Jeffrey’s dark side frightened me. I wondered why.
The article on innovation was clear, organized, and rational. The author, Jeffrey, a native of Brussels, maintained a clean, professional, business website on the subject of innovation. The site offered a software program for sale that helped companies manage the innovation process.
A small link, hidden away in the margin, away from the main menu, connected to Jeffrey’s personal blog. He entitled it “ungodly.” The title intrigued me. The idea that Jeffrey embedded the link, and that seemed to have nothing to with his business, caused me to go to the site.
In his introduction to his personal blog, Jeffrey wrote:
“The Conversations with God (But Not as You Know Her) blog sort of ran into a brick wall. I started it in part to understand some painful emotions I was feeling at the time and in part to start a cult religion. But as I got past my emotional challenges, I found that the conversations also stopped. I expect She reckoned I was capable of coping without Her. Whether or not that is the case remains to be seen.”
Later, in his personal blog, Jeffrey posted a series of fictional vignettes. Jeffrey’s great revelation was that God does not exist, at least not for Jeffrey. In one of his little stories he describes himself as a man leaving a trail of sin across the European continent, and coming to a point of crisis. One morning, awakening in a cheap hotel room with a woman sleeping next to him that he does not know, he gets down on his knees to pray, and hears the voice of God coming from the T.V. set in the hotel room. The voice says: “I do not exist.” Jeffrey gets back in bed.
I felt a host of feelings as I read Jeffrey’s personal blog. I felt the strangeness of the gap between his “professional business” self and the “personal” self of his blog. I felt the attraction of his creative interest in innovation topics, and the angst of his spiritual struggle with God. I felt threatened by his atheism. I felt concerned about the doubt and despair his writing could bring into my soul. I felt angry with him for adding to the darkness of a lost world. I felt sorrow for him that he did not know the freedom of Jesus Christ. I felt a desire to completely distance myself from all his writing, professional or personal, because I did not trust the man himself. I felt I wanted to reach Jeffrey somehow with a message of love and forgiveness, but I also found I wanted to judge Jeffrey to assuage my anxiety. Imagine if you can that I felt all these feelings compressed into an experience of just minutes. Of course, it took a bit longer to bring these “feelings” to the level of conscious reflection. I didn’t like everything I saw in myself.
Questions Jeffrey raised for me are:
1) What is the deepest need of my heart, and of all our hearts?
2) Isn’t it odd that Jeffrey, an atheist, devotes so much time to writing about God?
3) Isn’t it odd that I, a follower, spend so little time talking about God with people like Jeffrey?
4) Why am I so anxious about Jeffrey’s writing? Why is that threatening for me? How many other people with different viewpoints do I avoid and close out of my life?
5) How has my avoidance of people “different than” me lessened my impact and influence?
6) What impact would I have on Jeffrey if I brought all these anxious, judgmental feelings to an encounter?
7) If I am judging the “Jeffreys” in my world, and avoiding them, I wonder if “they” are also judging and avoiding me?
8) How much are Jeffrey and I alike?
9) Is there a strategy for me to transcend my discomfort and prejudice?
10) What might Jeffrey have to offer me; and what might I have to offer Jeffrey, if we found more similarities than differences?
I recently took some online tests designed to measure our true attitudes on a number of subjects. For example, the results revealed my “automatic preferences” [i.e., prejudices] for people of different ages, different races, and different political opinions. I prefer white, middle aged, conservative people. Umm, I happen to be white and middle aged and conservative.
Consciously, I thought I was quite an equalitarian. The tests [found at: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/%5D revealed that I was tribal, and suspicious of people outside the tribe. This was the elephant I did not want to see. Who of us after all are ready to admit our prejudices? We of course have an image of ourselves as ethical, fair, and enlightened persons. This is our “feel good” image, and often it is false because we choose to disown our “bad” selves. The tragedy of this closed view is that it prevents true acceptance and connection. It forecloses the possibility of our greatest happiness: to be accepted and loved for who we are, even in our differences. If you will pardon some naïve hyperbole: stepping out of our closed ideas could bring world peace.
The fault lies in our automatic tendency to focus on differences. Cognitively, we look for what is different in a pattern because we form assumptions around those patterns. If the pattern is consistent, our assumptions allow us to function without thought or reflection. This produces an efficient way of getting through a barrage of perceptions that come at us through our day.
These “pattern recognition models” are formed deep within us from childhood, and each pattern carries a host of unexamined core beliefs. If as a child I formed beliefs that African Americans were less intelligent, less motivated, and more inclined to crime, for example, this “pattern recognition model” will operate unconsciously to trigger emotions even as I state consciously, with complete sincerity, that I am not a racially prejudiced person. Our biases are pernicious and nearly intractable, until we do the hard work of deep self-examination. The process begins with recognizing that our biases likely exist subconsciously even as we consciously insist they do not.
Carl Jung advocated that the key to our spiritual healing was to embrace “our dark side.” He saw that this “shadow” caused havoc because it used guerilla tactics to be readmitted to full acceptance in the personality. If we could love the shadow as a neglected part of ourselves needing love, and having richness to offer, the shadow would cease its threatening tactics, and support our journey toward happiness. It would cease to be a “shadow.”
The 139th Psalm is a prayer for the “garbage” of our subconscious to be exposed so that we may rid ourselves of anything that offends our perfect God. Who likes to spread out that garbage we have been bagging away in the basement? Undertaking such a housecleaning takes not just courage, but faith that God is with us, and will not condemn us, if we will just get real about our “good, bad and ugly” thoughts, actions, and feelings.
Verse 1 of the Psalm states: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.” The last two verses state: “Search me O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
This scriptural wisdom anticipated Carl Jung, but suggests an even more effective way of achieving “integration.” We may not feel we have the resources or knowledge needed to either face or embrace our dark side and bring it to healing. The Psalmist correctly places that burden not with himself, but with God. God does not wait for me to “get it right” before offering me love, grace, and acceptance. Likewise, I am not to wait for the “Jeffreys” of my life to be more like me as a condition of loving them. Neither are they to wait for me to become more like them. We are each challenged to journey outside the tribe.
© 2011 FXP