Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spirituality of Imperfection

I just spent 2 and a half hours over very good dinner with Ernie Kurtz, the author of one of the most important books in my life.

It was a wonderful experience: the platonic ideal of dinner conversations. Dr. Kurtz is about 70 years old with a smooth pale gnome face with spectacular eyebrows. He apologized that the heat kept him from wearing a tie but his seersucker jacket showed signs of yellowish foxing at the collar. I was utterly charmed. He's more soft-spoken than I expected him to be but not in a frail way. We talked about ideas and the world, asking questions and listening to answers that required life stories to be complete.

I have a feeling that conversations like this can only really be had amongst students and combinations of the young and the old. Students obviously have a maelstrom of abstract thoughts that need to be spoken out loud to gain shape. The young and the old are at such different stages of life that gossip about the personal details and immediate experiences of birth and death don't get exchanged easily if both participants are of equal footing. If one is ministering to the other (in the literal definition of attending to the wants and needs of others) this doesn't happen as often.

But Dr. Kurtz and I met in an egalitarian space. He had sent me an email after I wrote about his book and asked to meet me when he was in town. I was delighted to be noticed probably as much as he was tickled to be quoted.

So we talked about sin and shame and how those words have fallen away from their true meanings. We talked about emerging Christianity and if it can be sustained in the same way that AA has: decentralization. We talked about getting churches more like AA meetings. We talked about stigma and how it is sometimes necessary to keep a group cohesive. He said "sin is . . ." and I can't remember the rest of the sentence but it was subversive and unexpected and I'm sure I'll wake up in the middle of the night and wonder how I could of forgotten. Or else the concept will become part of my regular worldview and I'll be hard-pressed to remember a time when I wasn't aware of that particular truth. We talked about Judaism and its broadness that can encompass so many different expressions of spirituality. We talked about how the early feminist movement couldn't let women become themselves fully because our society equate strength with power. Therefore, they could not admit any vulnerability for fear of losing the power they were trying to gain. Now that they've had some power for awhile, the rules have changed a little and they can start to admit vulnerability. Because shared vulnerability is what it is all about. The ultimate truth is the acknowledgment that there is something not-right about all of us. We talked about how we can eliminate consumerism without destroying capitalism. He told me that the wisdom of his years brought him to the conclusion that materialism is the ultimate evil; the thing that keeps us from God. He asked me how metaphor influenced my faith.

I read in People magazine once a quote from a celebrity who was asked to describe the best part of an evening and she said. "Who can say which drop was the most enjoyable of a good, hot shower?" I feel that way about my evening. I am so lucky to have gotten to spend this time with someone of such wisdom, acuity and curiosity and to watch his face as he turned over things that I said or asked and generated a newborn thought in response.

When I am sad that I do not have a group of friends to form a daily family to support me and to rely upon me, I remember that what I do have are opportunities again and again to have one-on-one dinners with intelligent, empathetic people and that those social events need space so it's OK that they are not regular occurrences.

I am blessed.


duckbill said...

"few of us are not in some way infirm, or even diseased; and our very infirmities help us unexpectedly."
--william james

Ali BG said...

Thank you for writing about it!

:) a

Christy said...

Like Ali, I am mostly here to say thanks and leave a smiley! :) I'll have to pick this book up.

al said...

I've read this book 3 times and do not pretend to understand it all. However, I do know that each time I read it I do change. Happily, I will have to read it again. I thank you for your insightful post