Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Dangers of Distance

"What do you mean you don't hate?" Sister's eyes flashed as she moved down the room. This very outspoken Dominican nun had been stirring up a group of Episcopal clergy for hours, and with each move she took us closer and closer to the dark places within, the places we clergy find it hardest to admit even exist within our God washed souls. Like a sixty something Beatrice, she was helping us navigate a treacherous, but liberating, path. She was taking us past our assumptions and accommodations, past the pious personas imposed upon us by our parishioners, past the good children our parents had raised us to be, all the way down to the flashpoint of our ministries. where the full, flesh and blood, flawed and wonderful human beings that we were might emerge from their vestments, the real people that Jesus loved and called. She stopped and smiled at Father Matt. "Are you sure there's nothing you hate? What makes you so special?"

There was a pause. Matt melted into gentleness, the real gentleness that was the Matt we all knew. "No, I realize you think I should hate, and perhaps I might, but I really don't hate anyone," he answered quietly. "Disagree sometimes, certainly, but hate? I think hate might be a litle too strong."

"Are you sure?” Sister paused again. “Jesus hated. Are you trying to tell me that you are better than Jesus?"

"No,” (laugh) “but -- "

"But what?"

The room began to soften into confusion, into clearings of throat and semi-sentences. Hate is a red flag kind of word in the world of the enlightened church and civil society. Sister admitted this, but as she didn't inhabit civil society, it mattered little to her. Red flags waved in her world and she was determined to name them. She wanted nothing less than the truth that sets us free. I began to get where she was taking us. So I took pity (or so I thought) upon my friends and spoke up. "I'm not afraid to tell you that I hate things. I hate it that we're at war in Iraq. I hate it that people are driving SUVs and stealing their children's fuel. I hate it that our president has the emotional age of a two year old. I hate it that we’re destroying this beautiful earth."

"Fine," she said curtly. "But there’s something missing. You haven’t mentioned yourself once. I want to hear about YOU. Who wounded YOU when you were very small and made all this hatred possible?" Again she paused as if silence were just as essential to her message as words. "All of us have a primal wound. We will spend the rest of our lives trying to come to terms with it."

At the root of all stories, say the wise ones, perhaps one of their reasons for being, is the need to explore conflict. Stories expose wounds so impossible and so unfair that only telling can heal them. But like Father Matt, they are usually soft spoken at the beginning, a mere flutter of words as small as a dropped handkerchief or a visit from a wise relation. But the action builds like the hurricane that started with a butterfly in the Sahara, until they are embracing the impossible through a community of characters whose diverse voices give the impossible breadth and depth. I think this may have been where Joseph Campbell was coming from when he made my favorite statement, "Myth is public dream and dream is private myth." Joseph Campbell loved stories and he told them all the time and in public. I think he believed that somehow, if we could get away from the kind of history whose facts we memorize and which solidifies in our brains, and begin instead to tell tales about the past to one another again, we might be able to invite the old gods to the table. Maybe, with that kind of help, we might at last get over the technological barbarism into which our divided age seems to have descended. Maybe, the old ones hint, I would be less grateful for what I have if I understood the true cost of its power.

“What do you mean you don’t hate?” Sister asked. “If you don't embrace who you are, who’s going to do your dirty work for you?”

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