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Posts Tagged ‘On Being’

I first became familiar with Pádraig Ó Tuama and his work through an episode of On Being. The only word I can think of to describe how I felt listening to him was enchanted, in the sense of delight, not magic. Here was someone whose sense of faith and God and reconciliation and love is thoroughly grounded in the messy realities of this world but is also poetic and hope-filled. I heard him at a time when I needed to. I made a note to read his books.

Fast forward a number of months and he came along again, this time when I viewed the Trinity Institute at my church. I listened to him read during the Friday Eucharist and felt a kinship; we’re siblings alright, if we’re children of God, but here was someone who clearly feels as I feel reading in church. He felt the words, loved them, and shared that, which is how I try to read.

Enough already, I thought. Read his books! I got myself In the Shelter and intended it as my Lent reading; then my church had other offerings so I set it aside for Easter, and here I am. I’ve been reading it for a couple of weeks. I finished it this morning and sadly, I accidentally gathered it up with my sheets and washed it. Fortunately it’s a pretty sturdy paperback, and I’m trying to let it dry out. It will want re-reading.

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I’m taking a class called Notes from a Seeker at church, about spiritual writing, and one of our assignments is to read spiritual memoirs. This is that — Pádraig (if he’s my brother, I’m calling him by name) shares in his writing his deep connection to God, a connection he’s had from an early age, one that he hung onto even when he was made to feel  less-than, even to the extreme of undergoing exorcisms and other un-caring treatment by fellow Christians, simply because he is gay.

Yet he also shares his delight in other humans (even when they’re not delightful, even when he’s not delighted with himself) and his love of language. He has a playful way with words (he’s also a poet), and an intellectual way, examining their meaning and exploring their nuances. I love this.

But his meaning is not playful, it’s serious, and he gets to the heart of some of the most challenging things around — otherness, fear, pain, self-loathing, uncertainty. I love this section, where he describes the dilemma of testimony — “the telling of the story of conversion, or re-conversion, of enlightenment or change.” In other words, so much of spiritual writing and talk. People hear this testimony and are impacted, for better or worse, as Pádraig explains:

“Upon whom is the burden of words? I don’t know. I don’t think there is an answer. I cannot dampen gladness because it will burden the unglad. But I cannot proclaim gladness as a promise that will only shackle the already bound. Faith shelters some, and it shadows others. It loosens some, and it binds others. Is this the judgement of the message or the messenger, the one praying or the prayer prayed? I don’t know.

Hello to what we do not know.

What I do know is that it can help to find the words to tell the truth of where you are now. If you can find the courage to name ‘here’ — especially in the place where you do not wish to be — it can help you be there. Instead of resenting another’s words of gladness or pain, it may be possible to hear it as simply another location. They are there and I am here.”

That is how I’ve prayed these last couple of weeks, “I am here.” It’s a contemplative practice anyone, or any faith or none at all can try. Name where you are. Even if you do not wish to be in that place. I can’t explain why, but it’s peaceful.

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I recently heard Nadia Bolz-Weber talking about her memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Sainton the American Public Media program “On Being.” If you aren’t familiar with it, the show is a very interesting look at ethics, ideas, beliefs, the “big questions,” of human existence, which are important in everyday life because they influence the way people interact with each other. As someone who works with the public, it seems very important to my “humanity education” to learn as much as I can about what makes us tick.

Bolz-Weber works with the public too, as a “pastrix” (female pastor). On the surface our jobs may seem vastly different, but they share something important.: public libraries and churches (as well as hospitals) are open to all. You never know on any given day who will come through the door, what experiences have brought them there, or how best to serve them, and that’s a topic of great interest to me.

In her memoir, Bolz-Weber, a recovering addict, stand-up comedian, and refugee from a conservative Christian upbringing, writes about finding that the God her fellow addicts referred to in twelve-step meetings isn’t the one she learned to fear growing up. This God is “a higher power she can do business with,” one whose grace is available to all. When she met her future husband Matthew at “the sacred breeding grounds of tall people” — a volleyball court — she was intrigued to learn he was a seminarian studying to become a Lutheran pastor.

Fast forward a few years and Bolz-Weber herself graduated from seminary and founded The House for All Sinners and Saints, a church “with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination” where “it’s pretty easy to look around on any given Sunday and think, ‘I’m unclear what all these people have in common.'” Her congregation soon includes everyone from transgender teens to a well-known former con artist and strangest of all to Bolz-Weber, khaki clad suburbanites. Kind of like any given day at a public library.

As she describes her work, Bolz-Weber manages to make difficult theological concepts at once relatable, clear, contemporary and profound, and she’s also a great storyteller. Her irreverent but completely open-hearted observations about contemporary American life and faith are smart and provocative. Part memoir, part spiritual autobiography, entirely in-your-face and often funny, Pastrix will open your eyes to the saint and sinner in everyone. The concept of treating everyone with radical hospitality — within boundaries, but assuming an attitude of equal acceptance of all who enter — is a valuable idea for anyone in public service.

Pastrix is my November staff pick at Gibson’s Bookstore.

 

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