A famous Orthodox priest came to Portland last weekend. I won’t give his name because I couldn’t attend his presentation, and so this is not really about him, but about why I don’t like to go to hear religious speakers anymore.
My friends and I — the Fabulous Crones — gathered Sunday afternoon for coffee and conversation, and two of them had gone to hear the presentation. The Famous Priest spoke Friday evening and then again all day Saturday. My fellow Crones were unimpressed.
They thought perhaps he was tired, but then we got down to it. He spent three hours Saturday morning talking about his family — six kids, perfect wife, perfect dog, etc. (actually, they didn’t say he mentioned his perfect wife or perfect dog, but I got the idea). I was glad I hadn’t gone.
There should be a sign over the door of such retreats: Do not enter unless your children are under age 11 and your life is otherwise perfect.
“Oh,” Famous Priest would protest, “but my life isn’t perfect. Just last week, I stubbed my toe and uttered the ‘s’ word. And my wife isn’t perfect. Just last month she discovered a dust bunny under the piano. And of course child 1 didn’t get his scholarship to Harvard so he’s going to have to settle for Stanford; child 2 came back at 10:05 from a date last evening, and child 3 missed a homework assignment last year.
“So you see,” Famous Priest continues, “we’ve got enough problems and sins to keep us humble, but of course we gather as a family and pray 45 minutes three times a day, just something simple you understand, and then we all relax as children 1 and 2 entertain us with light Bach pieces on the piano and violin as child 3 works on paintings for his upcoming art show.”
I don’t begrudge Famous Priest — or anybody else — his perfect life; in fact, I would wish it for everybody. But not being from Planet Perfect, i have a hard time relating to the effervescent assumption that I could move to Planet Perfect if only I had the right amout of optimism and discipline and spirituality and good character and wisdom and . . . . In other words, if only I were someone else, someone from Planet Perfect.
It’s a recipe for despair.
Bring me a speaker to talk about “Orthodoxy for Losers, Freaks and Failures,” someone who understand that Orthodox kids do meth, leave the church, sneak out at night, get sick, run away, get into car accidents; that Orthodox adults bring their own sins and gaps to their relationships and make things worse trying hard to make them better, hurt people deeply in ways that can’t be corrected, zig when they should have zagged, and take on tasks that they’re not qualified to handle, because all the better-qualified people are too busy and too wise to take the risk; that marriages break apart for good and bad reasons, that teen-aged girls cut themselves, and grown-ups live with the emotional and physical scars of past hurts and injuries.
Bring me one Orthodox speaker who is a loser, freak or failure to tell us people from Planet Loser about how to built our spiritual lives. I don’t know what such a retreat leader would say, but I’d sure like to find out.
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