mercredi, août 14, 2013

Faith, miracles and the 'Mystery Priest": better at the end than at the beginning

By now many of you have read about the man in the black shirt and white collar (not a black collar, as some reported with a hint of eeriness) who showed up at a terrible accident in Missouri this month.

He appeared, prayed and anointed the young victim, Katie Lentz, and then apparently disappeared as quietly as he had come. When emergency personnel and police tried to identify the be-collared one, he could not be found in any of the pictures taken at the scene.

I admit it. As I read this story, days after it happened, I got a little emotional.  What a great parable, not to mention a hugely feel-good story. God really does work in extremely mysterious ways, and, in a world starved for miracles, it's lovely to see one happen.

Besides, the fellow was, let;s admit it, right out of the clergy office of central casting (and you didn't know we had one?).

But it turned out this week that the mystery priest has a name: it's Dowling.  Fr. Patrick Dowling to me and you.

Here's a paragraph from the CNN version:

The priest said there really wasn't any mystery to it, and he told a deputy before he left who he was. He took no credit for saving Lentz's life. He credited that to the calm of two highway patrol officers and a rescue team that worked "harmoniously."

I'm guessing that some readers were a little disappointed that the ethereal visitor of our fantasies turned out to have flesh and blood. I know I was, a little bit. 

But then I began to think of the occasions on which I have walked into a situation and, whether garbed in black or not, offered to pray with someone.  It happened last spring, when rangers were searching for a runaway in a local Chester County Park.

Clad in shorts and an old t-shirt, I surely didn't look like a member of the clergy (plus, inconveniently for some, I'm female).

I confess that having those initials at the end of my title helps give me a bit more confidence.

Our culture, increasingly, might view clergy as cultural rather than religious figures -- more and more Americans are growing up without any faith at all. 

That doesn't obviate our need for prayer.  Proclaiming and challenging, serving and praying, clergy still have a role to play.

But the larger lesson of this story isn't about what it means to be a priest at an accident scene. It's about how God can use all of us. 

In a way, Fr. Dowling was doing what any one of us, whether collared or not,  would (or should) have done in that situation. 

He saw a need.

 He stopped.  

He asked God for help.

There is nothing mysterious about that.

The only puzzling thing is why more of us, including myself, don't do it more often.

lundi, août 12, 2013

S....f guys say online...and what it might be saying about us

"You are a very beautiful woman."

Uhh hunh.

I thanked him.  While I'm not buying the KoolAid, one of my rules online is: be polite when someone compliments you.

Whether in the dating arena, basement-dwellers commenting on a blog post, or just everyday communication, online communication can bring out the savage in us.  Sometimes you have to bold your messages in the opposite direction, just to make the point that you are not succumbing to the roller-derby rink atmosphere of the Internet. .

He says he's a lawyer for a major Democratic organization (of course, this was all Weiner, all the time week online, so perhaps...). He's fortysomething,  educated, divorced, more than passably goodlooking. His profile showed no overt evidence of any kind of pathology.

  Of course, online, where appearance is everything, any of these factors could turn out  to be false.

We have a desultory conversation, slightly tinged with flirtatiousness on his part (but not enough to drive me away).   As uncomfortable as I am with the disembodied flirtations that go on online, I try to remain in neutral as long as I can.

 Then he disappeared.  Sometimes that's what happens - often that's what happens. Though to the other person it may feel as if you've just walked out on an unfinished conversation, asynchronous communication is just like that.

I remind myself that no one said this would be easy. As a highly educated middle-aged woman, I am in a minority in the dating circus.  Heck, if Anne Lamott has trouble finding the right guy, my case must be even more challenging.

We're all intelligent in different ways, right? You don't have to have a degree to be smart about things that totally befuddle me, like changing a tire, learning German, or painting without splattering.

Thus is it that  I often find myself imagining sitting on the back of a Harley, helmeted and holding on for dear life as my guy careens down Route 100. What price too big to pay for love? Then I wake up, wipe the sweat off my face, and return to my celibate life.

The fact is (guilty on all counts), I'll talk to almost anyone -- not because I think I can date them (they may be in D.C., or North Carolina, or Boston), but because I want to know what motivates them, makes them tick, gets them out of bed in the morning.  My curiosity about other people's lives is profound and apparently unquenchable.

But I digress.

A few days later, my lawyer pal (every lawyer I've ever chatted with online has been a complete freaking lunatic, by the way, so I should know better), contacted me again.

"Where are you going?" he asked me.  I'm on my way to an appointment, I told him, fully cognizant that this might not be an innocent question.

But I still wasn't prepared for what came next.

"Get back into bed," he said (by the way, it's now around 11:30 a.m., r u kidding? ) "I want  you so aroused that you can't see straight" (I already wear contact lenses, thanks a lot).  He asked me for my phone number.

I gasped. I giggled.  Then I made the mistake of asking him ( I ask a lot of questions) why someone with all of his material and educational advantages would spend his time simulating sex.

Let's just say that he took that as encouragement. He was in LA, he said, and "aware of me" (this, to me, was the creepiest element of the conversation.)

Signing off fast, I deleted the chat, and made sure that he couldn't contact me again. To be honest, I try not to get into a contest of insults. It's pretty easy to find me. It's pretty easy to find. YOU.

As I sit in front of my computer, this conversation behind me, it seems, well, hilarious. But it didn't feel that way at the time. I felt disappointed that once more, a guy who could have been a decent person had turned out to be, frankly, worse than a cad.

The most salacious the approach, the more I push back (unless I have met someone, and like him -- even then, I don't go all Danielle Steele on them).

And yet, I wonder whether the beast in us isn't as real as the man or woman of honor. Is it possible that the  sometimes rank opportunism of the internet (which can be revealed in so many ways other than sexual) allows for us to flash our true selves before we clothe them for more public consumption?

These private conversations (or conversations about privates) allow us the simulacra of intimacy without, it appears, a high price. I don't happen to believe that there is no price.  I know I paid one.  And yet I find my fascinated by that intersection where darkness and light bleed into each other, and wondering what takes people deep into such risky places. While I have no desire to voyage there myself, I wonder what takes someone to that place where they must compartmentalize even their desires.

Are you keeping a facet of your life secret?  What are you hiding, perhaps even from yourself?

I wonder, whether, if some other opportunist contacts me, I will keep myself  from asking the questions. I can honestly say that I don't know.  There's always something new to be learned -- even when, like Lady Macbeth, I have to keep washing my hands for days afterwards.

dimanche, août 11, 2013

Gay marriage -- a local point of view

My column for the Lancaster papers on how pastors and other leaders are grappling with the American public's upward trending support for gay marriage. One, the Rev. Geoff Kohler, is talking about our sexuality -- and our humanity.