The Manger and Our False Beliefs
One of the best ways to learn more about your own culture is to go live within the context of another. I never had a greater growth spurt in my own understanding of American social mores and beliefs than when I spent time overseas.
For example, in some countries they actually have to teach the children to ask “How are you?” and to respond: “I’m fine” when they are learning English. This is a funny thing to them. What does that really mean?
What does the question AND the response mean?
When you ask them how they are doing you will not get “fine”. You will hear about how they are doing. They assume that if we are asking we really want to know.
What an interesting idea.
But, you don’t have to move across the ocean to gain a cross-cultural understanding of the foundational, albeit false, beliefs that we tend to stand on.
The manger scene will be more than enough.
There are many, many theories and techniques applied in counseling. Therapists and counselors tend to choose to use a couple of theories that match their understanding of human beings and their own personalities. One very popular theory is Cognitive Behavioral Theory. In simple terms, this theory teaches that our BEHAVIORS follow our COGNITIONS (or thoughts). So, the therapist works at helping a person confront and change false thoughts…also known as false beliefs…holding to the idea that once those thoughts and beliefs (cognitions) are changed, unwanted behavior will follow.
Here’s the problem with CBT. How many of us KNOW in our heads what is right, but still have the darndest time changing our behaviors…and feelings. If not done well, CBT can ignore a very strong and persuasive part of the “cognition leads to behavior” pattern: emotional experiences.
That is why some of the oldest “enemies” of CBT, proponents of the various theories of “depth work” such as Object Relations, argue that you cannot simply change false beliefs and hope for LASTING change. False beliefs will reemerge without a corrective experience.
There has to be a “corrective” emotional experience.
Come on. You’ve had one of those before…a corrective emotional experience. I write about it in the post, Emails, Apologies, and Corrective Experiences. It’s when, based on past relational patterns, you expect for a person to respond in one way, but instead they respond in another.
It is almost like the ultimate emotional cross-cultural experience. The kind of experience that helps you suddenly SEE what kind of relational culture you have been living in for what it is. It is liberating.
It sets you free.
Sometimes, as a culture we develop our own “false beliefs”, or cognitions. These false beliefs impact our behavior. But, it takes more than reading new information to really make a lasting change.
We need a corrective, emotional, cross-cultural, life-changing experience.
Again, the manger scene…let’s see how it confronts some of our cultural beliefs and offers a corrective, emotional experience.
The manger scene is THE cross-cultural experience.
False belief #1: What you see is what you get
We tend to believe that what we see is truth. We see someone behave in a certain way that we think means one thing and we believe what we see without stopping to wonder if more is going on.
So much emphasis is put on what we see with our eyes. The media and market capitalizes on this false premise. And, we tend to fall for it every time.
At the manger scene we see a poor family with a mother giving birth to her first child among animals.
A family of little consequence…right? That is what we see. You and I have the privilege of knowing that is not what we get.
Over and over again, Jesus goes against this cultural false belief.
What you see is so rarely what you get.
Jesus, from the beginning calls us to “come and see” (John chapter 1)…really see. Seeing with Jesus requires time and understanding…relationship.
False Belief #2: If you’re rich or successful you’ve done something right
A false belief that seems to get passed around, often unspoken, in our capitalistic, market driven culture is that if you have money or are successful you are “blessed”…you have done something right and God is pleased.
There are plenty of wealthy people in the bible who pleased God and there are just as many who did not. Likewise, there are many poor people God chose to bless and use even if their pockets never grew larger.
Jesus’ earthly family was poor.
For some reason this truth hit me the other day. Our Lord started in what we would likely consider poverty. His parents apparently arrived in Bethlehem alone with no caravan and ended up as migrant workers, refugees in Egypt after they were warned of Herod’s intent. Jesus spent the precious young, formative years of his life as the child of transient workers.
There are many warnings about wealth and the pursuit of riches in the bible. I do not think God is opposed to wealth. He wants to use it for His kingdom in appropriate ways at appropriate times.
However, I do think that our culture forgets that God does not favor the high in status.
He chose to send His only son into the world through the context of poverty.
False Belief #3: If you do what you’re supposed to do everything will be ok
Jesus begins to counter this belief from the very beginning. Although Galatians teaches us that we will “reap what we sew”, that does not mean that life will be “fair” on earth. Jesus is humble, good, and all things pure from the beginning…from his first moments in the manger. Yet, we know that He will see a gruesome death. Jesus does everything right, but still faces loneliness, His own tears and mourning, rejection from his peers, torture, and an unbearably painful death.
Of course, the story does not end there. There IS victory, but only after great hardship. Even for Jesus, doing everything “right” does not mean avoiding hard times. Very hard times.
Sometimes we can see people going through hard times and falsely believe that it must mean they aren’t doing something “right”.
I wonder if anyone thought that about Jesus when he was being beaten in Jerusalem.
These false beliefs influence how we behave…how we see and treat one another and ourselves. I am sure you could come up with many more. It is time we have a corrective emotional experience at the manger…time to confront our false beliefs about what is good, what is right, what is worthy.
It is time to remember we still serve a Savior who was born in a manger, which counters many false beliefs in our culture, but is also time we spend some time with the Savior Himself…it is in that relationship we will find the greatest corrective emotional experience along with the Truth that counters every false belief “that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
As I read this blog aloud to myself and my husband, I begin to have these feelings run all over my being….it wasn’t too long ago I experienced an eye opening comment by someone I really respected and loved. It was in that one comment that I lost all of that respect. As the end of the blog states, ‘it is in that relationship we will find the greatest corrective emotional experience along with the “TRUTH” that counters every false belief “that sets itself up against the knowledge of God!!” I now believe I asked the wrong person for the ‘knowlege’, instead of following what God had laid on my heart.(which in the end, I followed God).
The Bible gives clear warning about leaders leading their people off on the wrong direction and giving counsel that doesn’t sit with God’s word. I won’t say that I am surprised to find out that God has given this person a “corrective emotional experience” as in the way of foreclosure on their home. I guess I could have used that same comment she gave me to ask, “what got the person in need in his situation to begin with”? I don’t ever remember Jesus asking anyone that question and therefore why should I ?
Dear Emily Elizabeth Stone, thank you ever so much for such a thought provoking article. For the greater part I agree with what you have written, especially with regard to many of our heretofore unchallenged cultural assumptions. Yet something niggles me concerning the scene of the Nativity and the popular wisdom of ‘what you see is what you get.’ On the surface, and as a devout Christian, I accept that the Christ child of Bethlehem is infinitely more than meets the eye, and yet he is precisely what we get from what we see. We accept as Christians that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was truly God and truly man; fully human. It strikes me as theologically important that this Jesus be the weak, poor and insignificant messiah – for it is only in this manner that he is able to experience the deepest depths of the human condition; brought to beautiful fruition in his solidarity with the poor.
Great piece of writing. I look forward to reading more. God bless.
Homophilosophicus, Dublin, Ireland.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts…and for taking time to read! I truly understand what you are saying here. Reading it from this perspective makes a great deal of sense and I think Jesus is both a case of “what we see is what we get”, which is a beautiful, pure thing and I think He is way more than what a person could have seen in this small family on the day of His birth. It is a case of “both…and” rather than “either…or”, which is exactly what God offers to us over and over again. We so often want the boxes…the either, or…the black or white…but, He calls us to see the tensions, to stand in the middle…to see the “both…and”…the “already…not yet”. Thank you again for sharing! I so love the dialogue.
Indeed, Emily, I do believe this to be the case. The power of having a messiah who was born, lived and died in the most humble of conditions opens up for us an endless scope in Theology and the Church for participation with the humble and the powerless. I shall read more of your musings – if you don’t mind.