Adventures in Hypocrisy
by workingclass artist, Sun Mar 23, 2008 at 09:02:48 AM EDT
One of the most unexpected results of stumbling though middle age is what I like to call adventures in hypocrisy. Hypocrisy as defined by Webster's ( a beaten up copy from college that is always close at hand )... Hypocrisy- The professing of publicly approved qualities,beliefs, or feelings that one does not really possess. I'm new to the internet community and often have to rely on my daughter to help me with this marvelous and baffling tool. The idea of engaging in meaningful and often funny dialogue about politics and other things has been liberating. One of the greatest gifts of this volatile election cycle for me has been confronting and re-evaluating thoughts and beliefs that I certainly thought I had settled. Sometimes being slapped in the face by another adolescent piece of myself at my age, makes me want jump under the bed in embarassment. I take solace in constantly remembering two things. These are Socrates and the character of Archie Bunker. I happen to believe that if Socrates had been alive in the 1970's, All in the Family would have been his favorite show. The most famous artifact we have to remember the great philosopher is the principal he willingly died for. " The unexamined life is not worth living "
This was the fundamental principal by which he lived and taught. Socrates was the epitome of a classic liberal, always uncertain and sceptical of those who were. He would have delighted in watching Bunker stumble through a constant assault on the fallacies of his ignorance and bigotry. Bunker is forced to confront his defense of opinions and beliefs that inhibit the human spirit. The genius of the show was how we all get to identify with watching a certain man realize that nothing is as he thought it was, and that people are much more complicated than the comfortable stereotypes that are the foundation of bigotry. Bunker needs these people as we all do to continue to grow in mind and spirit. The examined life cannot be examined alone, and often I am humbled in front of witnesses, particularly my daughter. I have often had to confront my " Inner Bunker ", that toddler who lives inside me that is often bewildered and embarrassed by having to grow up and learn. Confronting my "Inner Bunker", especially when I thought it was gone, or wished it was quiet has been often searing and funny. Sometimes the things that come out of my mouth are truly astonishing in their ignorance, and the greatest road to humility and enlightenment is not contemplating my navel and pondering the universe. The quickest road to enlightenment is to have an astute companion, or witness if you like, especially effective if I'm working hard to seem impressive and all knowing. This is what has prompted me to write these diaries, as I take comfort in Socrates' simple and wonderfully effective design; that of the dialogue.
Obama's political campaign has challenged me once again to examine the comfy chair of liberalism that had once again had begun to suffocate me with the comfortable and certain atrophy of self satisfaction. Once again I'm in the thick soup of my own ignorance and or liberal smugness, as I was certain I had solved that tricky issue or answred another difficult question. Hypocrisy is really one of the easiest sins to overcome. The antidote is simple, and it is honest reflection. Hurts like hell sometimes, but the beauty of mid life reflection is surrendering to the inevitiblity of it. The distance that mid life allows when examining life and how I do my life is a remarkable tool. Finally I understand so much better the elders of my youth and have more compassion for the young coming after. Obama has dragged me into the issues of race and prejudice and although I don't like being kicked out of my comfy chair; I've decided that it's good for me even if like medicine it does'nt taste good. My daughter and I have been talking alot about prejudice as she completes her journey through high school. She challenges my "Inner Bunker" because she often is quicker to recognize it than I am. She has a brilliant method that she has honed since a toddler. She simply does that Socratic thing and asks "Why? and How come ", and it is my answres that she challenges, not because she is disagreeable, but because she is learning and has been encouraged by her liberal mom to do the Socratic thing.
I am reflecting on my own experiences with prejudice throughout my life. Those prejudices I suffered under and those I suffered onto others. Today, on Easter I'm wrestling again with the faith and church of my child hood. I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church during the turbulent time of the second vatican council of the 1960's. What I remember the most about it is that one sunday I went to church with a kleenex pinned to my head ( I was forever losing my chaplet ) and gasped because the mass was being said in english and the priest was facing the congregation. I looked at my mother as she sat quietly looking so beautiful in her lace mantilla, and I looked at my father who kept all six of us kids in line with just a clearing of his throat, and niether one of them could give me a clue. Dad was leafing through the new english missalet with a baffled expression on his face. My father born and schooled in the church was, like most cathoics fluent in Latin. My mother who converted independently was like most converts, more devout than many of us born into it and fluent in what was called church latin. Dad looked a little lost, while Mom was her usual serene self. One of the things I liked about church was that for an hour every sunday, my mother appeared serene and beautiful and this was a miracle for a young mother of six children. We were a handful. For an hour each sunday, we went to a beautiful church, with the awsome magical sing sog of the latin and the mysterious communion, bells and at High Holy Days the incense.
There was standing, kneeling and sitting. There was the thumping of the breast which my mother always did so gently and with deep meaning, the crossings, and for a child the comfort of the saints as they peered down form the stained glass and the icons. There was the crucifix, carried in by the altar boys in procession with the priest and the Chalice, there was the beautiful and ornate holy scriptures, the offerings and the bells and incense smoking out of it's golden chamber swung on a chain. The Priest wore the most vivid and beautiful robes that were heavily embroidered on the back as before Vatican II, his back was to the congrgation for most of the mass. He would lead us into prayer before the altar and only he and the altar boys were allowed to approach the altar that was a massive elevated platform and giant table resting against the wall under the giant crucifix of Christ suffering on the cross. Often during the latin mass, the old folks would spend most of the mass kneeling as they prayed silently while gently fingering their rosaries. Often these were folks who like my Catholic grandparents went to mass several times a week, not just on sundays and if they missed confession or had been to another mass that week, would simply kneel and say the rosary as the rest of the congregation recieved communion. This was the church I was born into and Vatican II took a while to take root. Each change would sorta explode on a given sundy and then months would be spent trying to stumble our way towards understanding and trying to get used to it. Innovation often happens this way in entrenched institutions. First it would happen in the mass and then trickle it's way through the customs and eventually the sunday schools, which we called catechism.
I think the hardest for my Dad was the loss of the latin and the grating and often just plain awful substitution of hymns. There was one hymn that my faher forbade us to sing, it was so bad. If we felt particularly mischievious we wold sing a verse loudly in unison and delight in the unmistakable suffering of the man. Anyone who went to mass during this time surely remembers "Sons of God", which aside from the awful tune had a refrain that my father said was so crass and stupid it reduced the holy eucharistic communion into making us sound like a bunch of cannibals. He hated the steady incursion of guitars and tamborines and what he called third rate hacks and off key warblers. He missed the choir and the sing song latin. I think the hardest for my mom was the customs, some of which are so ingained that she has never given them up. You can always find catholics like us by the gestures done at certain times throughout the mass and the praying. What I miss most is the beautiful lace mantilla that framed my mothers face as beautifully as the Holy Virgin Mother's face to my childish heart. My father quit going to church and practicing Catholicism by the time I was ten. My mother still went but had stopped forcing us to go. I was allowed to choose if I wanted to get confirmed, and after growing up with the exagerrated childish scare stories of the infamous bishops slap, I thought I'd take a lucky pass. I became one of the many Catholics of my generation who are the products of the confusion and upheavals of those times.
As I grew up, I encountered baffling anti-catholic prejudice from people of all religions. I've been called a pagan, and my friend Elizabeth gave me a thorough introduction to the spanish inquisition at the age of thirteen. She was Jewish and I felt so ashamed at the crimes of my church I was angry and afraid. I had'nt been to sunday school in three years and besides, sunday school was for studying the catechism, not the bloody history of the church. Another friend who was Lutheran gave me a thorough introduction to the corruption of the popes and the paganism, what with all those idols and saints and candles. A Baptist could'nt understand why we worshipped the Mother of God and why we did'nt read the bible. Other protestant friends railed against the tyranny of the Pope and could'nt understand how any American would fall for that infallibility crap. By the time I was fifteen, I was ashamed of being a Catholic. When I went to my mother so that she would reassure me that these were all lies, I recieved no such comfort. It was all true. Inquisition,Crusades,Heresy,Wars,Forced Conversions,Papal Corruption,Oppression, Schisms and Fanaticism. In short the whole long and bloody history of Western Civilization after Christ in intricately bound to the history of the beautiful church I grew up in. Hard stuff for a teenager to swallow much less understand.
I remember two important things my mother told me that have stayed with me throughout my battles with God and the Church. It was the first time I ever doubted my all knowing and wise mother. After she acknowledged that most of these things ( although often distorted or incomplete without context as adolescent certainties often are ) that my friends had told me were true and I asked her if she knew of these things before she converted. She said she did. She then explained to me that the Church was more than it's history, more than it's popes,nuns and priests, just as it was more than the house we celebrate mass in. She told me that for her the Church gave her the most profound answres to the questions of her soul. She explained her faith and why the practice of it fulfilled her. She had a certainty and authority that was based on a continual examination of experience. For my mother, the Church despite it's history and controversy was the best comfort she could find in the celebration of the mass and the keeping of the sacraments. It was in this church she had found closness with God and his people. She also told me that I would always have my struggles with God and this church, that this was part of being Catholic and an intelligent human being exercising free will. She told me that this was how faith grows in any religion, the constant questions and the seeking of answers.
As I went through college, I studied religions and the doctrines and histories of most western religions. It has been a life long passion of mine. I'm not very religious per say, in that I'm often engaged in my adolescent tantrum at God, because frankly sometimes I have to struggle with the fact that I expect him to behave like Santa Clause and give me what I'm convinced is good for me and what I deserve. After my daughter was born, I decided to raise her in the church and worked hard to earn the money to send her to Catholic school. I knew I could'nt give her much as my own understanding and practice was so limited. I figured they would fill in the gaps. The church was then starting to reel from the priest scandals that were hitting the news every week. I kept my distance from the church, but as a parent stayed involved in the small community of her school. These were and continue to be trying times for any Catholic, practicing or not. We are all of us bound with the culture and the history.My daughter went through Holy Communion and Confirmation. She has surpassed me in both the sacrements and knowledge. Her faith is strong and frankly she loves her faith. She has recieved the sacramental gifts of the spirit promised with confirmation. She has become my teacher in many ways.
I still struggle with my prejudice towards my faith, and am angry about the many actions of the hiarchy of my church. I'm still baffled by the doctine. I stumble through the fog of my ignorance and occasionally struggle with god's grace which sometimes to my toddler mind seems kinda stingy as I make my life difficult for myself. Then usually I'm given the grace of awareness and often the gift of humor especially in the darkness. My mother and my daughter inspire me to read and pray and ask. It was through my daughter, I went to confession for the first time in thirty years. I kinda had to, I mean if an eight year old is'nt afraid and sees the use of it, how was I to answer when she asked me why I did'nt go. I put it off for two years. One day, I asked her about it as I had forgotten, it had been that long. She did'nt ridicule me but just simply explained it and hugged me like a child is patted by it's mother. This gave me the courage to go and the gift of what the church calls reconciliation. My "Inner Bunker" is learning and sometimes I feel bruised, stupid and battered from the examination.
I know how Sen. Obama and the members of his church might feel when angry folks confont them with histories and doctines of which they have only peices and no experience. My "Inner Bunker" demands, and judges and the simple truth is I don't know. I'm not black. I have a mixed immigrant family history and I won't even pretend my liberal mind can even wrap itself around racial prejudice suffered by any oppressed minority. I watch those news reels of the civil rights movement and I'm humbled. I hear or read about MLK and the movement and I want to feel proud that he and others did these things for all of us. I want to believe that Obama is right and there is progress. My daughter lives the progress, I see it with her friends and her actions. Obama and his pastor have forced me to deal with my "Inner Bunker" and in reading those who try to defend their church, I experienced something I did'nt anticipate, and this was a sort of recognition. There is nothing that can justify the angry rhetoric coming out of Wrights mouth. Just as there is no excuse for the way my church betrayed it's children by putting the corporate interests before it's mission to the flock.
I have to remember that a church is more than it's house, priests or history. A church is the faith and the practice of it's faith, and how this is in relaton to the world. Socrates reminds me that I'm on the right track. I will struggle to pry open my atrophied liberal mind, which my "Inner Bunker " reminds me is'nt nearly as enlightened or broad as my ego would have me believe. I'll continue to wrestle with my church, just as I'll continue to seek understanding. This was how God would have it, my mother told me. I'm much more Catholic then I knew. My mother has'nt felt up to speed and been physically able to attend mass for a while. When her pride will let her, I suppose one of us will make the arrangements for her to have the priest come out to her, as they do for those like my mother. I went to mass a while back with my daughter. The surroundings were comforting in the old ways they were when I was a child. There were still most of the trappings and the customs and the old ones praying the rosary. This church has a choir and no guitars. The priest sing songs some of the mass in latin and he's not off key. I fumble with my clumsiness and often stand, kneel or sit out of order, but I still know the creed by heart and am still moved by the wonder of the eucharist and it's story. As I glanced around me I was struck by my daughter. If she had worn a mantilla she could have been my mother as I remember as a child. She had the same look of serenity on her face. First I felt awe, the same awe I felt as a child when in church my mother shown with faith and a kind of beauty I saw on the face of the virgin. Then I felt a wee bit of envy as I had never had that, or felt it, jumping straight from childish awe into adolescent rebellion without the gift of knowledge. Finally I felt comfort, and I had to chuckle at myself. If what the church teaches is true, that we are all of us children in the eyes of a loving God, then I'm doing the right thing as I stumble through life and towards God. Faith is not a picnic as Obama has reminded me, But the promise is tremendous as my mother and daughter reveal to me. It is a worthy battle. Socrates was right, The examination of ones life is what gives it worth and what I do with what I learn can give it purpose.