samedi, février 02, 2008

My Intelligencer Journal column Feb 2

Making peace with our imperfection
Intelligencer Journal
Published: Feb 02, 2008 12:01 AM EST
Imagine you were a female priest in a large congregation that has never had a woman serve in that position before.
Knowing that many eyes are on you when you stand at the altar on Sunday mornings and preside at the Eucharist, you want to project confidence and tranquillity as well as reverence and delight.
If you are that woman, it is particularly distressing that on any random Sunday your hands start to shake at the altar rail.
For the past 25 years or so, I have had what is called an "intentional tremor."
While it doesn't seem to be a symptom of something scary, it is unpredictable and aggravated by any number of factors I mostly can't control (I could try going cold turkey on the dark chocolate, but I'll save that for a commentary on gluttony).
Whatever image I want to project, my hands often tell another story, one of anxiety or exhaustion or sugar cravings to which I all to often give in.
I'm not much more of an exhibitionist than the next clergywoman. But I share this bit of my own history to illustrate a wider point.
Christians, particularly conservative ones, often find it very hard to be honest with each other about their frailties.
Commending a humorous self-help book written by a prominent female Christian author, a neighbor confessed that as a child, she was expected to wear a smile in almost all circumstances.
Only now, as an adult, is she finding the freedom to admit that sometimes it's OK to look the way you feel when you are sad or angry or depressed.
It's not that believers don't think they need help — the Web site has page after page of titles like "Becoming Your Best: A Self-Help Guide for Thinking People" and "Building Your Mate's Self-Esteem: HomeBuilders Couples Series."
It is perhaps more true that, until relatively recently, people felt that showing so-called "negative" emotions meant that you hadn't truly known the deep joy that is supposed to come with baptism and the promise that you have been "saved."
But it's not only conservative Christians who have a problem owning up to personal problems.
The idea of "putting on a happy face" — or a stoic one — goes way back in Christian culture. How many Anglican or Roman Catholic martyrs shivered or wept as they went into the flames or were fed to the lions?
Two of my favorite martyrs are a pair of 16th-century English bishops, Nicolas Latimer and Thomas Ridley. Burned at the stake by Queen Mary for their Protestant sympathies, they faced immolation with great courage.
Latimer was quoted as saying to Ridley: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."
Latimer's "play the man" sounds so strange — and so familiar: how many fathers have said this to their sons?
Much as I deeply respect these two heroic men, would I want my son or daughter to emulate their stoicism or the Jesus of the Gospels?
Jesus got angry with the moneychangers in the temple. Jesus, always surrounded by crowds, needed time by himself. Jesus wept in the garden of Gethsemane.
I'm sure there were many other moments in which Jesus expressed his humanity, moments that he sanctified by inhabiting them.
Read Paul's letters to the churches he founded, and you see him express a spectrum of emotions, ranging from joy to anger, grief to hope. "I can do everything through Him who strengthens me," he wrote in Philippians 4:13.
He could — but it didn't always look pretty.
And sometimes, neither do we.
Learning to love our flaws, to see them the way that God does, is one of the great challenges of the Christian life.
But it is only when we start to make peace with imperfection that we are able to put down the masks and allow our true selves to be revealed.
In need.

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