Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Happily Ever After

We have company at the moment, and this means that my 3-year-old daughter has been booted out of her bedroom and is now occupying the lower half of my 8-year-old son’s bunk beds. (She is thrilled about this, I might add—it is a special treat to be welcomed into Big Brother’s sanctum.)

In a rare show of filial tenderness, my son offered to tell her a bedtime story last night. He chose Rumplestiltskin.

I sat in the dark and listened to him tell this story of a braggart father, a ruthless king, and a hapless young woman at the mercy of the men in her life.

(For those of you who might have forgotten, here’s the story.)

What fascinated me was my son’s ending of the story… “and the King and the Queen lived happily ever after.”

How could that be, I wondered?

How could you live happily ever after with a man who had threatened—not once, but three times—to kill you if you didn’t accomplish the impossible before breakfast?

I also wondered what the girl would do if/when the treasury got a little low on change, and the king popped round with a “Darling, we’re running out of money again. I need you to spin some more straw into gold.” What happens when you can’t repeat the impossible?

I think I need to have a discussion with my kids about the meaning of “happily ever after.”

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Cross Around My Neck

Like many Christians, I wear a cross around my neck. But unlike some of my neighbors, I try hard to keep it hidden.

Part of it is that I don’t believe in waving my religion in people’s faces. A cross around your neck gives people an easy way to “tag” you and put you in a cubbyhole. Here in the American South, it will also tend to mark you as having a certain set of evangelical/fundamentalist beliefs about God and Jesus---and will make your neighbors who hold those beliefs all too comfortable that you are of like mind.

Partly, I keep that cross hidden to discipline myself. I get far too much pleasure from shocking the hell out of those folks when I tell them that I think gays and lesbians ought to be priests and ought to be able to get married in the church. I think Jesus enjoyed shocking people, but he was God, and I’m thinking God can get away with a bit more of that than I can. It’s not loving on my part---it’s anger and self-righteousness mixed up with some schadenfreude. I can get a real charge out of seeing the dismay on their faces when they realize I’m one of those people.

I also keep my cross hidden because there are days that I would be ashamed for anyone to know that I call myself a Christian.

Actually, I don’t mention my faith very often. There is a wonderful story---which is probably not true---about the writer Maya Angelou’s response to a man who introduced himself to her as a Christian. She is reported to have looked at him in mild surprise and said “Already?”

I take the lesson of that story to heart, whether it’s true or not.

So, anyway, I keep that cross tucked down inside my shirt because it represents what and who I am called to be---and so often fail to live up to. I don’t want the lady at the return counter at Home Depot to know that I claim a religious affiliation, because what would my pissed-off attitude convey about Christ’s influence in my life?

I don’t want my children to be reminded that I claim to follow Jesus, because how then could I justify my failure to be kind and patient with them?

So why do I wear that cross around my neck? I keep it hidden, for good reasons and base ones, but I never take it off. Because I hope against hope that it will remind me to be the person God wants me to be. Because I’m superstitious, and I feel better with it on. Because it reminds me what love---Real Love---will do for other people.

That’s a pretty heavy burden to carry around your neck. Good thing I can tuck it inside my collar---where it lies pretty lightly on my heart.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Real Live Holy People

I have a crush on Real Live Preacher.

Oh, it’s not the kind of thing that would endanger my marriage or give RLP’s wife cause to be nervous if I were ever to visit their church. It’s the kind of crush you get when someone is smart, and good, and holy. It’s not so much that you have a romantic attraction---it’s that the person inspires you and makes you want to be a better person yourself. You can’t help but love someone who does that for you.

I’ve got a number of people like that in my life---though most are more “real” than RLP. There’s my friend, Prisca, who radiates the Holy Spirit. She’s only in her twenties, and I thought you had to be a lot older than that to be holy. But she prays a lot, and that probably explains everything.

Then there’s my grandmother, Katherine. If you looked up the word “selfless” in the dictionary, you’d probably find her picture. She’s never been much of a churchgoer, but if ever anyone embodied Jesus’ admonition to serve others, she does.

Lisa, the priest who brought me in to the Episcopal church, is another one. Lisa’s unwavering support for the marginalized in our church led me to believe that God could welcome me---weakest of all believers---back into the fold. I enjoyed just sitting in the same room with her, because she gave off these waves of love and peace.

My friend, Kelly, who is a single parent with a serious medical condition, can still find the time and energy to laugh and cry with people whose problems are much less serious than her own. And when you ask her how she’s doing, she always answers “Fabulous!” because she has decided that every day she wakes up is a good one.

None of these people would describe themselves as holy, and the ones I know in real life would scoff at the label. I'm pretty sure RLP would too. But holy is in the eye of the beholder, and I reserve the right to call them as I see them.

Real Live Holy People make you want to do better and be better. For people of faith, they point the way to God, because they embody Divine Love in the here and now.

I remember that RLP wrote about wanting to take his shoes off when he saw that Love manifested by a member of his congregation.

I often get that feeling reading his writing, or talking with my friends. Being in their presence is a prayer itself. They remind me that God is love and love is why we’re here.

Maybe we all manifest holiness when we dare to love others. I hope so, anyway. That would mean that, some day, someone might see something holy in me.


Almighty God, Father of all mercies...... we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.