Monday, May 31, 2010

The Flesh

I remember back when I was in graduate school and part of a Navigator training center that we would go through these quirky fads. One was our greeting. During a spring conference our most hard-core staff man (Rambo for Jesus-type), Nick, challenged us to hold each other accountable for our ministries.

So, for about a year or two, our greetings went like this, “Hey bro . . . where’s your ministry?” The answer would come back something like, “Freshmen guys in Hagan Residence Hall and God is really blessing it.” We could always brag as much as we wanted as long as we threw in “God is really blessing it.” Speaking of which, the way that we said goodbye was simply, “Blessing!” No one knew what the hell that meant but

it sounded cool . . . no . . . more like spiritual.

Anyway, I went to the coffee shop this morning and read about 6 chapters in my new book, The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler. I had never heard of the book before Saturday morning when I went to the used book store and told the owner that I was working my way through the top 100 English novels. Fortunately she had the list on the wall.

I worked down the list. I was happy to see that I had finished about 20 so far (I know, a long ways to go). But of the ones that I had not read, she did not have most of them. Then I stumbled on # 12.

Fortunately my copy of the book has a long introduction, including a quick biography of the writer. It is interesting that he, like Joyce, Cohen and several others, started their lives in a strict religious family (all Christian but Cohen, who was Jewish), and then couldn’t

take it anymore. Then they let their creativity win out over their devotion to God. In other words, each had a serious disillusionment with organized religion (if not God Himself). Isn’t it a sad thing when you have to choose between creativity and your faith? It makes no sense as God was the prime creator who bestowed into all the natural act of creating. You can’t put a group of people anywhere without them immediately starting to create something. We are all creators, with a small c.

These days I don’t even pretend to “have a ministry” but if I did, it would be to the disillusioned. I say this for several reasons. My heart is with them to start with. I mean, I really feel grief over the 5 families and many other singles who slipped out the back door of our small church and vanished over the past few years.

I also feel a connection with the disillusioned. It is in the same way that a breast cancer survivor can instantly hit it off with other women who have experienced the same. I know their pain.

But my “ministry” is more like being a medical specialist of sexually transmitted diseases in a Victorian or Taliban village. My heart is for those whose fate is taboo . . . too taboo to speak of outside their own heads. They can’t talk about their doubts or their deep family troubles.

I know that I lack gifts in developing relationships, but I’ve tried many times to talk to people, whom I know are struggling in this way. But the unspoken mandate, at least in our part of the woods, is to hide it to the very end . . . then slip out the back door quietly. I’ve tried two approaches, 1) asking them personal questions and 2) sharing honestly and deeply about my own faults. Neither has worked except to give them the impression that I’m wacko and they must avoid me at every chance.

I know that I’m jumping around but these things are connected.

After a hike this afternoon, and thinking about these great artist feeling that they have to give up their creativity for their faith, I came home and pulled up HUG’s (aka Headless Unicorn Guy) story . . . Conversation with a Dying Unicorn. I read it months ago, before I read A Tale of Two Cities and before I obsessed with the French Revolution. I read it again and it made even more sense. Maybe HUG will post it so you can read it for your self. It is beautifully crafted. (sorry about the plagiarism with the photo).

Speaking of writing (and how HUG and I both try this trade, he better than I) I got a brief little e-mail this afternoon that an article, which I had written for an international medical journal, was accepted for publication. It wasn’t a research or academic type of article but a narrative.

So here is the great dichotomy. I have never, ever been able to persuade a publisher or agent even to look at my (book) writing, and I’ve been at this for 20 years. However, this will be the thirtieth (or more) articles I’ve had published in national journals. I’ve never had one rejected in their finality. For example, this article was rejected in its original form for political reasons (meaning that I had given too strong of opinion). So I simply cut out two sentences and mended the hole created in their absence and . . . presto it is accepted. It has always been so easy. I would continue to write articles but it pays about 65 cents per hour (when you include all the drafts and thought). Anyway, that is the great mystery. On one hand I feel like the singer on American Idol whom everyone, but himself, is laughing at . . . but then on the other hand, I fell this encouragement to keep trying when these articles are accepted without question.

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