Sunday, March 14, 2010

Taller Structure, Bigger Shadow - The Politician, Part II

Now 3/4 finished with "The Politician", I am struck by this reality:

even as John Edwards is closing in on a bid for the presidency, even as he is expanding maximum effort to achieve this incredible goal, he is vigorously feeding the beast that will devour him. Why?

Why did John Edwards work so hard on destroying his own hopes at the same time he was doing all he could to realize them? Why do so many of us do the same?

One of the reasons, I am thinking, can be captured in the phrase: "the taller the structure, the bigger the shadow". Yes, this explains at least some of what is going on with the man who would be President - and there is a lesson there for all of us.

The shadow or shadow self is a notion popularized by pioneering Psychologist Carl Jung, who wrote:

"Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected."

The shadow consists of the unclaimed parts of ourselves -- the parts of our personality, behaviors, desires, insecurities, sins and vulnerabilities that we cannot bear to own. As a result, we repress them, ignore them, and leave them to grow in silence like the black mold inside a wall. Finally, one day, these unclaimed parts of ourselves begin to attach to the people or things that will eventually make them plain to the world.

It seems that the larger your public image and the greater your opportunity to influence others (the taller the structure), the less likely it is that you will want to face the things that lie in your own shadow. Our refusal to claim these things and subject them to the light sets us up for the empowerment of two versions of ourselves -- each operating independently of the other. When they meet at last, it can be humiliating, explosive and contradictory. But, if coaxed into the light by grace, there can be a tremendous amount of healing, redemption and deep reassurance that we are truly loved "as is".

In the evangelical world, we have a growing number of stories of those who have come to encounter their shadow selves too late -- both King David and Ted Haggard come to mind. And yet, if anything, our faith - if it is truly biblical - should not strengthen the repression and disconnection that empowers our shadow. "If we walk in the light," John writes, "as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ, God's son, cleanses us from all sin". But, in speaking of the shadow in his own way, the Apostle also goes on to warn: "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (I John 1: 7, 8). And so, it seems, we meet Jesus, one another and even our true selves only when we do so "in the light".

"Edwards should have been more accountable", we might say and, indeed, he should. My observation, however, is that what is sometimes called "accountability" is only another form of repression and self-deceit that does not allow us to truly face the parts of ourselves of which we are ashamed. Accountability (as it is commonly practiced) may be good, but it will not bring wholeness and integration if we only wind up hiding from the light rather than courageously walking in it: "confess your sins (faults) to one another, and pray for each other, that you may be healed", James writes. Indeed.

There is a cautionary tale in the story of John Edwards. Imagine how his life and family, and the lives of many others around him, would be different had he chosen to deal differently with the growing disconnect in his life. But doing so requires some very unique kinds of relationships with God, a few trustworthy friends, and ourselves. Such relationships enable enough humility, vulnerability and honesty that we can claim what lies hidden in our shadow and expose it to the light. Sadly, high flyers risk much in developing such relationships and in keeping them intact while the wheels of achievement spin. But, as Edwards reminds us, they risk far more if they don't.

(Coming soon: More thoughts inspired by "The Politician")

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