I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of satirizing my experiences in various church denominations. I chronicled them in a memoir. Many people contacted me who had experienced the same frustration or trauma. There was a kind of camaraderie: comparing our wounds, knowing we are not alone, hoping that there was (and there is, by the way) a way out and forward into a real experience of God, your warts and all.
But occasionally I wonder if I’ve enjoyed it just a bit too much: my social commentary, the confirmation of my own ideas, all at the expense of other people or groups. Of course, I always frame it around an exposé of my own bullshit. But still…
I’m at The Glen Workshop this week. (An amazing place for artists. No time to explain; just go.) I was sitting at dinner, talking with a new acquaintance. He too is a veteran of the church wars. We lamented our common wounds, laughed at our common observations of bullshit. My friend Sam, whom I’ve known for many years, was sitting across from us, quiet.
I looked at Sam. “You’ve heard my diatribe one too many times. I apologize.”
Sam laughed and replied, “I enjoy it every time. It never gets old.”
Even if he meant it, I doubted it. Nothing will bring contrition faster than the silence of a non-gossiper.
A half our later we sat in a worship service. Father Richard Rohr named the very thing I was feeling uneasy about. He noted that people form groups more quickly around what they’re against, than what they’re for. He called it “Victim Chic:” finding superiority in your hurt. “I’m better than you because you hurt me.” He then talked about Saint Francis, who brought reform to the Catholic church. Francis didn’t waste time in an argument of words against the church as it was. He went out and practiced humility, poverty, and serving the poor. “He just went out and did it better,” Rohr said.
Maybe there’s a place for social commentary and calling something for what it is… But how little time i’ve spent just going out and doing it better.
The poet Scott Cairns came up and shared. Scott is a cunning jokester, getting you to laugh at the beginning (like the intro to his Idiot Psalm 1. “A psalm of Isaak, accompanied by Jew’s harp) , then slaying you with truth. Scott read this, and I haven’t recovered.
POSSIBLE ANSWERS TO PRAYER
By Scott Cairns
Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,
relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.
Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.
Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.
Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—
these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.