Lived-out lies

About two months ago the drama director at Wheaton Academy asked if I would direct a one-act play for the first-ever International Student production at WA. She sweetened the pot by hiring people to organize props, costumes, and the set. She hired someone to do sound and lights. She gave me a student director. All I had to do was direct.

Spring is by far the craziest season in our family’s year, but I couldn’t turn that down. So for the past five weeks, I’ve made our schedules even crazier with the addition of play practices. Our first performance is this Thursday, so I wrote my intro to the play yesterday. It felt a little like a blog entry, so I’m including it here, with a few revisions.

First, a little about the play. The Lie is a one-act based on a short story by Kurt Vonnegut. The Remenzel family has three members: Dr. Eli Remenzel, a man from a long line of wealth; his wife, Sylvia, who is from a poor background; and their 14-year-old son, also named Eli. When the play opens the Remenzels are on their way to Opening Day at Whitehill School, a prestigious boys’ prep school that was founded by the Remenzel family in the 18th century and has been generously supported by them ever since. Whitehill believes in equality; it takes only young men who pass its entrance examination and it accepts them regardless of their family’s ability to pay. Dr. Remenzel is very, very proud of this and he is excited that his son is carrying on the Remenzel tradition of attending Whitehill.

What Dr. Remenzel does not know is that his son failed the entrance examination for Whitehill. He has been refused admission but is afraid to tell his father this. Eventually, of course, this comes out, but as the young Eli and his parents deal with the consequences of his lie, a bigger lie surfaces. It’s a lie that’s being lived, not just told, by his father. The play ends with young Eli asking his mother, “Does he know?”

“Know what?” she asks.

“That he’s a bigger lier than me.”

Oh! It’s a killer ending.

Despite the play being rather sad, directing it has been a blast. The actors and my student director are incredible. But a play like this makes you think. On opening night, Thursday, I will introduce the play with some of the lessons I’ve learned:

I’ve decided that we are prone to “living lies” a lot more than we think we are. Possibly we do more of this kind of lying than the simple “telling” kind. We live lies every day: when we SAY that something is important to us but our daily lives don’t reflect a striving toward that; when we say we love Jesus but we don’t really study what He says and change our lives to fit His teaching; when we say we love people but we’re willing to gossip about them or ignore them; when we’re willing to adjust our identity based on the people we want to impress.

There’s a verse in I John 1 that talks about this kind of deceit: “So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not practicing the truth.” Practicing the truth is the opposite of living a lie. My natural bent is to live the lie, to do whatever feels most convenient or profitable for me. Living in truth requires practice, and it’s hard.

But we hurt ourselves when we live lies instead of practicing truth. This play shows this so clearly. Every time I’ve watched it, I’ve felt sad because that family is being damaged by this lived-out lie. It’s keeping them from really honest, true relationship with each other.

And sometimes I feel that way—sad and a little hopeless—about myself, too. Half the time I don’t even know I’m living a lie. I don’t even see the ways I hurt people until I’ve already done it. I don’t recognize that I’ve worn a mask to please people.

I’m not alone in this. The psalmist David said, “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?” This makes me think of another verse in I John 1: “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (verse 8). Another version says, “we are deceiving ourselves.”

Summary: Sin lurks in my heart, and my natural bent is to pretend it’s not happening! That’s discouraging!

But unlike the family in The Lie, who seem stuck in this place of deceit and brokenness, I have hope—THE hope: Truth himself.

Just after David wailed, “How can I know?” he asked God to “cleanse him from his hidden faults.” John said that God is faithful to reveal and then forgive and then cleanse us from our sins—from the lies we live. God tells us to come into His light and He will expose our darkness. That’s an uncomfortable idea. I’m usually a lot happier when I think I’m doing okay.

But I don’t want to live like the family in The Lie. I want what God promises, that if we live in His light, we can have this incredible fellowship with each other, we can be continually cleansed and made true by Christ’s blood.

Hallelujah!

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