catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 20 :: 2007.11.02 — 2007.11.16


Lies and the impeccable word

Luke 16:19-31: The Rich Man and Lazarus

Jesus was not a literalist. Right away, I just need to say this is not a passage that says: The poor will finally get the reward they deserve and the rich will finally know what it’s like to suffer. It’s not a passage about finally getting justice in the afterlife. It’s not a passage to encourage you to wallow in your suffering because one day you’ll go to heaven. And it’s not a passage meant to make you gloat that someday the people who treated you poorly are going to burn in hell. 

What this passage is, is Jesus exposing the lie. Two thousand years ago people believed that if you were wealthy you were right with God and if you were poor you were obviously sinful.  The lie was that good acts and good behavior necessarily bring earthly rewards, that those who have much are obviously more holy than thou. Jesus’ story shook up those who heard it because it exposed the lie for what it was—a lie.

Remember Job? As soon as things started going poorly for him, all of his friends—even his wife—believed the lie. They believed that if bad things were happening to Job then he better get himself right with God. It had to be his fault. There had to be something wrong in his heart or in his mind. But they were wrong. Job didn’t fit their social conditioning or the dream everyone was living in.

Now Jesus speaks and in his story reinforces the same lesson. Lazarus isn’t suffering because he’s a bad person. And the rich man isn’t rich because he is godly. The importance of this declaration is that it means there is no justification for a two-tiered social system of have’s and have not's. Jesus challenges the entire social structure of the time and exposes it as a lie.

But that exposure didn’t mean the lie went away. Today we all still feel that lie somewhere deep inside of us. It is a cultural lie, a collective lie that on the surface we deny, but deep down we too often believe—especially as we consider those who suffer. It’s easy to find reasons to blame them for their circumstances. And when we bring judgment to other people’s situations, it allows us to continue perpetuating the injustices of hunger and poverty. But perhaps there is no place where our judgment is more harsh than in relation to our own life. When things aren’t going well, we blame ourselves, beat ourselves up, and spiral into a hell of our own making.

Believing this lie makes it so much easier to believe the other lies we’ve been told as well. And we have bought a whole boatload of lies, hook, line and sinker. It’s not our fault. We didn’t know any better. But all of our lives there have been people telling us lies—telling us what we could or could not do, what was acceptable and what was not. Parents, teachers, the church. It’s not their fault either—they were only passing on the same lies they had been told. But here we are living lives full of lies.

Let me give you an example. I grew up in the Lutheran church. It was a good church. I learned a lot there and am grateful for my background. But one of the lies I absorbed was that as unworthy and miserable and undeserving as I was, God still loved me.

Now think about that. I was taught to be grateful that God could somehow love me. If I was so miserable and unworthy that it would take God to love me, how could I ever expect that anyone else could love me at all?

Now the church thought it was proclaiming a good message—one of God’s love—but it was also telling me I was worthless and essentially unlovable. Not a good message for a kid to absorb. Not a good message to try to live with.

Recognizing those lies and giving them up is the subject of Don Miguel Ruiz book The Four Agreements. Ruiz maintains that we are taught what to believe. When we go along we are rewarded for being “good” and when we don’t go along, we are punished. Eventually we become our own law enforcer. We create a Book of Law that includes all of the things we have been told to believe, especially about ourselves. Then we become our own Judge who rewards us when we’re “good” and punishes us when we don’t follow the rules of our own Book. Another part of us becomes the Victim. That’s the part that carries all of the blame, the guilt and the shame for never being able to live up to our own image of our selves.

There are two points Ruiz makes in the early part of his book that spoke loudly to me personally. One is about mistakes. How many times, he asks, do we pay for our mistakes? The answer, he concludes, is thousands of times. Human beings are the only animals who don’t pay for a mistake once and move on. We make a mistake, judge ourselves, find ourselves guilty and punish ourselves. But because we have such a powerful memory we don’t stop there. We remember the mistake, find ourselves guilty once more and punish ourselves over and over again. And if we’re really lucky we have other people in our lives to remind us of our mistake so we can pay for it yet again.

We suffer because we believe the lie that we are supposed to suffer.

In fact, this is another lie the church, even with the best of intentions, easily propagates. The obvious example is the holiness of Jesus’ suffering, but there are many other examples. In the Lutheran church we don’t have a lot of iconography or images to look at, but in other Christian traditions there are pictures of the saints and in their faces you can often see suffering and pain. “Oh! I get it! To be perfect, I am supposed to be like them. I am here to suffer in patience and then when I die I can receive my reward in heaven. Maybe then I’ll finally be perfect!”  It’s using the story of Lazarus and the rich man in a way Jesus never intended—to support a lie that keeps us trapped in our own hell on earth.

The truth is that no one judges us more harshly than we judge ourselves and as a result no one abuses us more. As a survivor of more than one abusive relationship in my life, I resonate strongly with Ruiz’ observation that if we are with someone who abuses us slightly more than we abuse ourselves, we will eventually leave. But if we are with someone who abuses us just a little less than we abuse ourselves, we’re likely to stay forever.

We stay because we believe we deserve it. That we aren’t worthy of love and respect. That we aren’t good enough. We stay because we believe the lie. We believe the image of perfection we have in our mind for our selves and because we can’t ever be that image of perfection we reject ourselves. We don’t accept ourselves as we are and we don’t accept others. But when we discard the lie, when we can begin to love and accept ourselves just as we are, we begin to climb out of hell and toward heaven.

Ruiz doesn’t have anything to tell us that we haven’t heard before. The wisdom he shares is ancient and is found in the teachings of the spiritual leaders throughout the ages, including our own precious teacher Jesus. He tells us, as Jesus told us two thousand years ago, that we can trade in the old agreements and start living a different life today. We can be reborn. We can live in happiness and joy.   And we begin by being impeccable with our word.

The word is a powerful force. In fact, the word calls creation into being, as our own scripture testifies. Just as God spoke creation into existence, the word we speak also creates. With our word we have the power to create great beauty—and we have the power to destroy. The word can imprison us or, as our scriptures celebrate, the Word can set us free.

All of our lives people have used their words to share their own opinions. When we believe those opinions, we give other people the power to create our world. When my grandfather was a young man someone told him he couldn’t dance and he never danced again. He never once danced with his wife. In fact, it broke my heart that at his 50th wedding anniversary grandpa was still refusing to dance a single dance with grandma—because he believed that ridiculous lie, he believed that he couldn’t dance.

What does it mean to be impeccable with our word? It means that we never use the word to speak against our self. We talk to ourselves all the time. What kind of things do you hear yourself say? Are you more inclined to congratulate and console yourself or to recount what you see as flaws and failings? Do you remind yourself that you are beautiful and holy or berate yourself for being fat or stupid? Being impeccable with your word means that you never use the word against yourself. It means you take responsibility for your actions, but you don’t judge or blame yourself. You don’t reject yourself—you don’t reject who you are.

And being impeccable with your word means that you don’t gossip or use the word to judge or blame anyone else. In our culture gossip is a sickness that infects nearly all of our communication. We talk about other individuals, other groups and other countries all of the time. We form opinions about people we don’t even know and then we share them with others, passing along a generous dose of emotional poison as we do. We use the word to keep other people down, to make other people feel as badly as we do. We use the word improperly because we live in fear, because we live in hell.

We use the word against others because we don’t love our selves. If I don’t love myself, I will use my word to express anger, jealousy, envy or hate. But if I use my word to send my emotional poison to you, that poison will return to me. In that way I am also using my word against myself. But if I love myself, I will express that love in all of my interactions. 

I’ll give you an example. When my former husband and I divorced, I was worried about what people would think of me. So in my defensiveness I would make sure when my divorce came up that the reason did too—and that reason was, of course, entirely my ex-husband’s fault. People would listen to me and agree with what I said without even knowing this man. I was spreading poison for no good reason at all. Not only that, but I believed I was pursuing justice with my word. He had made a mistake and he had not adequately paid for it. Of course, all of this regularly came back to haunt me as he responded to my emotional poison with anger and hatred his own.

But the more I love myself, the more I am overwhelmed with the desire to love others—all others—well. So I can recognize and admit my role in a broken relationship without beating myself up about it. And I can recognize his role in the break down and forgive him for it. And while we will never be best friends, today I experience a wonderful freedom from the prison of fear and anger in which I voluntarily stayed so long.

You can also choose to live by this agreement. You begin by acknowledging that the integrity of your word is directly proportional to your level of self-love. And then you decide to use your word toward truth and love, beginning by telling yourself regularly and often how wonderful you are. Because, my friends, that’s no lie.

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