Here’s a scenario: The lecturer discusses suffering in the context of justice, fairness, innocence citing inter alia the Old Testament the text according to the prophet Isaiah (suffering servant songs, Is 42-53) and the paradigm of the suffering servant. After the lecture small groups form and the notion of personal suffering becomes the hot topic.
In one discussion, members discuss instances in his or her experience of personal suffering and coping. I, personally, mentioned that I suffer when I see injustice–or what I perceive to be injustice–and I feel an urge to correct it or at least to speak up. I mentioned that I have to curb that urge by reflection and analysis if only to ensure that I myself am being just and fair in presuming correction is required, and to not to assume an I-have-a-fix-for-everything attitude.
A couple of days later, curiously enough, a colleague rather agressively and judgmentally told me that I should seek help because either I was “blowing smoke up everyone’s skirts” [sic] or I am schizoid (hence needing “help”). He was referring to my representations on these blogs as compared to what I said about my personal suffering. I asked if he could tell me what specifically bothered him but his reply was ambiguous: “All of it.” This was the signal that his monologue was going to remain monologue. So I listened patiently until he worked himself into a froth of judgmentalism and self-righteousness, finally fizzled out and (I presume chagrined) left the room. (I was tempted to ask why he hadn’t simply left a public comment but felt that would go nowhere; too many people are lurkers, and don’t have the constitution to make a public showing.) Be not mistaken: even today “good Christians” are still burning “heretics” (viz. dissenters). Now, after being subjected to that, I’m suffering, interpreting it, translating it, finding meaning in it, expressing it…being transformed by it.
But there is another positive turn to all of the monologue and the ensuing confusion: I was called to reflect whether I might be in some way like the hypocrite I intended to expose. Was I unauthentic or was I representing my truth on the subject matter under discussion? Was there a real question of “blowing smoke,” or was my monologuing colleague wounded, suffering because of a threat to self or to something that, if attacked, would wound him, too? Was he suffering and needed a sounding board? These were serious questions and I reflected on them for this blog.
But enough about me. The real gripper is not my own experiences but those related by an acquaintance who shared that his suffering, personal and other, comes when one has gifts, offers them but is stifled by a boss or leaders who have their own agendas. I can empathize with that experience and can almost feel the pain and frustration of the individual who feels gifted, who is experiencing a calling, and for one reason or the other, be it gender, orientation, tradition, a sense of autonomy, dissent, whatever, is asphyxiated because of the other’s anxiety, fear, envy, ignorance indwelling and the suffering it causes, the suffering of being possessed by one’s own passions or fictions.
I reflected on all of this and came to a word and a notion: hypocrisy and how it causes suffering.
What happens, then, to that “holy” energy when it’s stiffled. We all react differently; some get angry and come out kickin’ and swingin’, some might invest the gifts and energy elsewhere, depriving those in need of the nourishment from vital charisms, some might simply go into seclusion, again depriving the world of their gifts and living in aridness. It’s all a form of suffering, isn’t it. Thinking about it, now is a good time for introspection, reflection, correction.
[Before you read on. Take a full minute to think about this so far. Don’t blow it off. Take 10 deep breaths and between each, reflect on suffering.]
This is all the worse when this evil finds purchase in the bosom of the church or in other institutions of pastoral care and ministry. Why? Well, the response is obvious and so is all the more insidious because it’s so frequently ignored, swept under the carpet. Why? Because of selfishness, a human need to be one of the pack, the drive to be alpha somewhere, anywhere, even if for some it’s in a subterranean den of thieves. Why is it then that so many persons insinuate themselves into positions in which they wear the mask of compassion, humility, love, charity, etc. but in the words of the evangelist Matthew, paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah (cf Is 29:13), who teaches: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Mt 15).
And so we return to the image of the illusory man I chose to be the poster image for this series. Have another look at him and think of how it makes you feel.
We find this confusing presentation in the pews, in the educational institutions, in the workplace, and the beast is called hypocricy. Hypocricy is the subject of my upcoming Opinion series.
Installment No. 2: Hypocrisy-The Church Breaker