I have some experience and training as a performer and public speaker. I also like when public presentations go well, so I tend to volunteer to participate because I know at least my part has a good chance of being good. Just being honest here, folks.
My earliest experiences of performance were in church when I'd have solos in junior high choir. I think even then I quaffled about how to respond to folks when they told me how good I was. Probably someone pointed out to me that it was rude to put them off entirely but I also knew that I didn't work that hard, so I hadn't really done anything to be complimented on. God gave me a pretty voice. However, pointing to the ceiling in response to the applause is pretty dorky and kind of disingenuous. Plus, I wanted to deny that sweet thrill of Sally Fields style they-really-like-me but I really couldn't even though it just didn't seem right in church. Over time, I've gotten fairly good at really listening to what people say to me and responding to that rather than my conflicted emotions. My favorite is when they thank me for sharing my talent. I can get down with that. It's something I've actually done and I can thank them in return for acknowledging my effort. If they tell me I have such a beautiful voice, sometimes I'll tell a little story about wanting to credit my parents but being unable to since both are tone-deaf but produced 4 musical children. Otherwise, I'll give my grandma credit for insisting that I should have voice lessons when I was 8 or 9. I try to remember that even if it feels like a flood of compliments that I want to let simply wash over me, each individual person deserves individual love for doing the scary thing by being vulnerable and sharing their emotions with me.
Lately, I've been participating in things by writing little devotionals and sharing them. This has created a whole new battle with the ego for me. Linnea, the conference organizer, asked me to prepare something to say to the group and I laid awake for over an hour trying to get the words right so that everyone would think I was funny and witty and charming. I wanted them all to like me, especially the cute, single Christian men. (Not many of those around in this world, by the way. I've been a little obsessive lately about checking ring fingers.) But, eventually, as I stared at the ceiling, trying on outfits in my head and practicing my comedic timing, God was able to penetrate the cloud of selfishness and remind me that maybe I should think about how best to help people see her better.
Yeah. I'll get right on that.
So, I spent some time trying to figure out how to make people think that I'm really Godly and spiritual.
Wait a second. That's not right either.
I'm astonished how many times I can possibly make this same mistake of self-centeredness. But the good part about struggling with the same thought process over and over again is that I know the way out of that labyrinth. I know that if I trust God, she will give me the right words at the right time.
I want to share with you what I said. Or, at least, a reasonable facsimile of it. Chances are, I'll revise it as I write it down to make it sound better. But I'll also put into parentheses places some of my reactions while I was speaking.
Yesterday, Linnea asked me to connect some of the world crises that we're talking about to something that we do every day and asked me to find a headline in a newspaper. Linnea is very nice and I wanted to make her happy. So, I nodded my head with wide eyes and told her I was on it. She could trust me.
I don't read the newspaper.
I mean, I'm a student at the University of Chicago! To heck with the real world! Give me theory! Theory! So, in my panic about how I could do this, I loked around my neighborhood in the city and found this: a RedEye newspaper with the headline, "Totally Georgeous!" with a giant picture of George Clooney. (Oh good, they laughed both places they were supposed to. But wait, oh shit. What do I say next?)
So I went through the paper, thinking that there had to be something of substance. (Wait, I didn't expect that laughter. Shit. OK, calm down controll-y girl.) And I found an article on ATA filing for bankruptcy and some changes with the census and since I've taken some economics classes now and some statisitcs classes, I can make some connections about why these are part of a larger crisis. I can talk about oligopolies and rising gas prices to connect it with what we've been talking about. (Oh no, I totally just said that because I wanted people to think I was smart. Plus, I really can't talk about that kind of stuff off the cuff. Damage control!) But that's more dorky than I want to be in front of this many people. (So what do you talk about now, huh, genius?)
So, I want to talk about the existence of the RedEye itself. This is what people read on the El. I take the El and the bus from Logan Square to Hyde Park every day and I see this. (Ugh, so now you're a do-gooder public transportation greenie? Shush. I was building credibility for my point. Yeah? What is that point? I'm getting to it; I'm going to talk about how I look down on those people because I read real literature and political science journal articles and how that wrong and part of the world crisis. I'll be vulnerable and self-deprecatory and people will think that I'm brave for sharing and love me because I'm humble when I acknowledge my hubris. Let me set up the story for them, OK?) In the gentrified neighborhoods, they hire someone - usually a black man in his 50s - who knows what they pay him. They hire someone to hand the RedEye directly to people in my demographic on their way into the station. The RedEye is part of the problem. It is entertainment masquerading as news.
(Whoa! Where did that come from? That's not what I was going to say. Shit. Who's giving this little presentation? Oh yeah. God. Sorry, God. You know, for saying "shit" and trying to make myself look good instead of you. I'll let you drive now. Or, at least I'll try.)
People like me. People of privilege. People of influence. People of intelligence. It's a distraction, seduction to keep people that change the world from having to even think about it. When Linnea asked this morning who believed that changing the world is going to be hard, I raised my hand high and decisively. Most days, I can't see this future that we're working to bring about. But I believe in it. I'm going to change the world: I'm studying Public Policy, I go to conferences like these, I run up/rooted meetings and believe it means something.
So, this might not be the typical presentation for this segment of these conferences (see, I can't even keep from trying to make myself look special, even after God made me say all that other stuff) but it is what I can say about headlines.
Let us pray together.
I totally said that last line out of habit. It never even occurred to me that we would actually pray together. I had the prayer written out on the paper Linnea had given me and so I started reading it. By about the third sentence, I realized that people were racing to catch up and keep up, so I slowed down a little. Then, a little more until I was reading at a pace 275 people could read along. Years of performance training and experience. I shook the whole time I was up there and read too quickly.
I have to admit, though, I like being human. It's complex and worth savoring when we aren't perfect. This means that every experience has an intriguing taste, whether it's blue cheese, steak or Sour Patch Kids. A couple of weeks ago, one of Daniel's friends told a story about being totally gothed out in high school in the 80s, leaving his all-boys school at lunch to see his girlfriend, looking at her wearing $800 black leather jackboots, a mini-skirt, and giant Robert Smith hair and thinking, "Isn't life great?" The story was all the sweeter because he didn't really intend to tell it and it didn't really have any point. My questions about high school just kind of made him remember it. The irony of a goth kid savoring life was just poetic enough to make it worth repeating.
Denise Levertov poetry was highlighted during the conference. She calls life "the needful journey / the veiled distance / imperative mystery." I figure that's pretty much the same thing.
If faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, than I my faith is pretty solid right now. I do not see what this new world that we're struggling to achieve will look like. I do not see what kind of job I will get when I finish this degree. I do not see what man will ever be my partner. But I am sure that I hope for a world that is not in a death spiral of consumption and waste. I am sure that I hope for a job that will use my talents and benefit other people. I am sure that I hope for someone who will make me happy and want me to make him happy. So, I keep making decisions as if I'm certain of these things I do not see, keep making my armor of selfishness thinner so God can break through more often and that's the best I can do.