Even a heretic…

Last night I found myself in a committee meeting. I don’t really know why I was there, and possibly the other committee members were wondering the same thing. I’m not good in committees. I keep having opinions. Sitting on an organizing committee is sort of like working in an office, something else I’m not very good at. Maybe lots of writers are like this — we don’t really play well with others, and thus, are suited to the long, long hours of solitude it takes to be a writer. I am, on the other hand, a really great interview. Oh, you want to hire me, you long to hire me, you are convinced that hiring me will make your daily life so much better, and so you do. And then, three months later, you wonder what madness possessed you. Great interview. Not such a great employee. But, for better or worse, that’s who I am. And as I grow older, I am learning to accept that and not be too hard on myself.

Instead, I try to contribute what I can, in ways for which I’m suited. For example, don’t ask me to organize the church Christmas party, but if you’re looking for someone to serve the tea and cupcakes to the old ladies, I’m your girl! In fact, one of my most cherished memories is working with a group of other women in our church kitchen, preparing hot meals for people who wouldn’t otherwise have anything to eat that night. I loved the chatter, the smell of roasting chicken, the way we’d all pitch in with these simple tasks — cut the bread, butter it, fill the salad containers and arrange the carrot sticks, place a nice, hot, plump piece of chicken on every plate. I grew to love these women, who laughed and swapped stories while we worked, and often listened to each others sorrows, and passed out hugs alongside the gravy. The perfect place for me. But Lord, please don’t ask me to sit on the organizing committee and deal with the personal agendas and egos and all that. I am not, my Best Beloved will tell you, a patient person.

Still, every once in a while, against my better judgment, I find myself in a committee meeting. Such was the case last night. There was someone there, bless him, who I happen to like quite a lot, but with whom I disagree on just about everything, theologically speaking. Part of the problem is that I happen to think he’s entitled to his opinion, whereas he doesn’t think I’m entitled to mine — or rather, I can have my wacky ideas if I want, but I’m wrong, and probably damned.

In an effort at compromise and conciliation, I told a personal story — one I’ve told in this blog under the title “An Inconvenient Faith” about a strange, wonderful, and inexplicable experience of the sacred I once had, that illustrated, I hoped the mysterious ways of The Ineffable, and open the possibility that perhaps “God” is larger than any of us can comprehend. Well, it didn’t quite accomplish what I’d hoped. On the contrary, I was met with such contempt and derision that I went home in tears.

It reminded me of a cartoon I saw once, in which two people, a man and a woman, are being burned at the stake in a field over which is a scoreboard-like sign says: “Today’s Heretics: Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” A priest and a purple-robed bishop stand nearby and a large crowd is gathered. Flames lick at the logs beneath the couple, and the man turns to the woman and says, “What pisses me off the most about all this is that I used to enjoy church barbecues.”

When I arrived home, My Best Beloved, who is the most supportive and protective of humans, let me blither and blubber on for a while, and then we talked about whether or not I was too emotionally honest, and that maybe I should learn to edit, and thereby protect myself a bit more. I certainly thought it was something to consider.

Then, as I went to shut off my computer for the night I found an email waiting for me, from a woman I’ve never met. This is what she said, referring to a post I’d put up on the website of a college where I teach: “One day, you were trying to encourage another student who was thinking of dropping out. I was bowled over by the level of emotional honesty in your response.” And she went on to say she was encouraged to keep on writing.

Well, well. Isn’t it odd.

Affirmation comes in the strangest places, and at the least expected times, but it just goes to show you, that you never know what seeds you’re planting out there, or what fruits will grow as a result. Sometimes, even when it feels like you’re getting the crap slapped out of you, it could very well be that something wonderful will result. Still, I think I may be a bit more cautious about the people with whom I’m emotionally honest. Even a heretic (perhaps especially so), has to be careful about whom she lets into her temenos.

And, on another, rather less soppy note, a friend of mine (thanks to Merilyn Simonds) sent me a link to a talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert on Ted.com, a website that provides videos of talks on all sorts of marvelous and intriguing things. This particular video is terrific. As the website states: Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk. I highly recommend it.

Yours, “The Happy Heretic.” Hey, maybe that will be my new pen name.

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