Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Coping with dirty laundry

There's a phrase that crops up from time to time in election campaigns: "Hanging out the dirty laundry." The presumption is that someone has exposed something someone else would rather have left unseen, or would have cleaned up quite a bit before letting it hit the public eye.

But you know, we all have dirty laundry, so there's an extra implication here; that the person whose dirty laundry is out there has been pretending they didn't have it, or that that part of their lives was squeaky clean when in fact, just like the rest of us, they've been mucking about in it. It's not the bad behavior itself that gets them into trouble. It's trying to look like they were above that sort of thing, or even attacking others for behaviors they themselves secretly exhibit.

So the issue isn't really about shameful behaviors; it's about masking them, or pretending they don't exist, and then getting caught in the act. It's not fallibility that's the issue; it's the holier-than-thou stance -- which is one reason so many of us are at odds with organized religion and the church.

More often than any of us care to relate, the very organizations that tout Christian values are the ones that make them a travesty -- and then pretend it never happened. Which may be the kind of thing Jesus was talking about when he said "the last will be first, and the first will be last, because many are called, but few are chosen."

There may be lots of people out there who are qualified to be president, or vice president; to be governor, priest, or bishop. But whether they make it to the top -- or stay there when they get there -- has a lot to do with admitting weaknesses, not expecting special treatment, staying in touch with humility and fallibility.

Because those positions that sit at the top of the pyramid are pretty exposed, and there are always folks out there eager to root around in your laundry, looking for any discrepancies between who and what you SAY you are, and who and what you REALLY are.

Living in a democracy, where free speech is a right and a privilege, means that some of those folks will be willing and eager to hang it right out there for the rest of the world to see. Unfortunately the church is not always a democracy, and sometimes it takes incredible courage to point out behaviors that would be obviously unacceptable elsewhere.

And why is that? Wouldn't God want the truth to be known? Is it that we confuse our leaders with the God they claim to represent? Is it that we fear the loss of connection to the community that means so much to us? Or is it just that we worry that the worlds of good that churches can and often do carry out would be horribly undermined by whatever scandals might be revealed; that we weigh the alternatives and reluctantly choose silence?

The question is how best to serve the greater good. And that is not always an easy question to answer.

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