One odd way that we all keep up with the Kardashians is in the extraordinary effort we put into maintaining our own personal “brand”. The reaction of Khloe to recent allegations of drug addiction against her husband, NBA player Lamar Odom, is a Kardashian case in point. In reporting on this newsworthy event (sarcastic sigh), Huff Post speculated as to why Khloe was continuing with business as usual, posting “booty shots” and making no reference to her husband’s problems. They asked, “Is the 29-year-old trying to avoid the harsh reality that her husband is struggling with drug abuse, or is she simply trying to keep up the family’s brand?”
Posturing like a Kardashian
We can all appreciate that Khloe might need some privacy from prying and judgmental eyes because you don’t have to be a Kardashian to want privacy when things go wrong. Who wants to be judged for our mistakes by gleeful critics and gloating rivals? When we err, we tend to hide our errors from others and all too often, from ourselves. We are as desperate to maintain our “brand” – our self-identities as flawless, perfectly good, failure-free paragons of virtue – as if we were the public face of a multi-million empire.
OMG, I posture all the time! I pretend I know stuff when I’m talking to smart people when I don’t have any idea what they are talking about. I just nod knowingly and stay alert in case a joke comes that I’m supposed to be laughing at. I fret about the way my hair flips out in the back, the way my waist is thickening with age day by day, about what to wear to impress others. I’m always trying to project that perfect combination of stylish and fashion indifference. I can’t tell you how much I pretend I don’t care what people think when the truth is, I care desperately. I want more shares on my articles, more glowing comments, more FB likes, more, more, more affirmation. But if you asked me about my social media stats I’d say with all sincerity, “Oh, I don’t really keep track of those things.” And the worst thing is, I half believe the lie myself more than half of the time! It’s so true that the best liars are those who believe their own fabrications. As I love to say, denial is not just a river in Egypt.
What’s terribly tragic about my constant brand-upkeep is that all I’m trying to protect is my own self-image as someone who is smart, young, stylish, and popular. The truth I’m so afraid to face is that I’m only a little smart, no longer young, never was stylish, and about as popular as a hangnail. What if I was hiding from the reality of a husband with an addiction and a marriage on the rocks? I’m afraid to imagine how insanely self-deceptive I would get.
Nadia Bolz-Weber: The Divine Heart Transplant
My new favorite Christian author, Nadia Bolz-Weber, is on to the whole game of pretending to be better than we are. As she put it in a recent interview with Krista Tippett at the 2013 Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, N.C., “Some sectors of Christianity think, well, you’re saved and then you’re good, right? And then you just lead a really nice life and you’re a good person and you’re redeemed.” But doesn’t that launch us into the brand-polishing business with a divine twist? Now we have to posture before God, too, working hard every day to prove our sincerity to God as well as ourselves.
Let’s face it, folks, this is a recipe for failure. Nadia admitted as much. “My experience is of disruption,” she explained, “over and over again, of going along and tripping upon something that I think I know or that I think I’m certain about, and realizing I’m wrong. Or maybe fighting to think I’m right about something over and over and over again until I experience what I call the sort of divine heart transplant … Like God reaching in and pulling out my heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh, like something that was actually warm and beating again.”
As she grew in her faith she discovered that she “was simultaneously sinner and saint,” never one or the other, which turned out to be a big relief! Only when we accept our failures can we stop trying to deceive others, God, and ourselves and relax into what is much more true: that we are big, fat screw-ups who are doing our best but regularly fall short. Hey, we are human and God knows it and for some weird reason, keeps on loving and forgiving us.
James Alison: Relax … Christianity is About Being Loved
Interestingly, Nadia mentioned James Alison in a recent sermon titled, “The Parameters We Prefer for Jesus to Work Under.” James helps us understand that the Christian faith is not about striving to keep up with anyone, but rather it’s about relaxing. As Nadia articulates in her distinctive style, “Alison suggests that faith is trusting so much that God is fond of us that we just fricken relax.”
I’ll close with the wise words of James Alison found in the new DVD curriculum for adults produced with the Raven Foundation called Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice. After explaining that God knows all about our attempts to hide from the unflattering truth that we are variously “liars, fantasists, thieves, self-publicists, manipulators, addicts to phony reputations, to emotional blackmail, deeply self-deceived, muddled and sometimes quite vicious” James says that:
God is “not concerned with how little good we are … For many of us this is a difficult thing to sink into, since… our self-identity as ‘good’ is one of our most sacred idols. It is one of the things that makes us most dangerous to ourselves and others. Which is why it is so difficult for us to be forgiven. Only those people who are not good in their own eyes can allow themselves to be forgiven.” Hopefully we can begin to discover that “being good or bad” is not what Christianity is about. “It’s about being loved.”
God loves us – and Khloe and Lamar – just the way we are. Can you believe it?