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.

Daring to be Hetero

I shook the hair out of my eyes now and then while on the treadmill at the Y last night and watched a few pundits opining about how Senator Obama had the wind at his back-he's got the fabled 'mo. Actually one of them said he'd won a few daily news cycles recently. The press-such a bunch of cynics (grin).

Many Americans are desperate for change. Across generational lines, they seem to crave someone who won't keep reverting to the politics of polarity. It's fascinating to me that we potentially have a match between a middle-aged multicultural who inspires us to be optimistic in the face of tremendous national problems and an older war hero with a reputation for candor. McCain's doesn't quite have the credentials to back up the credit he gets for iconoclasm, but he's certainly not a garden variety Republican.

In proposing we look for solutions together, and don't get hooked by the problem, Obama is cer a welcome change. To me, anyway. For years I've been harping on precisely this point in my commentaries-I'm surprised my editors still publish them. :-)

I began to wonder, as I conned myself into another half mile on the 'mill, what would happen if a few Protestant denominations, like the Presbyterians and Lutherans, applied the same lens to religious disputes. Of course, that would take some daring. And creativity. After all, it has the potential to lead to heterodoxy-and you know how they feel about THAT!

jeudi, janvier 31, 2008


Today, in sore need of some humor after some plans fell apart, I bought a book by Christopher Moore. He is the writer of the very irreverent, very funny "Lamb." For Christians, "Lamb" poses the conundrum: is it sinful to find a "memoir" by a so-called childhood friend of Jesus so damned funny?

Ah, you can see it has already had an effect on me!

Moore is wonderfully funny. His perspective on life in general straddles that thin line between ironic and satiric-but it is also empathetic and insightful.

I'm eager to find out what he has to say about whales.

And I also wonder why many of us become so much less imaginative as we get older. What is so frightening about fantasy? Why don't we treasure that inner life? How do we become more open to seeing the world through the looking glass?

mercredi, janvier 30, 2008


Let's get over the Camelot syndrome.

It's really intriguing that Caroline Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy endorsed Senator Barack Obama.

I was moved by reading Caroline's editorial in the Times. Those of us who were young when JFK was killed, and remember the hope young Robert Kennedy brought to a nation divided )for a few brief months) may feel a sentimental tug.

That being said, why does it matter?

The Kennedy decades of charisma and prominence seems pretty much over.

People under 45 don't remember when the family was in the press constantly. They certainly aren't nostalgic for JFK's Camelot. It's an era that was more complex than it looked-and sadder. Why would we want to return?

I wonder if the nostalgia was mostly about the baby boomer members of the press corps-journalists, as I know from my own experience, are romantics-who have been mugged.


I had a potential suitor (an old fashioned word completely inappropriate in this case) write me yesterday. His message? I sounded like fun (if he only knew). But because he was so busy, would I want to have a purely physical relationship?

I wrote him back, and said that while he had the wrong woman, I knew of swinger communities in his area who might be more his cup of tea. Somehow I doubt I'll hear from him again.

Now, this isn't some young dude, driven by hormones and biological wiring to scatter his seed among the females of the tribe. That of course, raises the provocative question of whether we are mostly impelled by wiring, or become more spiritual-or whether perhaps some of us are just more spiritually and emotionally intelligent than others. Or....

I would think at age 50, you would want a little more than couplings in hotel rooms, Blackberry pinging next to the bed, suit jacket at the ready for the next meeting. But people have reasons for the decisions they make-which I find fascinating.

What he is looking for and what's in his portrait (which I read with care after his email) are so different. I suspect he'd do better on craigslist or one of the alternative lifestyle websites.

As I got ready to go to bed last night I thought about what he was missing. Why would you wall yourself off from the self-knowledge, the humor, and the unexpected blessings that real intimacy brings? What can be more "fun" than that?

mardi, janvier 29, 2008

Staying open

I don't like...

People who drive environmentally toxic, huge, ostentatious SUVs-except that I happen to have good friends who do.

Men with a passion for golf-but the guys with whom I was friends before I knew about the golfing get a pass.

Sugar-free anything-except when it tastes good.

See where I'm going?

As we get older, we start making generalizations about what we like and don't like. Eventually, they become traits that define us-which is really unfortunate. Sometimes theses biases are driven by common sense.

Other times, unfortunately, our likes and dislikes are founded on fear, or prejudice, or the desire to define ourselve against somebody who makes us uneasy...

When we are young, we mock older folks who have gotten rigid and "stuck" in the past, and cannot hear opposing views. But we don't always see the stultifying effect that prejudice has on our lives-or what we might be missing.