A man has to do what a man has to do; and when a man finds an Alfred Hitchcock marathon on TCM, a man has to watch every single movie. If you don’t understand that, I can’t help you. It’s a man thing. You’ll need to check your copy of Wild at Heart to see exactly how, but it is. And so, because it was my manly duty to invest myself in these movies, I did. I watched Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, Dial M for Murder, Rope and many others. You ask me how I watched so many movies, and I will tell you. Hitchcock is a genius. Why do I say that? Because Hitchcock believed, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” See, all things are possible to them who relieve. (OK, truth is, I actually DVR’ed most of them and took my time going through them). Now, most of these I had seen, but one or two were new. Shadow of a Doubt was brand new to me; and while the premise was fun (what do you do when your favorite uncle turns out to be a serial killer?), the execution of the film showed its age (it would have also helped to have more executions of all ages in the movie!). After the movie, TCM has a little thing about how they made the film which I found fascinating. Apparently, Hitchcock usually liked to film on studio sets, but because of the war (1942), they were forced to shoot on location. After a considerable search, they finally chose a little town in Northern California, not only because it was quaint, because it also had the perfect house for the main character to call home. It was a charming Victorian home which would allow plenty of extra room for actors, cameras, lights, film crews, pudgy directors and other movie types. The film company booked the house for the following summer and then returned to Hollywood to finalize the script. But when they returned to actually film the movie, they discovered to their horror (this is an Alfred Hitchcock film after all!) that the owners had decided to paint the entire house inside and out. They figured that if the world was going to see their house, it needed to look great. But now the house didn’t “fit” the script. It looked like the leading character had money to burn! And so, Hitchcock sent in a paint team to return the house to its previous, old worn-out look. They chipped paint here. They dulled paint there. They added some smudges over here and did whatever they could to make it look like an average American home (you know, sort of run down). And then, once the filming was done, Hitchcock sent the same paint crew back into the house to paint everything from top to bottom again so that it would be spectacular once again. Let’s all admit it. When it came to realism in his movie sets, Hitchcock was a little crazy. But we already knew that. We even know where it came from. Hitchcock himself regularly asked the people around him: “Weren’t you ever boo’ed at by your mother?” Just sayin’. It always comes from somewhere.
Here’s today’s question: why do we always need to hide our true selves behind layers of perfect-looking paint? I talk to people all the time who are being suffocated under the heavy load of a secret they dare not share. I hear stories of people who desperately need encouraging, but are afraid to let anyone know what they are dealing with for fear they will be rejected or ridiculed or minimized. Sunday after Sunday, we all come to church hurt and broken, but unwilling to let anyone know. And so, we hide behind fresh paint so that we can always appear at our best. I wish the only question was, why is this such a powerful need in us, but there is another question. At what cost, does this lack of authenticity come?
Think about that. We just finished a long series on prayer. It affects that. We talk a lot about worship. It affects that. We talk about spiritual growth. It affects that. We talk about confessing our sin. It affects that. We talk about loving each other. It affects that. In short, a lack of authenticity affects everything. When image becomes more important than substance, we are in trouble. But sadly, we prefer paint to reality; and as a result, we are constantly presenting a false self to others, to the church and to God. I fear it has gotten so that we now prefer image to reality because reality is always so disappointing. And so, we cover up the flaws, hide the defects and pretend that everything is just fine.
Now, I could try to prove this to you, but it would be better if you proved it to yourself (we will pick something safe). Think about how you pray. Do you pray better in private or in public? Where do you exhibit the most passion for God, in person or in private? Where do you exhibit the most sincerity? Where do you compose the more articulate prayers, in public or in private? Here’s what I fear: we pray better when we stand in front of people who we know and who are right there in front of us listening (read also, assessing, evaluating, critiquing, not only the prayer, but us, as well!). The truth is, we are far more concerned with how people see us when we pray than with how God does. Years ago, I read this quote about a Boston preacher; and I have never forgotten it. The Monday newspaper referred to the prayer of Rev. Horace Holley as “the most eloquent prayer ever addressed to a Boston audience.” To be honest, sometimes on Sunday morning, when I pray, I wonder to whom I am praying, God or the congregation. Bottom line: we much prefer to look good or to sound good, than to be good; and that inauthenticity is killing our prayers.
It is also killing our community. There is a certain joy in watching people drive into church. You can often see them in their car. They are fighting, miserable, unhappy. But as soon as they walk into church, a miracle happens. They are happy, lighthearted and without a care in the world. We believe in the Vegas philosophy: what happens at home (or in the car), stays at home and never enters the church because, no matter what, we dare not be our true selves there. And the reason for doing this is even more disheartening. It is not because there is some obscure passage that demands: “Thou shalt look morally good and physically happy when thou comest into church.” It is because we like people thinking we have our act all together.
How I wish Robert Palmer was right, and we were only addicted to love. Instead, we are addicted to inauthenticity. We love presenting our inauthentic selves to others and to God, and we delight when others think of ourselves more highly than they ought. I found this paragraph from the American historian Daniel Boorstin very interesting. Boorstin wrote:
“UNTIL RECENTLY, we have been justified in believing Abraham Lincoln’s familiar maxim: ‘You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.’ This has been the foundational belief of American democracy. Lincoln’s appealing slogan rests on two elementary assumptions. First, that there is a clear and visible distinction between sham and reality. . . . Second, that people tend to prefer reality to sham; that if offered a choice between a simple truth and a contrived image, they will prefer the truth. Neither of these any longer fits the facts. Not because people are less intelligent or more dishonest. Rather because great unforeseen changes—the great forward strides of American civilization—have blurred the edges of reality. The pseudo‑events which flood our consciousness are neither true nor false in the old familiar senses. The very same advances which have made them possible have also made the images—however planned, contrived, or distorted—more vivid, more attractive, more, impressive, and more persuasive than reality itself.”
Something has gone terribly wrong with church. Instead of carrying one another’s burdens, we are only interested in carrying on fun conversations. Instead of seeking God, we hide behind walls of self-righteousness. Instead of spurring one another on to love and good deeds, we are only interested in spurring people on to trifles and trivialities. Instead of being real Christ followers, we settle for having a superficial faith and an empty hope. As I said, something has gone terribly wrong with the church. We prefer coats and coats of paint to reality. And don’t you dare think that I am above this. I am right here in the muck and mire with you.
Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” When there is no authenticity in the church, there is no anticipation of anything good, but lots of hollowness. But remember, this shallowness all comes from somewhere. Let’s just hope it doesn’t drive us all . . . psycho.