On Dorian Gray & Sanctification

This post was written by Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.

The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The picture of ourselves that we present to others is often shrouded behind a veil of decency that exhibits the characteristics that we would like for others to associate with us. If vulnerability and authenticity are not promoted, even in our failings and moral lapses, Christianity faces the risk of perpetuating the false images we present and masks we wear as a result of the high moral calling to live lives that reflect Christ.

In “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde, Dorian is influenced by a rather hedonistic philosophy and aggrandized perception of youth. So he wishes that the portrait of himself being drawn by his friend Basil would age instead of himself. His wish enables him to maintain his youth, but the picture starts to serve as a window into the reality of his soul as his sins continue to disfigure the picture. He becomes disturbed by what the picture portrays, so he hides it away in a closet. Later in the story, he murders his friend Basil when he sees the picture after it has become disfigured as he could not handle the shame that came along with his friend being able to view the true nature of his soul.

(The Picture of Dorian Gray – 1945 film)

On good days, I like to think that I am a compassionate person that can be patient with others. But thinking about the above mentioned story made me think of my deficiencies in those areas even though I often seek to project those ideals that I hold close. Before coming to work with The Marin Foundation, I spent time in Chicago and Baltimore as a caseworker with families and single men that happened to be homeless. Although I was often impressed by the thankfulness, perseverance, and beautiful expressions of faith that were exhibited by individuals that had good reason to behave otherwise, there were also a few individuals that wore my patience very thin. I realized during my time of working with those that were more difficult, it was not so much their actions that bothered me but the fact that they elicited responses in me that reflected the nature of my soul to those around me along with making me aware of my own shortcomings in a deeper manner like the picture did for Dorian. I did not always look forward to hanging out or working with those that bothered me because of their capacity to bring to the surface and reveal to others the undesirable traits that I would have rather kept hidden. Matthew 5:46 says “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? Yet we so often only hang around those that we like and like us, myself included, when scripture demands that we live in a countercultural way that embraces our enemies and seeks to love the “least of these.” The passage in Matthew where Jesus tells us that “whatever we did for the least of these we did for him” always haunted me because that essentially meant that I really wanted to smack Jesus upside the head. But despite the risk entailed in vulnerability and the pain that often accompanies self-examination, I want to seek to take ownership of my full being in my relationship with God and others to start to dispose of the shame that festers in silence while working to chip away at the barriers that perpetuate division in my relationships with others.

Why do we have such a hard time loving those that are unlike us (socially, theologically, politically, etc.) or that make us angry?

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  • Mrs T

    If we feel someone is perpetrating a lie, we may feel very hurt. There are few that would cause hatred. For example, on facebook, I like having a diverse group of friends, from athiests to Catholics & various other categories.

    In 2005, a comment from someone still upsets me. It was during the Teri Schiavo situation. Of course, I am pro-life & if her parents were willing to care for her, let them do it. But the viscious husband who was cohabiting with another woman & had kids by her, refused to relinquish his rights to making decisions for her. Legally, he could. Morally, I think he was hiding something. If there were folks who believed in euthanasia, I could have dealt with their opinion if it were stated in a compassionate way.
    Here’s what hurt me so badly. A friendly person I knew, but did not discuss the case with(not wanting to know his opinion in case it was anti-life), out of nowhere blurted out something like “someone like that doesn’t deserve to live!” That hurt me so badly & still does today. I suspect he did something evil in the past & his viscious attitude toward this helpless person was a way to cover his guilt. Now, if was like Kevorkian & felt the family needed some mercy, I would not be so shocked & hurt.
    After that encounter, whatever beliefs others may have are pretty tame to accept. I don’t argue about political parties, sexual preferences(unless they are predators), & even religions. There is little merit in discussing these things unless asked!
    So, I felt strong emotions toward that person & still did business with him for several more months, but 5 1/2 years later, that statement has got to be the worst thing I can remember about him. (There were other things, too, like dishonest business practices & apparent hatred toward his ‘ex.’)
    Yes, God wants us to forgive & love, even those who hurt the innocent. We all know how hard that is!

    I still think you are compassionate as I hope I am!

  • Eugene

    “Why do we have such a hard time loving those that are unlike us (socially, theologically, politically, etc.) or that make us angry?”

    It’s hard to love people that are unlike us (or people who don’t love us) because this kind of love is selfless. People who love their peers love themselves in their peers – so it’s much easier to love them. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t love ourselves. 🙂 We should – as it’s the first step towards loving others (“Love your neighbor as you love yourself“). Still, it’s funny how your post about conservative pastors who love each other despite disagreements was meant to be positive, but seemed negative to me (“conservative pastors love themselves, but don’t care about gay people”).

    • Kevin Harris

      Thanks for sharing some of your thoughts Eugene. I appreciated the interconnected relationship you brought up between loving ourselves and loving others and how one is contingent upon the other as I’m guessing that is probably a factor more than we typically recognize.

      To make a small distinction though, Nathan Albert wrote the post on Friday about the pastors while I, Kevin, wrote this post today.

      • Eugene

        Oops! 🙂 I’m sorry, Kevin.

        Nathan had posted two posts in a row, and I was still thinking about his last post, so I guess that’s why I have missed the “This post was written by…” disclaimer. It wasn’t my intention, and I’m sorry.