, critical, absent, and affectionate.  He was so proud of us when we made him look good, but at the same time so afraid that we would embarrass him.  We actively participated in creating his image so that he could keep doing his thing, even though he was emotionally abusive to my mom, and incapable of seeing his children as anything other than extensions of himself and his own needs. 

But was he unusual?  I don't think so.  I've read memoirs and heard stories of other people whose parents were "in the ministry" and I don't think he was much worse than any of them.  It goes with the territory.  But even though it's common, you still have deal with it.  I had to grow up and figure it out.  And especially, I've had to extract my faith, my belief system-- the theology I learned from him-- from who he was. 

That's harder than it sounds.  There's an old family story about me from when I was about four or five years old.  I was playing with a boy about my age and my mom overheard us boasting to each other.  "When my dad grows up," said the little boy, "he's going to be Superman!"  "Ha," I replied.  "That's nothing. When my dad grows up, he's going to be God."

You see my dilemma.  God the Father, earthly father.  I had them all entwined.  And that's what I've been working on processing for the last couple of weeks since I figured this out.  Or since I figured out this most recent round of it-- I've always been aware it was there.  How much of my anger and rage at the religion of my childhood is anger and rage at my dad?  Much of it, I'm afraid.  Maybe even most of it.  There's no chance that I'm going back to it.  Once I was old enough to make up my own mind, I left--motivated at least in part by a determination not to let my dad have the satisfaction of thinking I condoned his teaching.  And once I was out of it, I found a gazillion other reasons to not be there.  I'm not going back.  But I have to acknowledge that a big part of the break had nothing to do with the religion at all; it had to do with the man that tried to teach it to me.

I think there's still one more post coming on this topic.

1 comment:

  1. When we sit down and finally figure out the back part of these things in our own minds/souls it's quite enlightening. And yet, wow, so damn painful too. Well done here, really really well done.