samedi, janvier 27, 2007

Love and change and things we can't untie

This evening the kids and I watched the film version of the A.M. Montgomery classic "Anne of Green Gables." Last week Sian and I saw the play- she was highly surprised to find that she liked it. So much of Anne's character, as revealed in novel and onscreen, reminds me of Sian-my daughter, like Anne, is highly verbal, imaginative, and prone to dramatize herself and her dilemmas in vivid, sometimes overblown language.

At one point in the movie we watched tonight (after our little drama in which Colin inadvertently hit Sian on the head with a pool cue) Anne, about to leave Green Gables to study to be a teacher, reassures Marilla that wherever she is, and whatever happens, she will always be Anne from Green Gables.

Sometimes I wonder... if someone from my past read my blog (as I know they do regularly) or engaged me in theological conversation, if they would still recognize me "Elizabeth of the Episcopal Church."

Looking back now, it seems that for years I was a member of a Christian subculture. Oh, I was a critical one-my acts of rebellion didn't endear me to the hierarchy.

But even at the time, I realized that I really knew very few people who were not Christian. This felt like a failing. It was part of what drove me, in an intellectual sense, to explore the culture of the "emergent church"-the reform movement that aims to help encourage worshipping communities that are less denominational and institutional and more concerned with integrity and vulnerability to the unchurched.

In some small way, my current congregation, St. Matthews, is part of the 'emergent' community . While many members are ex-Roman Catholics, others had no previous religious faith. There is little sense of hieararchy-both pastors act more as facilitators than as parents. Come up with a good idea and it is likely to receive a hearing from Chad or Tina.

My journey to St. Matthews has also been formed by my experience of disappointment with the Episcopal Church, and by my personal sense of betrayal and failure. Almost five years ago I went through an experience that, in retrospect, changed the trajectory of my career, perhaps indelibly. Since that time I have been gradually less and less involved in church circles, with little real desire to return to a prominent position in one. As a result, I am more engaged with people who are not Christian and much more open to hearing their stories.

I am still an openly believing Christian. I still wrestle daily with the paradoxes of being faithful in an American culture that gives lip service to the values of the Gospel. That being said, I find that, at the moment, the narratives I want to hear are those of the men and women who haven't been affected by the New Testament story-who don't find belief important or credible.

At the same time, I miss the discipline of being part of an organic Christian community. I miss the energy and vision and buzz of dedicated people who take their faith seriously. Do I wish that serious Christianity didn't often have that tinge of right wing paranoia and self-righteousness? Heck yes.

And I suspect that many non-believers (many of whom were raised as Christians) are probably also intolerant of what they see as an anti-intellectual movement (in an individualist culture, we fear "movements") on a moral bender. It may be ingrained in us to hang on to our stereotypes, simply because it limits our relationships in a complex world. We all seem to gravitate to subcultures of one type or another.

But I am coming to see, slowly, that to blame the church for being as sin sick as society is to miss the basic idea-it is both into church and culture that Jesus comes-not because He feels more at home in our churches, but because He sees church and culture as equally, and dangerously, ill and in need of redemption.

vendredi, janvier 26, 2007

Monkeys, not dinosaurs

It is a truism that as we get older our opinions harden and we lose the ability to look at different points of view as flexibly as we used to when we were younger and not as set in our ways. It is a truism, but I'm not entirely sure it is true. Perhaps it was so in former generations-but even folks like me, in their forties and fifties, seem to be asking more questions-not only about the world, but about their marriages, their spirituality and their relationships with their children. A lot of the societal structures that rooted previous generations have lost their authority or are being strongly challenged.

There are many indicators that we have evolved into a society in which staying flexible and asking questions is a matter of sheer survival. Personal technologies are changing so fast that if we don't keep up with our kids, we get left way behind. As a middle-class professional, you don't stay, by and large, where your family lives, but move along with your job. American men and women don't feel "less than", for the most part, if they are not or have never been married. They have little respect for politicians in general-though they may like their own representative or senator. In part because of denominational scandals and in part because we are a culture in which individualism is almost idolized, it seems that America is moving into a post-denominational era in which Christians, at least will freely move between churches. As more citizens stay healthy and live longer, they are simply going to have more decisions to make-where to live, where to work, what golf course to favor (grin).

Instability isn't always a bad thing. It can create anxiety. But sometimes it also forces us to stay limber, hungry, ready to engage the big questions of life-the ones that inspire and excite and challenge us to move forward with passion, not zeal.

mercredi, janvier 24, 2007

PS: Try a little tenderness

Colin has a very tender, sensitive way about him-quick to hug, quick to say how he feels, arms wide open to the world's pain and its loveliness. I wonder why we start to lose that as we get older.

I wonder if we really need to let it get scabbed over when we are betrayed or betray, when we walk away or when someone else walks away from us-isn't there a way in which we can stay awake so that we feel it when somebody touches us?

I am particularly alert on this score right now, having had my jaded old spirit brushed by one so unalike and so kindred, someone I never would have chosen as a pal in a million years, and then watching helpless and stunned as he shed the gossamer bonds of friendship to be free of me and the poor gifts I could bring him-loyalty and acceptance and...tenderness.

I wonder why it was so easy for him to walk away-or whether he ever wonders what it would have been like to have stayed.

As though we never say goodbye

I don't know how much of my sense that there is something very special about my son Colin is due to the miracle of his conception, and his recovery from the virus he got from me. Parents who have suffered the agony of having infants in Neonatal Intensive Care never really lose the memory of those frightening hours, or days, or weeks-the trauma of seeing an IV hooked up to your child's still-soft scalp is not something you easily forget. At this point, it doesn't matter, does it? Colin seems to have gotten a little bit of extra gravitas along with the antibiotics that probably saved his life. Although he is now a very tall nine year old, we still have a nighttime tradition-I throw myself on the bed next to him right before he goes to sleep, we pray and then we talk. A few nights ago, we chatted about his friend Stephen's upcoming birthday party. Stephen's your best friend, isn't he? I asked him. Yes, said my son, his voice soft in the darkness. I want to go to the same middle school and high school and college as Stephen. Then we can buy houses next to each other-and our kids can play together while we talk "adult talk." Then Colin said, a matter of fact voice: But Stephen will probably go to a different college, and I'll have nothing but memories. I hugged him a little closer, my tears falling silently in the darkness. Although we moved on to chat about his girlfriends way back in the second grade, my mind was elsewhere. I know that, odds are, he is quite correct. You see the heartache coming, and you can't spare your child the sorrow that lies ahead. Grieving myself for the loss of a friendship I had come to value, I want desperately to protect my son from loss-and know that is almost entirely out of my hands. All I can try to do is give him the tools to help deal with it when it comes.

mardi, janvier 23, 2007

Mud that doesn't stick

At the gym, for obvious reasons, the sound on the televisions is turned off. Good thing. Otherwise the Fox or CNN commentariat would be vying for our attention with ESPN, the one seemingly constant TV presence. Watching TV without listening to a reporter's studiously dispassionate midatlantic tones also means that you lose part of the outrage element inspired by hearing a particularly infuriating story. In this case, it was a CNN investigation of allegations that Illinois Senator Barack Obama, a bright young star in the Democratic firmament, had gone to a madrassa, an Islamic religious school while living in Indonesia as a child. In an ingenious plot twist, this rumor was apparently spread, if not initiated by Republican pond scum, and then attributed to Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign. All this the week after he and Clinton announced they starting up Presidential campaigns. There are lots of things we don't know about Senator Obama. But, at least so far, there's been no reason to doubt his word on most subjects. He's already said that he went to a Muslim school (not a religious school) while living in Indonesia as a child. But Senator Obama is also a professed Christian not shy about talking about his faith-turf which some Republicans apparently think that they own. This attack on Obama smacks of racism as much as Isaiah Washington's comment about his gay colleague smacks of homophobia. Lest someone think I'm slamming Republicans, I'm not. I'm pretty sure that some Democratic strategists who would love to spread slanderous rumors about other candidates...if they thought they'd get away with it. My only question is-does this deserve a strong response by Republicans with integrity-or would be the better response be to ignore it? We can only expect more of this malicious trash as the election gets can't get much more disgusting than this, though.

dimanche, janvier 21, 2007

My sometimes suspect taste in men...or...why not that sweet guy in sales?

"My story is much too sad to be told
Practically everything leaves me totally cold
The only exception I know is the case...
When I'm out on a quiet spree, fighting vainly the old ennui,
And I suddenly turn and see...your fabulous face ....

Some get their kicks from cocaine
I'm sure that if I took even one sniff
It would bore me terrifically too
Yet I get a kick out of you..."

Cole Porter "I get a Kick Out of You"

Maybe I should just blame it on the effect of a steady diet of the suave, brilliant Mr. Porter when I was a kid. Not that he always, at least reportedly, made the happiest choices. But growing up with his music on the piano stand and the stereo may have spoiled me for reasonable, stable, play-it-safe guys for life. Possibly it's because almost nobody on my mother's side of the family made the conventional choice if something or somebody more eccentric was available.

A newly single mom, I've recently started dating again. In the process of casting guys as potential "Mr. Maybe's" I've learned something a bit unsettling about myself. If they were casting for Ms. Sensible, I'd at least have a shot at being "runner-up." But given the chance to seek fellows who stick to the straight and narrow or guys who like to live on that thin line between creative and crazy, I'm pretty predictable. I go for the ones who likes dancing on the edge of the cliff.

Are you right on track with your life's master plan? Telling me you can't wait to get to the Jersey Shore every summer? You say you dream of retiring to Florida...ASAP? We clearly are not a match. But if you came close to flunking out of Harvard, inhaled (doesn't matter what) your way through graduate school, learned French from your mistress, the bosses' wife...hey, babe, I'm all ears. When can we get together to, about Proust and savor madeleines?

Put my back to the wall and I'd have to say that stable guys are a much better bet for a long-term relationship. Aren't those the fellows we depend on when something goes wrong? If I didn't know some strong and able men who can fix a leak, show me how to use my lawn mower, or notice I've got a flat tire, I'd be a basket case.

But its the other ones who stir me up in all kinds of interesting ways-forcing me to think hard, take risks, and generally play outside my comfort zone. I pay the price, though. Hurt feelings, a badly bruised ego, and general incredulity that they weren't willing to give up the pot, or the right-wing politics, or the mistress for me. Then there are those long nights chockfull of tears and deliciously baroque torture fantasies I wish I could share with you.

But, at the moment, I won't...perhaps I can't? have it any other way.

How about you, guys and gals? Are you like me, always singing that Cole Porter classic:

"Why can't you behave? Oh why, can't you behave?".... and loving it when they don't?

"What's the use of wond'ring
If he's good or if he's bad,
Or if you like the way he wears his hat?
Oh, what's the use of wond'ring
If he's good or if he's bad?
He's your feller and you love him,That's all there is to that.
Common sense may tell you That the ending will be sad,
And now's the time to break and run away.
But what's the use of wond'ring
If the ending will be sad?
He's your feller and you love him,There's nothing more to say.
Something made him the way that he is,
Whether he's false or true,
And something gave him the things that are his,
One of those things is you, so
When he wants your kisses,You will give them to the lad,
And anywhere he leads you, you will walk.
And anytime he needs you,You'll go running there like mad.
You're his girl and he's your feller,And all the rest is talk.

Rodgers and Hammerstein, What's the Use of Wonderin' , Carousel