About a year ago, a friend of mine that I deeply trust recommended I read Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir, Carry On, Warrior. As I read, it became clear that Melton has a good voice on the page, a refreshing sense of humor, and a tender eye for story. I was especially drawn to the passage that seemingly led to the book’s title. These are my words, not hers, but Melton seemed to be suggesting that in this life we are compelled to live as warriors while at the same time needing to let go of our various forms of artificial armor. I think Melton’s right: life is fuller at that paradox. It was no surprise to me that her work had caught on with a significant audience.
In the most recent Presidential debate, the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, invoked the 2012 Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln. I remember watching and enjoying the film, quite literally, in a packed theater in Northern Ireland and was glad for the opportunity to think back to what the movie taught me. It wasn’t surprising that Spielberg told part of Lincoln’s story well, exposing the man’s flaws or struggles and including Lincoln’s tenuous family relationships during the height of political tension. Dialogue played a central role in the film, which is probably as it should be with such a brilliant rhetorician as Lincoln. One of the surprises of the film was, of course, that it was Republicans who led the charge to free the slaves. It was the sort of film that gave me goosebumps, that even made me proud (and also saddened) to be an American. Good stories, if we let them, will break our hearts while giving us enough hope to carry on. Though I haven’t followed through, I left the theater that day wanting to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Bible-of-a-book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
At my high school — for the sake of this post, let’s call it Boarding School — students were required to attend a religious service. Options included Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim observances, or there was even “sacred silence” for those who didn’t identify with a particular religion. Sacred Silence occurred once a week and was open to anyone who might be interested in sitting in a dark chapel to think, meditate, or pray.
I in a house with two guys who are slightly younger than me. My block is in a part of the city that has an ify reputation, but my neighbors look out for each other. Many of those neighbors are involved in a church a couple blocks away that is known for a variety of creative projects: a community garden, a daycare, a book review, and a Community Development Corporation that takes on a variety of housing initiatives throughout the neighborhood. While it is not a church I personally attend, I have a lot of respect for what they do, and I hang out with congregants from there regularly.
In my youth, when I wasn’t in school or playing sports or with one of our extended families, I was usually in church. My mother had been raised Lutheran, while my father came from a Catholic background. They met and married in their thirties after working together at a faith-based teen rehabilitation center in Colorado. A recovering hippie in the 1970s, my dad, especially, had stumbled upon and identified strongly with the Jesus Movement. Dad became what I like to call a drive-by evangelist. What I mean is, he can’t drive away from the tollbooth without telling the worker, “Jesus loves you!” No amount of discouragement from my siblings or me has ever persuaded him that this isn’t a helpful practice. When I have pressed him about things like that, I was apt to hear something about “sowing seeds.”