Pride is a Lie
By Marvin Payne

“If something in the deli aisle makes you cry
you know I’ll put my arm around you
and I’ll walk you outside,
through the sliding doors,
why would I mind?”

These words are the creation of a band called The Blow. This band is often associated in people’s minds with a band called The Long-distance Songs, and sometimes a band called The Massive Sifting of Plankton. Annually, these bands are featured at a seaside rock festival in Northern California that’s popularly known as “The Things Whales Do Festival.” I read the rest of the words to the song from which this stanza is taken, and was touched by their tenderness. So touched, in fact, that I clicked on the link that would allow me to listen to the band singing them. And then I became untouched again because, although sweet, the music didn’t, (for me) fully rise to the sublime level of the lyric. In fact, the music just kind of bounced up and down like a pig on a trampoline trying to see over the wall into where the nice words were. (It would be one of those tiny exercise trampolines where you can get up and down pretty quickly-in time with the drums.)

(Meridian Editors: I didn’t get permission to use these song words. But there is no copyright infringement here, because I said I liked the words. ((The copyright laws protect you not because of the friendliness of my opinion, but because attaching any opinion at all to the quoted words constitutes a critical review.)) So relax.)

Here’s how it happened: I googled “parentheses” and these words popped up. That’s because the song is called “Parentheses.” What I was really after was something more like

“Etymology: Late Latin, from Greek, literally, act of inserting, from parentithenai
Date: circa 1550″

(M. E.s: I didn’t ask for permission to quote these words, either. It may raise copyright problems, because I’m not inclined to criticize them, one way or the other. Sorry. Just a heads-up.)

What intrigues me is the late date of this word’s appearance. I mean, how could humans, whose thoughts are like onions, layer upon layer, communicate without parentheses? (They certainly couldn’t write columns for online magazines.) Before the Sixteenth Century, did they just choose one particular layer of an idea and stay there, or what?

Sometimes you have to parenthesize yourself to the center of the onion in order to discover what’s wrong with the outer layers.

I’ve salted these columns with lots of my journal entries, everything from lengthy examinations of something neat my quorum president said (no copyright issues, because I always express high opinions of what my priesthood leaders say) to “My Life According to the Acquisition and Disposition of Various Fretted Instruments” (I’m not going to go into the very real possibility, here, of “My Life According to the Acquisition and Busting of Various Cool Fountain Pens,” because your anticipation would distract you from the main point of this column).

The main point of this column is in a journal entry unlike any of these others. Here ’tis:

14 February 2010

“Pride is a lie.”

That’s all. Kudos for brevity.

Last Friday my wife and I and our three-year-old daughter went to a dance concert down to the BYU. It was our daughter’s first experience in a concert audience, and she actually did pretty well. We went because her big brother, nine, was slated for the closing self-choreographed solo. He rocked the house. (The music was just loud enough that I think that hardly anybody outside our two-thirds of the auditorium heard little Addie shout, “Go, John!”)

A piece of choreography by an older dancer, Lisa Raymond, 17 (I think I have that right), pertains. (No copyright issues here-I don’t know how to quote choreography ((reminds me of a cartoon I saw taped on the office door of a dance teacher at BYU once when I was waiting for another concert to start-there’s this guy in a business suit with his arms and one foot gracefully upraised, and on the other side of the desk the executive sits and says “I’m sorry, Harris, but the language of dance has always eluded me.” (((MAJOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT! ALARM! ALARM! ALARM! Or ((((as Shakespeare would have it)))) “ALARUM!”))) )). )

Her dance was called “The Lie,” and in it she cherished a blue bandana (plain old kind of blue paisley white-bordered bandana that Harley riders wear on their heads ((mainly because the only guys who can afford Harleys anymore are retired executives who are bald and oblivious to the language of dance (((in Deseret Industries the other day I found a mint-condition denim vest with a big leather “Harley-Davidson” logo on the back for six bucks. I’m giving it to my Harley-riding son ((((who understands the language of dance and is abundantly hirsute)))). It’s a surprise-don’t tell him. ((((I sort of hope it doesn’t fit him, though, because I’d wear it even if people laugh when I step out of my little red VW. I don’t care-I play a Martin guitar.)))) ))) )) ).

She held the bandana against her mouth and then waved it about. Then it seemed to hold her when she tried to lay it aside. Then most of the dance was about her trying to rid herself of it and being drawn back to it again and again-and the pain and temptation and betrayal and deterioration of will. It was pretty wrenching. People who tell a lie are slow to see it for the sticky, serpentine ugliness it is.

People who witness the telling of a lie, however, typically see the liar as, at best, ridiculous. The liar who is caught out shrinks in everybody’s eyes. Pity, if we like him. Disgust, if we don’t.

Pride is a lie because we have nothing to be proud about. If we happen to be breathing while we’re accomplishing some marvelous thing, we have God to thank for lending (check it out-lending, not “giving”) us breath from one moment to the next. Father is calling from the edge of the impossible cliff that rises up before us. Christ lowers a ladder and we climb with all our might. Rungs of faith and service, rungs of scripture study, the occasional rung of actual scripture memorization, the thirty-nine rungs of repentance, each representing one of the “R”s, climbing with all our might, mind, etc. Good for us. But without the ladder, all our wonderful works are leaps against the stone face, battering us to a pulp and leaving us in a heap. And this is just the self-righteous stuff we let ourselves be proud of. All the self-everything-else stuff, feeling superior because of our car or our lawn or the notches on our daughter’s lacrosse stick, are battering and bloodying leaps against the wrong cliff. To say otherwise is totally pants-on-fire.

Opposite Pride is Humility, which is nothing more nor less than pure Honesty. It is “seeing things as they really are” (quoting Neal A. Maxwell-no copyright problem, he’d want me to, plus I think he was quoting someone else, maybe Enoch) and living according to what we see. What do we see? Particularly in consequence of the flooding light of the Restoration? God. See God and try to be prideful. Can’t do it. Only one ever did, and he’s suffered ever since. We call him the “father of lies.” Well, it figures. His whole career began with a lie that nobody believed but him-that you could be God without being good.

Like an onion, Pride has layers. On top is the lie that requires that we pretend that God is on vacation, or retired, or has otherwise ceased to be God. Right underneath it is the lie that Pride will deliver what it promises. Isn’t Pride about being Better? Smarter? Richer? More sophisticated, educated, and tasteful? And all of these qualities as a result of our own accomplishments? But the prideful soul can only fool other prideful souls-others who can somehow swallow the same lie about God’s absence or inferiority. The Humble, you remember, see things as they really are-including a unflattering view of us. And they’re usually polite enough not to point out how silly we look. Until they have to, to save our silly necks.

Meanwhile, I’m taking all the comfort I can in the fact that I want everybody to play a Martin and wear a Harley vest.

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