Monday, October 12, 2009

When Things Fall Apart: Blogging Through Crisis (Even in Pajamas)

I’ve fallen behind with notices about the many welcome comments that have appeared on this blog in the past two days—most of them in response to my musings on the weekend about the abortion issue and how it’s interplaying now with the health care debate. I’m behind for a number of reasons, including work on a lecture that I’ll be giving tomorrow evening.

The more important reason I’m behind, though, is a personal crisis that has made me slow to blog recently—a soul crisis. It’s, in a sense, a theodicy crisis, a question about where God is in a world in which evil sometimes seems to be definitively unmasked, and then forces that collude with evil step in and put the mask back on. And we’re all supposed to act as if we haven’t seen what’s underneath the mask and go about our business.

I may well blog more directly about this crisis at some point down the road. I almost have to do so, because it presents me with an existential crisis as I blog. I struggle to know what I can say to others that in any way makes sense of the raw data of turbulent experience, when I can’t even make sense of some of my own experiences.

How to talk about hope, faith, solidarity, God, in a world in which evil just keeps on triumphing, or seeming to triumph? What makes the crisis more acute for me is that those colluding to put the mask back on the authority figure that was briefly unmasked are church people, people who wear the cloth, some of them. They include a Methodist bishop and a passel of Methodist pastors, who ought to have sense enough to recognize that the person they keep propping up has done serious damage to a whole string of people, and should be stopped.

Recent events have made it clear that, wherever this person goes, she ends up causing grievous harm to a far from insignificant number of people under her authority, and to the institutions she leads. When I first encountered her and began to work with her, she did not yet have a track record, and so it was difficult to see clearly what was going on with her.

I confess that I supported the person in question for longer than I should have. I gave her the benefit of the doubt even when I found some of her tactics and claims incomprehensible, because she is doubly a minority, and I wanted to assist her as someone who appeared to need the assistance of those who care about prejudice and marginalization. And I assumed that my inability to comprehend had everything to do with my lack of knowledge about what it was like to walk in her shoes, as someone doubly stigmatized.

But now that she has replicated the pattern of abusive leadership at a second institution, and has become even more grossly abusive and destructive in her second position of leadership, I see what I could not see previously. She now has a proven track record. She now has a legacy as a leader, and it’s a horrendous one.

For whatever reasons—perhaps because she simply cannot help herself, as she externalizes some twisted drama in the depths of her own soul—she creates chaos and instability all around her. She leads by dividing, by attacking, by setting one person under her authority against another. Rather than attempting to assure that those she chooses for leadership positions work together and excel at what they do, she undermines them and uses one member of her leadership team as an attack dog to savage others.

She deliberately pits the worst people on her leadership teams against the best, as she singles out those with promise and hounds them out of their positions. She is not above using lies, slander, any tactics of abuse that work, no matter how immoral, to disempower her perceived detractors and to empower incompetent and morally compromised cronies.

And she gets away with this behavior, over and over. She does so, in part, because she’s adroit about playing the race and gender cards when she’s exposed. She tries to turn the tables and make it appear that those who have the goods on her lack credibility, because they are out to get her due to her double minority status.

She also knows how to work power circuits. In her current battles, I happen to know that she has contacted at least two officials at the highest levels of the current federal administration. I would not put it past this person—and I’m not exaggerating as I say this—to contact the president himself and try to secure his assistance in her current battles.

One of the most bizarre claims I have heard her make—and others have heard this as well; it’s talked about fairly widely in the circle of the many folks she has damaged—is that a former U.S. president has targeted her and is responsible for everything that goes wrong with her leadership.

Well, enough of that story. I wanted to sketch its bare bones simply to provide some suggestion of what I’m struggling with these days, as the person in question has appeared to be decisively exposed as not only an incompetent but a corrupt leader, and then has quickly received statements of support from her supervisors, including people in positions of authority in the United Methodist church that sponsors the institution she is leading.

It’s hard to watch something like this. And even harder to understand where God is in a world in which this and many other seemingly evil events transpire. I know full well that my own little struggle and this series of events are far from the worst thing going on in the word. But it happens to be my own little drama right now, the struggle for understanding that most directly engages me right now.

And I have to try to find my way through it, in order to know how to keep on blogging with any sincerity or conviction here.

I've chosen a painting of Teresa of Avila to illustrate this posting because her feast day comes up this week, in the Catholic liturgical calendar. And because Teresa, who apparently had Jewish blood as did her fellow mystic and friend John of the Cross, was comfortable, as the Jewish tradition is, with asking God questions and complaining about God's way of doing things. According to one story, when she was traveling in her busy life of founding Carmels and a donkey dumped her into a river she was crossing, she said to God, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few."

I like Teresa, too, because she danced with her sisters. And because she held onto her frying pan and tried to keep on cooking for her sisters when she went into ecstasy. And because she would get up in the night and sit on the stairs and hold a lighted lantern to help her sisters find their way to the chapel for prayers. And because she prayed in exasperation that God send her fewer mystics and more people interested in scrubbing floors. And because she maintained that the Lord walks among the pots and pans in the kitchen every bit as much as in holy places.