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?