Friday, November 03, 2006

When the Enemy is the Self

Ted Haggard had a bad day yesterday. His self-loathing, his hatred of his body and its desires, desires he has stifled and twisted, caught up with him--publicly, and shamed, he resigned his position as President of the National Association of Evangelicals.


It's the kind of thing that schadenfreude is all about: watching, with glee, the suffering of one who has been hoisted by his own petard.
But, yesterday, I also had a bad day. I spent much of yesterday crying, sick to my stomach, unable to catch my breath, and contemplating the various implements within my own house that could be used to effect my own demise.

Jesus commanded that we should love all people as we love ourselves. But perhaps Ted Haggard and many, many of his compatriots do not love themselves; therefore, they cannot love others.
I get that kind of pain.

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.

Emily Dickinson, XIX

My pain yesterday was precipitated by a cruel remark made by someone that struck at the very heart of me. It was a criticism of some essential part of myself. Not a valid criticism, but the kind of remark one makes when one has set out to hurt someone. It found its mark, and devastated, it took me hours to dig myself out of the hole that I had been thrown into. Of course, as anyone who has suffered from these types of events will tell you, once you get in the hole, you are quickly joined by the other monsters, and before long, one remark had become an entire critique of my useless, awful life.

I suppose I'm lucky in that I've had to deal with these types of events before. I've learned coping mechanisms--some cathartic, some merely busywork until the crisis has passed. But it was a long, horrible day. For a few hours, my self-loathing was at its zenith, and I fantasized, in exquisite detail, the various ways that if I really wanted to, I could end that pain forever and kill myself. The only thing that kept me from doing it was the memory that this has happened to me many times before, and if I could just hold on, eventually the storm would blow through me. It did. When the acute feelings had passed, I was left with the sensation of being a tree that had been violently stripped of all its leaves. Naked and exposed. My whole body ached.

Life is tough and brimming with loss, and the most we can do about it is to glimpse ourselves clear now and then, and find out what we feel about familiar scenes and recurring faces this time around.

Roger Angell Let Me Finish

One of the toughest things that depression and addiction have taught me is that my secrets will kill me if left in the dark. It does not mean that I have to equip myself with a bullhorn and proclaim my secrets to the world (although some might argue that I tend to use blogging to do such things), but rather, that when something makes itself aware to me, pushing it down into the darkness, ignoring it, is the quickest way I know to start myself on some sort of downward spiral. And so, when I feel some truth, or some urge, or some desire, I make sure to admit it to myself, and if necessary, tell someone else.

Relentless honesty can be exhausting. And as the Dalai Lama said, "Honesty without compassion is cruelty." That's the rub for me. It's all well and good to be honest, but if it merely becomes one more way to beat the shit out of myself, well, that's not the intention of honesty. Which isn't to say that I don't admit the bad about myself; it's just that if I am acknowledging some part of myself that needs improvement, I need to do so in a way that allows me to move forward in change, rather than getting stuck slung over some barrel, where I invite everyone to take a whack at my ass.
Mr. Haggard's secrets, Mr. Foley's secrets, Mr. Swaggart's secrets, Mr. Limbaugh's secrets, Mr. Bush's secrets--have not, as far as anyone can tell, made them more compassionate, self-aware human beings. Instead, they have retreated into addiction, and into projection, where their self-loathing evinces itself as cruelty to others. Pedophilia. Making fun of disability. Going to prostitutes. Sending others to war. Jesus said to love others as you love yourself. If their behaviour toward others is a reflection of their own feelings toward themselves, their inner pain must be overwhelming.
For those of you who don't know Mr. Haggard's story, here are parts of it.

The evangelical association states on its Web site that homosexual sex is condemned by Scripture, and Mr. Haggard has advocated passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

The accuser, Mike Jones, told KUSA, Channel 9, in Denver that Mr. Haggard had paid him for sex over the last three years, and that he had methamphetamine several times.
“People may look at me and think what I’ve done is immoral,” Mr. Jones, who said he is no longer a prostitute, told KUSA. “But I think I had to do the moral thing in my mind, and that is expose someone who is preaching one thing and doing the opposite behind everybody’s back.”
Mr. Haggard said in a lengthy interview with KUSA that he had never used drugs of any kind and that he did not smoke or drink alcohol.
Mr. Haggard has been a supporter of an amendment to the state’s Constitution banning same-sex marriage, on which Coloradans will vote next week. He told KUSA that the accusations might have been politically motivated.

Later, however, this came out:

Rev. Ted Haggard, Evangelical Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has confessed to some of the accusations against him according to Rev. Ross Parsley, who is serving as Acting Senior Pastor of the 14,000-member Protestant church.
Rev. Ted Haggard, a key Evangelical in the religious right and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in a statement that he placed himself on administrative leave "pending investigation, spiritual counsel, and a decision by the church's board of overseers" after he was accused of using drugs and participating in a three-year homosexual relationship.
After he resigned, the board of overseers met with Haggard.  "It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true," said Parsley in an e-mail to the congregation.

Earlier in his life, Haggard saw demons. As he told the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Haggard had experienced a vision in high school after he was born again.

He said he saw demons hovering over newborn babies at a hospital, waiting to instill in them negative character traits such as hatred, greed, drug use and masturbation.
These were the kind of spirits Haggard knew he had to fight. Haggard said he never thought of leading his own church.

Masturbation as a demon? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that even as a teenager, Haggard struggled with what his flesh desired and what his brain told him he could have. What a conflict that must have been for him. He married and had five children. If it turns out that Haggard is, in fact, gay, he will have no need for hell. The self-loathing he has lived with is its own hell.
I am not excusing Haggard's deeds as leader of homophobic groups in Colorado and across the country. It will be interesting to see the group's reaction to their former leader: will they turn on him as the mob often does, or will they practice Christian forgiveness, hating the sin but loving the sinner? Will they send him off to be "re-educated," so that he may once again return to trying to mortify his flesh in the name of some despotic God's commandments in Leviticus?
Or, is there a possibility for Ted Haggard's redemption? Will this be his conversion experience? Will this be the moment that, his heart broken wide open by what is happening to him, that he learns to love the part of himself that he used to loathe? Will it cause him to ask forgiveness of the gay community, and to join the ranks of those of us who want all people to be able to love whom they choose to love? I think that's my wish for Ted Haggard. For him to know peace.
I can only love others as I love myself. And as I wish myself peace, I wish it for those who suffer. Maybe, if their suffering is eased, they will stop inflicting their pain onto us.
Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror
up to where you're bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here's the joyful face you've been wanting to see.

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence is in every small
contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

Rumi Birdwings

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