The Spies Who Love Me

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

I’m a pretty private guy when I’m not a publican. Most people only see the public side of me, which, by definition, needs people in order to be public. I do lots of stuff in front of people. I teach, for one thing. Teaching requires students, otherwise you’re just a person who knows something. But that’s what makes teaching a public deal; you’ve got a teacher and some students. It’s a pretty simple dynamic (1 + more = public) that holds true in other situations too.

Not only do I teach in public, I do other things in public too. I shop for groceries in public, do my power walking routine in public (for which I get laughed at all the time and have even gotten run over by an old retired pastor which was the single factor motivating me to buy a neon green running jacket which I wear religiously even though it makes me look like a moving pickle and draws the attention of all kinds of dorks and limited intelligence types who insist on shouting unintelligible things out their car windows as they pass by), mow my lawn in public, drive my own car in public (sans pickle suit), attend play rehearsals and band concerts in public, and often eat out in public. As a public figure of sorts, I’m often in the proverbial public eye, and, except for occasional psychotic breaks in public protocol, usually act the way you’re supposed to in public.

But when I’m not a publican, I’m a very private person. Privacy is extremely important to me because that’s where I do almost all my private stuff. Privacy means that nobody else can see you or at least nobody can tell what you’re doing. There are lots of things I want to be private about. For example, I hate using public toilets, especially when somebody else is in there (definition of public). I get all uptight and sometimes can’t even get done what I went in there for because of my well-developed sense of privacy concerning personal gastrointestinal maintainance. I also like to take my showers in private. I learned this from four years of high school sports when I had to stand in a multiple-shower room with a gazillion other guys. This was not my idea of fun by a long shot and I’ve refused to take showers in public ever since, even at my athletic club where many of the men are in their 80s and not a threat to my self-esteem. Making faces in the mirror is another thing I only do in private, unless I get caught doing it, which I have a couple of times. Let me tell you, it’s very hard to explain yourself in situations like that.

But maybe the most important thing I do in private is sin. At least I try to sin as privately as possible. If there’s one thing that makes me really uncomfortable it’s trespassing in front of an audience (unless, of course, it’s a group trespass like mob violence, marching band, or certain church services). I prefer to secure the perimeter before committing any number of my favorite crimes and misdemeanors. Being a religious person complicates this process a lot, especially since my deity of choice supposedly sees everything that is done in secret. And since he doesn’t seem to sleep much, he’s pretty much always on guard duty. To offset this rather intrusive divine capability, I have to employ a rather sophisticated form of denial. To complete a “private” misdeed, I must ignore God’s meticulous surveillance. It’s kind of like kids who believe that closing their eyes makes something go away—except, since I know that I’m closing my eyes and it’s still there, I have to ignore the fact that I’m ignoring. This is a tricky situation, and the only thing keeping me from the logical absurdity of an endless regress of ignoring is that I usually finish up the transgression in time to break the proliferating cycles of denial before they spin out of control. After this I generally feel enough sinner’s remorse to bring some moral balance back to the Force.

Making this whole thing even more complicated is that apparently there are a whole bunch of other invisible folks who are watching me too. We’re probably talking angels, demons, and technically-dead-but-not-really-dead saints who all have tickets to my private show. This pretty much blows the whole idea of privacy to smithereens. There I am, making faces in the mirror or committing what I think is some top-secret sin, and all the while I’m performing for a packed house. This revelation makes achieving the necessary denial very difficult at times and often takes a good chunk of the fun out of the trespass to boot. Some religious people might think that this ought to help a person avoid sinning in the first place, but I think it just makes private sinning that much more of a challenge. Not to brag, but my ability to construct, under these oppressive circumstances, a fine and private place for sinning is quite impressive.

You can call it self-deception, if you want. I prefer to think of it as spiritual counter-espionage.

.   .   .

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2 Responses

  1. So, it’s not only Santa who knows if we’ve been naughty or nice. Drats; must mean being good isn’t only a seasonal requirement for getting the good stuff. (No, I’m not pouting, so fork it over St Nick)

  2. hey fred… i found your long lost cousin. ok, ok, he’s catholic, but he hates cell phones and teaches college! and is really really smart. he hangs out on the front porch republic… here’s his latest offering. http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=7617

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