Now Featured at the Patheos Book Club
When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together
By Laura Sumner Truax
Book Excerpt #1
It's hard for us to imagine we could show people our real selves and still have anyone like us. So we pretend to be somebody else—essentially denying who we really are to put on the mask of someone more acceptable. We pretend to be the people we think others should see.
Public figures personify the pressure to uphold an outward persona that has long ago eroded from the inside. A few years ago Senator Larry Craig left the U.S. Senate in a scandal over whether he was soliciting sex in an airport bathroom stall. The irony is that before his toe-tapping got him in trouble, Senator Craig had long been one of the most outspoken advocates of a strict moral code.
Politicians and preachers share this dark temptation of dishonesty. The very behavior we oppose can be the addiction we are battling. It's as though we climb onto the moral high ground on purpose - to ward off our own inner demons. If I just say it enough, it will be true.
Whether we are cheating at solitaire, elaborating on the big one that got away or protesting to our friends that "No really, everything's fine!" when virtually everything in our lives suggests otherwise, the human condition is awash in self-deceptions, large and small.
Telling the truth is always a tricky business. Because we can start to believe the stories we tell about ourselves. We begin to live into the scripts that we're reading from. They become the self-authenticating records of our actions. We are always in danger of believing our own hype.
The Hebrew Scripture gives us a well-known story of self-deceit in the second book of Samuel. It tells us about a man at the top of his world who had started believing the story he was telling about himself. No, even worse than that—he had begun to believe that his story was, in fact, the only story really going on (see 2 Samuel 11:1-27).
The army of the God of the Israelites had left Jerusalem to fight. King David sent his faithful commander, Joab. The Israelites were winning. The text says they ravaged their enemies. They defeated the Ammonites; they besieged Rabbah on the battlefield. These military exploits trickled back to David who had stayed behind in Jerusalem. Everything was falling in place to back up the version of himself that David wanted people to see.
Just as the Israelites were rolling over their enemies and moving at liberty on the battlefield, the text uses similar language to describe the exploits David is about to have back home.
While his army went to battle, one leisurely afternoon, David rose from his couch, deciding to enjoy the spring weather from his rooftop garden. He strolled about, taking in the view of his kingdom. And then he saw her. She was bathing, obviously unaware that she was being watched, but he continued to look. After all, the woman was very beautiful, and since no one else was there, there was no chance someone might call his character into question. David made some inquiries and learned her name was Bathsheba. And she was married. Not only married, but married to one of his top warriors, Uriah. Tough break? A red light to stop and turn around? Nope, not for David. He discreetly sent a messenger to get her. He was the king and this was a command performance. While his army enjoyed their conquests, David enjoyed a conquest of his own. He had sex with her and then returned her to her home.
A month or so later, Bathsheba sends a terse two-word statement: "I'm pregnant."
Hum. That wasn't what the king expected from their single rendezvous.
I'm pregnant. With those words, David must work fast. In quick order, he sends word to his commander, Joab, on the field, "Bring me Uriah." David makes several attempts to get Uriah to return to his wife. It's a show to legitimize the pregnancy. But Uriah refuses to go back home. He's a faithful warrior. "How could I?" Uriah protests. "How could I go home when the ark of God is on the battlefield?"
Okay. So that plan didn't work. But now the clock is really ticking for David, and if he doesn't take care of this little problem soon, his whole image could crumble. So David sends a letter to the front lines to Joab (a letter carried by Uriah, if you can imagine that) telling Joab to make sure Uriah is in the heaviest fighting, then pull back the troops so that (I'm quoting here) "he may be struck down and die."
Joab complies. Uriah is killed. The widow Bathsheba mourns for her dead husband, and then the king sends for her, and she becomes his fourth wife.