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Friday, December 01, 2006

Seducing The Demon: Writing For My Life

The rumor is that Friday is my day off.

Today, with the exception of about an hour's worth of counseling on the telephone,and a quick run to the church to resolve yet another room dispute, I've somehow managed to come to the end of the day actually feeling as if I've had a proper day off.

It was a gray, rainy, dreadful day in Northern NJ, capped off by a wild evening of weather filled with dire predictions of rain storms with great gusts of wind and even tornadoes. We've had no "twisters" but the wind is strong enough to have blown open the basement window tonight as we watched the evening news.

I've spent most of the day and early evening reading SEDUCING THE DEMON: WRITING FOR MY LIFE by Erica Jong. It was given to me by a member of my congregation - one of my heroes who does an incredible work of ministry: she's a psychiatrist who works with young women with eating disorders. She had attended an event at which Ms. Jong was the speaker and had gotten an autographed copy of her book as a gift for me.

I've been unable to put it down.

You may remember Ms. Jong's book, FEAR OF FLYING which caused a major sensation when it was written in 1973. It was written after, as Ms. Jong writes, "In the days before D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Henry Miller, when writers were not allowed to describe sex, when the road to the bedroom had to be paved with asterisks . . . ."

Thirty years later, my daughters read FEAR OF FLYING and HOW TO SAVE YOUR OWN LIFE and say, "Gesh, what's the big deal, Mom?"

Nothing, I suppose, once the asterisks are removed.

As I've sat sipping my evening tea and considering what I have read, my mind wandered to compare some of what Ms. Jong says about women who write with an email I received from a conservative priest who does not believe in the ordination of women.

I had recently identified him as the clerical deputy who had said, on the floor of General Convention, that we should "hold our nose and vote" for Resolution A161. He protested that I would "never let that go."

He then said that I was "emotionally manipulative" and a "bully."

Not that he regreted ever having said that. Not that he apologized.

Oh, no. To apologize would mean to acknowledge some personal responsibility. I mean, if you have to hold your nose, is the resolution worthy of an affirmative vote?

Gee, do you think his assessment of my writing has ANYTHING to do with his misogyny? If a man had reminded him of his odious comment, he would be considered "forthright" and "effective." A woman is a "bully."

Even so, I promised him that I would not connect his name to that unfortunate statement, and so I haven't. But, I assure you, he knows who he is. And, he'll never apologize.

In writing about poet Sylvia Plath, Jong reminds us of what Muriel Rukeyser once wrote: "If one woman were to tell the truth about her life, the world would split open."

Writing about the modern challenges of being an author, she continues: "We emphasize personality rather than work in our world. One has to be photogenic, unafraid to chatter with idiots on the screen. What on earth would Emily Dickenson have done in the world according to Paris Hilton?

"We scarcely trust the woman who has a public persona and yet publishers demand it to sell books. Charisma is rare yet we want it as a device for PR. What contradictory qualities we demand from writers! Women writers have a particularly hard time because there is no way to be a public woman without being considered a bitch, a whore, or a diva."

Preach it, my sister. Ask any woman who is a priest and has any sort of effective public life.

Just read some of the conservative blogs and the dreadful things they have to say about our Bishop Katharine.

On second thought, never mind. There's nothing edifying about any of it.

I continue to be struck by some of the things she said the commencement speech she gave at CUNY, when she was given her first honorary doctorate. Here, let me share four paragraphs with you . . . but pay close attention to that last one. In place of "having our pockets picked," add the words, "schism in The Episcopal Church."

Why should anyone want to keep you from thinking? There are only a couple of possibilities: to pick your pocket, to cover up something, or to put your life at risk while pretending to protect you.

If Newsweek narrows the range of thought, then clear speaking expands it again. If New Age cant obfuscates truth with fancy verbiage, then puncturing it shows us the hollowness at its core. If political speech is meant to lull you into unconsciousness with ready-made slogans, then clear speech wakes you up.

The labels "right" and "left" are inadequate to explain what people care about, I think. They have become new means of censorship and obfuscation. We shut out truth by saying "right" and "left." Nobody really thinks of herself as right or left. She thinks of herself as a person with complex views.

We face the greatest danger today from orthodoxies with their automatic assumptions. And since the politicians, journalists, advertisers and New Age gurus divide us into right and left, we are lulled into doing it ourselves even though we know our views cannot be neatly bracketed that way. That way leads to foggy thinking and having our pockets picked.

Oh, one last thing: Thank you, Anne. This book made this one of the best days off I've had in a long time.


Jim said...

Rev Elizabeth,

I have never, and the species is better for this, been a woman. I would probably, no definitely, blow it.

I think the courage and grace with which you and your sister priests handle the idiots who demean you and your ministries is an amazing sign of the power of the Spirit. I should still rather not have it.


revsusan said...

I just love you so much, Elizabeth Kaeton.

PS - Best to Barbara!

Deborah Sproule said...

Don't stop sister. Sing it, shout it, dance it and rub their little upturned noses in it. On PB Katharines olive branch of an Alternate Primate Vicar proposal I noted that "miracles come from careful gestation"; to which one upturned nose replied, "well I doubt childbirth has anything to do with PB Schori's politics in the Anglican Communion'. Uh, just a minute...Advent alert. We are waiting for who? Communion through who for whom? Who bore whom from who's seed??? (okay my grammar aint good but you see my analogy of Her and Him I hope). Sad for the men that think all of life, even the spirit of God, is about man made politics. I know better, I carry God within me.