Friday, May 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Identities

I was reading a friend's blog on clergy who have two personas (or faces) online.  You can read the article, "Having Two Identities is a Lack of Integrity," here.  I wanted to comment on that, so I started and realized it was my own musings and ramblings rather than a comment on his, so I just briefly posted and came on over here to my own blog.

Around twelve years ago when I was in the candidacy process, but before I was appointed to a church, I was at a friend's house.  We went to church together and we had been buddies in high school.  She knew everything about me (even where the skeletons are buried).  Her husband had purchased a music video and I wanted to watch it so we could dance around her living room.  She told me, "you can't act that way anymore." 

It made me sad, and for a few years a bit confused as to how I was suppose to behave as clergy, even around friends.  I realize now there is nothing wrong with breaking out into spontaneous dance, except the bad dancing.  But people look to clergy about how to act as Christians, and I think the problem we [clergy] get into is that we buy into the lie that we must have two appearances. 

Jesus warned against being like the hypocrites.  There are numerous scriptures I could cite, but I'm just going to tell you to read Matthew, specifically, Matthew 6.  Of course, there are a few quotes about them in Mark and Luke, but not nearly as many as Matthew.  The term hypocrite comes from a Greek theatrical term which is an actor that plays more than one character.  They would wear masks and change the masks for the different roles.  The recognized symbol for theater or drama are representations of these masks.
So Jesus was warning against putting on masks, not letting people see your real face.  It is where we get the term "two faced." 

My personality is such that keeping up with the face I have is all my ADHD riddled brain can handle.  After the incident with my friend, I tried to morph into some prescribed persona, and I am not even sure exactly who prescribed it.  It was very difficult for me because I was trying to be something I was not.  I wasn't trying to act one way as a pastor, and another way with family and friends.  I was trying to be someone's idea of what a pastor should act like.  I wasn't doing very well.  Fortunately, it was pretty early in my ministry when I realized that I wasn't cut out to pretend. 

I believe my best ministry has come since then.  I try to the best of my ability to live transparently.  Of course, we are going to have different 'hats' that we wear, but our faces should all be the same.  With my congregation, with my friends and family, with my children, with my husband, I am still me. I may not shout from the pulpit that I am a geek who dances spontaneously in my living room, but if you are around me very long you will know that it is a possibility (or danger, however you look at it.)  Yes, there are intimate sides you share only with those closest to you, but they shouldn't be such that you couldn't catch a glimpse of that side even if you are only close acquaintances.  

I believe laity (non-clergy) struggle with this duplicity as well.  Christians have been taught how they are supposed to act, and sometimes that teaching has been or gets distorted.  Society has used this as training for proper social behavior, which is why my friend felt that as a clergy, I couldn't dance like a geek in her living room.  But that same geek was the one whom God called to be in ministry - geeky dancing and all.  

Of course, as a pastor I must be sensitive to not be the cause of damage to someone else's faith.  Some things may need to be disclosed carefully and only with a very prayerful spirit in which you give plenty of room for the Holy Spirit to work.  Sometimes it doesn't matter, if people want to perceive you the wrong way, they will, whether or not there is anything wrong to perceive.  It is important to pray without ceasing, to stay in tune with God, and to apologize if you mess up, but over all I have learned to be myself. 

St. Francis of Assissi said, "preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words."  Our lives, both lay and clergy, should be lived transparently and openly...for Christ.  If there is something that is incongruous with how you are behaving and how you think you are supposed to behave as a Christian, then you need to work through that, whether with Christ alone, or with the help of a spiritual adviser.  Maybe your idea of how you are supposed to behave isn't really who God is calling you to be. Maybe your actions and behaviors are inconsistent with the teachings of Christ.  Either way, you need to figure it out to live an authentic Christian life.  
We are all ministers by our baptism.  We should all live as transparent disciples of Christ who witness to God's love and authority in the world.  I hope that by my example I can encourage someone to live for Christ and to be themselves while doing so.

Just as a bonus, one of my favorite movie scenes with masks is in Shall We Dance with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Many women are wearing masks pretending to be Ginger Rogers, even Ginger who is pretending to be herself. 


Rev. Jeremy Smith said...

Great post, glad to have sparked the discussion! I think you are right that we can either choose to bifurcate our lives into "personal" and "professional" or we can choose to always live transparently. I think the holistic approach (with reasonable expectations of privacy for our families and when we need it) is a better one. But I recognize that's a "stage" of the process that not everyone is at yet!

Anonymous said...

Make hay while the sun shines.........................................