Wednesday, May 10, 2006

One more little thing on the Da Vinci Code

I was on a train from Switzerland to Italy when I met an Australian criminal defense attorney. Per his testimony, he was fairly good at his job, and he had gained a reputation. He said he'd defend a man convicted of a crime, make a lot of money and travel until that money ran out. To his credit, he'd been traveling for quite some time when I ran into him.

I asked him, "How many of your clients do you really believe are innocent?" He said (and I thought this was a great lawyerly answer), "I don't work for nice people, which is why I try to work as little as possible. They generally have done something wrong. But the police have also been known to plant evidence in order to catch someone whom they figure to be a criminal."

It was a brief conversation that occurred years ago, but for some reason, I remember it to this day. In writing about the Da Vinci Code in my previous post, I began to think about this conversation. I think it illustrates one reason why The Da Vinci Code's message resonates within our society and culture. It is not so much that people believe the book is true, but they do think that it points to something that is just not quite right. In our society, where trusted leaders in the political, social, business and religious sectors of our society have let us down, Dan Brown's novel has flourished. I'm not saying that there are not trustworthy political, social, business and religious leaders out there, but there are very few that hold impeccable ethical standards. Impeccable ethical standards require discipline and practice. They require supernatural strength. For example, they require truth telling in every situation; a belief that there are no white lies.

I say this for two reason, first, this is the particular sin I've been convicted of lately. (Just one at a time, please!) A few months ago someone from my church asked me to do a bit of editing for some material our church puts out. The next weekend he called to ask how it was going. Here is what I should have said, "I haven't even begun to look at it. In fact, I haven't even touched it since you gave it to me. I was going to procrastinate until the very last minute and then turn it in to you." Okay, I could have probably left out that last sentence and still told the truth. But I actually said something like, "Ummm . . . I have looked at it, and, well . . . I'm still working on it. Ummmm . . . I’ll get it to you tomorrow if you need it." Basically, I lied. To tell the truth, I can't remember exactly what I said, and that makes lying difficult.

The funny thing is nothing would have happened if I had just told the truth. This was volunteer work. He would not have docked my pay. In fact, I later e-mailed him and confessed that I'd lied, and indeed he was very gracious, he reacted the way I believe Christ would act; he forgave me. As I said there are no harmless white lies, my actions revealed a woman that wanted to appear more "together" than she really was. And these little “harmless” untruths were adding up and beginning to paint a beautifully false and cracked facade.

One that was not easy to maintain.

I'm learning, and I'm a little slow, that Jesus meant it when he said that his yoke (his way of living and of interpreting the Jewish Torah) is easy. Jesus is right, the truth is easier to bear. Or at least remember.

Honestly, it is just now that I am realizing the depths to which I must go to present an authentic person. If someone I deem as a complete stranger treats me as an acquaintance, I have to work not to fake it and pretend I know her. If I'm feeling rotten, I'm still likely to give a genuinely fake smile and say, "I'm fine." If I'm angry at my husband, I'm likely to say with very tense and "not fine" body language and facial expressions, "Okay! Fine!"

I don't have it all worked out yet. Telling the truth in every aspect involves taking off layers and examining areas where I never realized I was being untruthful. I have on just a couple of occasions told someone that I just lied to them. One was my son. I am now very careful to speak only truth to the best of my ability. Frankly, my words have taken some people aback. People aren't used to such honesty, and in truth neither am I.

I'm also learning that truth telling is easier to do around a bunch of other people who are committed to it. And so here is my second point: I was in my hometown this weekend where Kyle Henderson is doing a sermon series on Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code. He admits that in part of the novel Dan Brown tells the truth. I hadn’t, up until that point, heard anyone from a pulpit admit that Brown says anything that is true. I was genuinely shocked. But I thought about my struggles and victories over this sin--lets call it what it is, a sin--and I thought about the light that a community of truth tellers might be able to give to a dark world.

Don't get me wrong, I strongly believe it is right for pastors to explain our history, to lend credibility to our Bible, and to refute the claims that Dan Brown makes. But I think we also need to admit when Dan Brown is right. And he is right in asserting that The Church has not lived up to Christ's ideals. Dan Brown is taking advantage of a prevailing attitude of distrust that exists among society at large regarding the church, and he has attacked it at an extremely vulnerable point--it's incoherent stance on the status of its women. For example, when a church prints out bulletins listing the titles Minister, Youth minister, Senior Adults Minister, and Director of children's ministries it looks hypocritical to anyone not raised in a church.

To a former English teacher it looks awkward.

Frankly, I can't explain why women can't be pastors if they can preach in a service, lead music, write curriculum. I'm not that smart. Someone needs to tell me so that when I run into all of these people led astray by Dan Brown's novel I'll be able to give an answer. Dan Brown's book asserts that the church (not Christ—a very important distinction) has orchestrated a systematic cover-up to deny women equal status with men. And, while he builds his case on unorthodox Christian views and false claims about history, his assertion--that women get an unfair shake in the history of the church is true and everyone sees it, so I can see how Dan Brown can mislead the public. I have heard a lot of talk about the false claims made by The Da Vinci Code, and experts are right in doing so, but I've only heard one sermon (from Kyle Henderson at First Baptist, Athens, call the church and ask for a copy.) that even brings up the Elephant in the living room--Dan Brown's truthful assertion--that most churches don't believe women should hold an equal status with men.

Now we can point to lots of “progress”, but the progress has led to a seemingly random application of scripture. For example, churches that have men pastors and women teachers that do the exact same thing look as though they want to appear as something they or not. People might think these churches are hiding something. This is not how a church wants to appear in light of the Dan Brown novel. I'm not saying that churches who have these positions are wrong in doing so, but if pastors are going to boldly address the real issues raised by Dan Brown's novel (as opposed to how many panes of glass are in the pyramid at the Louvre) then this is a big one. The Da Vinci Code will generate spiritual seekers. They will come to our churches. And if we are going to tell them the truth about The Da Vinci Code, we'd better be ready to tell the truth about ourselves, and part of that will be a need to explain the church's stance regarding a woman's role in ministry.

Do any churches apply the following passage from Corinthians? “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” What would church be like if women never spoke when they went?

Okay . . . forget I asked.

What about this passage in Timothy? “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” And if we are going to strictly adhere to this verse, don’t women need to obey the stuff above it? The verse immediately prior to it says that women should not braid their hair or wear gold or pearls or expensive clothes.” I believe in a high view of scripture, but what do I do with this? And what passage says women can not be pastors? I mean, if there is a specific passage that says women should not teach men then there must be one that says that women can not be pastors. I grew up Southern Baptist and we have lots of women teachers that teach men but we don’t have women pastors because women are not supposed to teach men. And, well, I’m confused.

Then to top it all off there is this verse in Galatians that says, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The passage reads like something you might put in gold embossed letters and a frame, but what if we were supposed to actually act that out?

I just have these questions. I don’t believe The Da Vinci Code is true, but it looks like something is wrong; the church looks like it has done something wrong, and that allows Brown the opportunity to plant false evidence.

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