on puppetry as a way of life.
this is one of those processing-while-typing essays.
i had a revelation this week while conversing with a friend at one of the many trendy overpriced coffeeshops in east nashville. is there something about lattes and spiritual breakthroughs? regardless, we we discussing a hesitancy of his to tell the truth about a very intimate moment to those around him that he professes to be in community with, and the LORD started to bring some disconnected thoughts together in my own heart as i talked him through the process.
two weeks prior i had given a lecture based on romans 7, kierkegaard’s theories of despair and “self”, and our great exchange. it was a little convoluted, but the visuals were good i think. this was all based on a talk i had given at our men’s retreat in the spring, so these ideas had been bouncing around in my head for quite a while before i began compiling this lecture into a convenient powerpoint. the basic premise paul is getting at in romans 7 is that the law, although perfect, exists to show us how sinful we are, because we cannot uphold it through our own means.
the law becomes our death.
paul expresses frustration with knowing right from wrong, but continuing to do the opposite of what he desires; this is a wonderful definition for sin. yet what strikes me about this passage is how he is making the assertion that is is not he who is sinning, but the sinful nature within him. “sinful nature” is synonymous with “human nature” and “the flesh” in much of paul’s writing. what i find so fascinating in his lament is this verse: “…in my inner being I delight in GOD’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” this is key.
i began to get this little image of our identities as a ball of clay. from the day we are born, the ball gradually gets bigger. this identity is our “human nature”; it’s composed of what the world tells us we are, what our parents or friends say about us, and what we construct of our own being to present to the world, fooling even ourselves into believing it’s really us. this identity comes from what we can observe within the confines of creation. we can see/hear/smell/touch/taste “stuff”, we can use reason and logic to makes deductions, we can even use our experience to build an idea of what the world is and how we fit in. as we grow older, our little ball of clay grows with us. Son, daughter, student, friend, babysitter, coworker, father, mother, music lover, part-time carnival ride operator, whatever. these labels define us in our entirety until there comes an experience in our lives that operates outside the realm of what we have understood to be “reality” since we were children. this is the “GOD” moment. all of a sudden our ball of clay doesn’t hold up to its promises that this is all there is. something happens deep within our souls as we try to reconcile an experience that seemed more than an experience. this is the point when God has reached down and touched us.
Two balls of clay. in one hand, we have our “human nature”, and it has been growing for some time now. it’s got weight. it’s got history. it’s everything we think about the physical reality of our world.
In the other: a GOD-breathed identity. maybe you’ve heard this called “divine nature”, “spiritual side”, “perfection”, something along those lines. this is the delivery on a promise YAHWEH made to his people from the beginning of the bible, reaffirmed by the new covenant HE established through HIS son, jesus. this is GOD saying, “you are NOT what the world tells you, you are NOT what you convince yourself you are. you are what I made you to be.”
so these two conflicting identities, these two balls of clay, exist side by side in us, vying for superiority over the other. as paul says, “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me…I myself in my mind am a slave to GOD’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” he is making the assertion that his sinful nature is no longer him, but this evil that is always right there next to him.
the truth of the matter is that we will never be able to fully embrace the identity GOD has given us, and in doing so, destroying our sinful nature. we’re human. we’re stuck in these flesh-covered cages until the day we die. yet i draw a lot of comfort from a quote by the english poet robert browning: “ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. or what’s a heaven for?” for us, it’s the process that is so important. the fact that we are striving day in and day out to understand who GOD made us to be, and to leave our imperfect human-constructed nature in the dust behind us. i think GOD knows this, which is why HE’s so patient with us.
kierkegaard puts it in another way. he says that all men are in despair because we can’t figure out who we are. we know that we are flesh and spirit, but we can’t understand our spirit nature by bouncing our identities off the things that surround us. for k., becoming a “self”, that is, becoming self-aware, can only happen when we are able to see our true identity as flesh+spirit through the eyes of an outside being, one who is not confined to the physical world. some of us know we are in despair as we feel like something is missing in our lives and we can’t put our finger on it. others of us are in despair and don’t even know because we don’t acknowledge that part of us. ever heard someone say, “well, i’m just not a spiritual person”? we are incomplete until we have an encounter with our creator. an encounter that tells us, “there’s another option. become who I made you to be.”
from that point on, the rest of our lives become chipping away at the facade we have built around ourselves to present to everyone else, so that we may live out the identity that GOD has had waiting for us all along. it’s in seeing that identity as the truth, and our constructed nature as an illusion.
which brings us back to the coffee shop. my conversation with this friend turned to “disposable” and “indisposable” relationships, which is something we have been talking about in the anchor fellowship for some time about. he is having trouble being open and vulnerable with people for fear of judgment compounded with a nagging guilt over his past life. as we chatted about how community and accountability go hand-in-hand, i began so see this paradox of paul’s in action.
we are caught between two identities.
we build ourselves a nice little marionette puppet to put on display before the world as a distraction from who we really are. the distraction is to get people to like us, but it also exists for us to be comfortable with who we pretend to be. most of the time, other people are content to be friends with our little marionettes. it’s not as messy. but every so often we come across someone who sees beyond the wood and fabric and string and catches a glimpse of the puppeteer. and we allow ourselves to drop the act for that moment and stand face to face with someone in all our nakedness, uncertainty, and truth.
let me be clear. none of this is easy. it’s hard to let go of the puppet. the puppet is safety; it keeps us detached from having to confront our fears. but it isn’t real. we have to let down our guard and come to terms with who GOD made us to be, and not be afraid of accepting that truth. we need to allow others in, past our delusions of false identity, to see us for who we really are. this is the only way true community is possible; by baring our mess to those around us and crying, “help!”
sit quietly and ask the Lord to show you your marionette. the illusion that you’ve built around yourself to trick everyone into thinking you’re cool enough, smart enough, that you have it all together. now cast it aside. learn to walk in the reality that GOD has provided you. ask for courage to overcome fear and guilt, and get out there and make your relationships indisposable.