Thursday, April 3, 2008

Souled Out

People talk about God as though doing so is easy, self-evident.

I talk about God that way.

But here’s the problem. To communicate with humans, God must reveal Godself to us in a way that we can understand, receive, appropriate.

Which means that any language about a God who reveals Godself to us in this way is inevitably tinged (tainted?) with human discourse, human insights, human words. It can’t be otherwise.

All talk about God has dirty human fingerprints smudged all over it. Dirty not because being human is sordid. Dirty because being dirty is the human condition. As Wendell Berry says, humans are earth lifted up a little while.

We seldom advert to the fact that all of our God-talk is smudged with human fingerprints.

It behooves us to do so. We’d have far fewer pretensions, in the name of God, far fewer sweeping claims to represent God, if we kept in mind the limitations of all of our God-talk.

The other horn of the dilemma re: language about God is that God truly is beyond all we can say—beyond human ken. Human discourse about God should always reserve, someplace within it, the recognition that God is actually beyond speech.

But a God who is totally Other, who is not as we are—whose very definition is alterity—cannot reveal Godself to us in any way that makes sense, unless God does so by adverting to human categories of reception.

Speech claiming to represent, capture, speak for God, must always subvert itself, if it is faithful to its origination point outside human ken.

Maybe those mystics are right, who say that cessation of human chatter as we near God is the wisest path.

In a way, it’s the same with trying to talk about oneself. The human heart is deep beyond all understanding—beyond even our own understanding. We try to grasp “our”selves—in dreams, for example (and perhaps preeminently)—and “the” self slips, slides, eludes all grasp.

For me, blogging about my pilgrimage thus becomes well-nigh impossible. It is so because I inevitably have to talk about myself, about my life experiences, the insights derived from those experiences.

I have made a covenant with myself to speak as Audre Lorde decided to speak when she faced her incurable cancer: with fearless willingness to say as I see.

I fail daily at keeping covenant. I’m not sure I can ever reach the depths Lorde reached.

If I did, the truths I tell would be something like Emily Dickinson’s definition of how we know when we have encountered a good poem: it takes the top of our heads off. Transformative truth, truth that makes a difference, is that kind of truth. We know we have met it, that it has come inside our doors, when we have that experience in its presence.

I do not live with such truth. I do not meet it. I seldom find it.

Writing about myself is ultimately boring, because I am a bore.

One truth about myself is that I am a failure. I don’t want to face or tell that truth.

I’m reaching old age and do not even have a job, gainful employment. I don’t have health coverage because I’m not employed and live in the U.S. I can’t afford that coverage.

Hence I don’t take good care of myself, of my health.

And yet I can’t blame any external factors for my unwillingness to exert myself and do a better job of caring for myself. I’m lazy. I’m tired. I have turned out, in the end, to be what I’ve been told I am: an old queer who can’t hold down a job.

This sounds self-indulgent. It is self-indulgent. On the other hand, it’s how I feel at a deep level these days, as both Steve and I struggle to recover from what happened to us last year in Florida—to find any kind of work possible, but also work we can actually do. My mother used to speak of how even digging ditches is good work if done honorably. (I have no idea why ditch-digging was her symbol of the lowliest labor possible for a man—a relic of the mythological Ur-memory of her Irish mother, perhaps?)

I don’t think I would be a good ditch-digger. I’m rather old and broken down, and wasn’t much of a dab hand at manual labor even in my better days.

I want to own my own responsibility for all my failings. Commitment to my covenant of telling unvarnished truth in this blog demands that I do so.

At the same time (again, the slipperiness of trying to find an angle to understand self and speak about what we so glibly call ourselves), as E.J. Dionne points out throughout his new book Souled Out, there’s no way to talk about family values without talking about the harm done to human families—the ravages to human psyches and lives—produced by unemployment and lack of health coverage.

One feels worthless. One feels worthless perhaps because one is worthless. But that feeling of worthlessness is definitely compounded when one is able to work and cannot find work commensurate with one’s abilities. One feels worthless when one is consistently shuffled to the bottom of the deck in the workplace, and the reason seems to be clear: one’s humanity is judged less deserving of full recognition than that of one’s “normal” peers.

Perhaps the cruelest thing my boss-friend at my last job did to me was to give my enemies cause to rejoice over me. Now they can say so easily that the fault is not with a system that relegates gay human beings to subhuman status. The fault is with Lindsey himself.

I say that this was cruel for my friend to do because she knew our stories intimately. We had shared them with her. She knew the damage she was doing to us, when she discarded us. Before firing me, she told me, unbidden, “I do not throw people away.” Which suggested to me that the recognition that she was doing so in our case was definitely in her heart and mind as she deliberated about what she was about to do . . . .

Enough of this plaintive meditation. It is framed by concern about a family member who is direly ill. These post-Easter days have been hard enough because of that alone. And talking and thinking about myself is grotesque, when people face serious illness.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

An addendum, four hours after I "penned" the above: I've just read on Towleroad blog that NPR reported yesterday the Justice Department is investigating the possibility that U.S. Attorney Leslie Hagen was fired because of rumors she is a lesbian. The firing happened as the Department became ever more politicized under Attorney General Gonzales.

Thankfully, Hagen at least had written evaluations of her work prior to her firing. These were all outstanding. Given these, the question is why she was fired after Gonzales's senior counsel Monica Goodling took a particular interest in her work. Insiders privy to conversations that occurred with Goodling state that the rumors of Hagen's supposed sexual orientation came up in conversations with Goodling prior to Hagen's firing.

It does happen. Still. It's shameful. But it happens.

It ruins lives. But it happens.

And the churches are silent. The churches actually egg it on. The churches undermine the solidity of gay relationships and gay families and then accuse gay human beings of unable to form solid relationships and healthy families.

It's grotesque. It's very hard to live one's way through, around, with any dignity.

It's particularly hard for any of us who still retain some shred of affiliation to the spiritual and social justice goals of the churches.

Towleroad links to the following NPR story:


--- said...

Tell it all.
Tell it well.
You tell it better than most.
And you tell it with truth, a truth that touches the GodSelf, the I-Self, the Heart.

Continue to tell...

colkoch said...

I second the first comment Bill. You tell it well. You tell it all. You tell it much better than most. Keep telling it.

William D. Lindsey said...

Thank you, colkoch and dear reader. It humbles me to know someone hears.

I don't mean to sound doleful. Wrote out of the depths following a sleepless night. It is definitely not easy to see those you love suffer as serious illness enters the family circle.

Definitely a time to think of others and not myself--and yet upheavals in one's life circumstances due to injustice have the effect of making it harder to reach out to others, when you have to scramble to get along where you've been placed.

I'll keep looking for and speaking the truth I find along the way, with your encouragement.

butterfly said...

I would also like to write to encourage you to continue to tell, and you do tell it well and better than most.

I am out of work too. It is not an easy place to be, but here I am again. I have been fired or quit simply for the reason that people have disliked me, for no other reason than they choose to dislike. People don't like honest or sincere people who do such a great job that it might mean to them I was a threat to their job security. Since I'm the new person they'll accuse me of something wrong to humiliate me in front of the boss to try to discredit me. It is a game I've seen over and over again. They don't like "foreigners". I've been bullied around in the workplace so many times and in so many ways and the last job I had I finally said enough is enough, told the boss I would not put up with "abuse" and slammed the door behind me.

The boss who was abusive would accuse me of doing something wrong, when it was the boss who had done the wrong. When I stood up for myself, very politely, I was told I had a bad attitude. I just can't seem to win.

At another job someone had a fit of "desk rage" against me and no one in the office came to my defense. There was no excuse for such behavior in the office, nor did I warrant it. As a matter of fact, I was told by the boss that they were "hoping this person would just leave," because she was a real trouble-maker and did the work poorly and complained non-stop about everything. It's a long story, but I seem to wind up at jobs in which I am the battering ram for all types of rage or jealousy in one form or another. I'm the nice person that people like to pick on, a weak link I guess that they can yank on. They hate me for all sorts of reasons: because I'm pretty, married, a Catholic, the new kid on the block, can do a good job, am quiet, forgiving, helpful, have a house, a car, good health, a nice son. Instead of being happy for me, they would rather beat me down and see me unhappy like them. I can imagine Jesus must have felt the way I have when being confronted by His adversaries and condemned for doing nothing wrong.

There is a terrible breakdown in communication in the "age of communication" that we live in. There are misinterpretations of scriptures, theology, religion, people, you name it. People are taking sides and we have been discarded by the world.

But, we are not discarded. Christ divides. I think we are witnessing a harvest and the wheat is being separated from the weeds. We are last, but we will one day be first. I have to believe that is true and have hope that one day we shall overcome.

I find it very difficult to even apply for another job at this point. The thought makes me cringe with dismay of having to go through another interview process and prove myself at another new place. I could write a book about the different types of interviews I've gone on that were just plain ridiculous. Jobs that I was clearly able to perform I was told was not qualified. Jobs that entailed a great deal of sweat to perform were not offering enough money. Questions posed were fishing for my age, marital status, you name it, in very deceptive ways that one could not even prove. Since they surmised by my answers that I was wise, that was enough to disqualify me.

Sometimes I'll blame myself and say things like "I should be more humble." I've done that and found being humble seems to only invite more abuse in the working world, at least where I have been. If your not a loud mouth, politically correct in their opinion, not a gossiper, not "normal" it seems they love to walk all over you.

Other times I will excuse or just try to ignore their rotten behavior just so I'll have a peaceful day at work without incident. I've tried and tried and to no avail. Here I am again, out of work. It seems the only jobs available now are scraping the bottom of the barrel type of jobs that no one else wants or no one can put up with anymore so they quit. I've become very astute at weeding out those types of jobs on the boards, so there is really nothing left to choose from in this faltering and failing economy.

I am not sure what I am going to do. I am so tired too Bill. Very tired is the feeling. Tired of the games and the sick attitudes. Tired of paying bills just before the date of the shut off service to electricity and gas for heat, water. I used to be so excited about taking on a new job with more responsibilities. I just feel no excitement for it anymore and they are not offering the kind of money they should. The greed is so rampant, down to the small business people who find we are so replaceable and so expendable and by law can fire for no reason at all.

I am sorry if this is sour news, but it is the news of the world that I am in as far as work is concerned. If I could sing and play the guitar or play the piano for a living I would, but that always goes on the back-burner as a hobby because of the need for immediate cash flow. I have to just leave it all up to God at this point & pray that God will take me to a good job that won't destroy my spirit or my soul and leave me all "souled out."

William D. Lindsey said...

Butterfly, I'm just now seeing your response, which somehow didn't come through to me last night in an email alert. Maybe the storms we had here interfered with our email.

I hate so much to hear of your struggles. The world is full of too many such stories. It often seems to me that the workplace is premised on unacknowledged rules of social Darwinism that make us little more than barbarians, in how we treat one another.

In such Darwinian workplaces (and Darwinian societies), the gifts we all lose--and, ironically, need most of all to be a more humane society--are gifts of quiet, strong insight, gentleness, sensitivity.

I'm sorry the assault on you as a person has been so persistent that you feel beaten down. I do understand, believe me.

I appreciate the encouragement to keep writing. I try to remember that, by writing, and by calling inhumane systems to accountability for their actions, I may be giving voice to many others beside myself.