Sorry to disappoint fellow environmentalists, but the toxic dumps I write about today would not be of interest to environmental protection agencies, but they would be of interest to departments of the interior—yours and mine.
Sorting through papers to be sent to my archive, I happened onto one that sent me into a downward spiral emotionally and spiritually. To leech the toxins from my system that evening, I had to watch an episode of The Waltons, which fortunately still plays on a cable channel. And I had to write a response that I stapled onto the document, a response I never got to write because, at the time, I had to defend myself orally, having not been given it before its presentation.
And of course, now I get to conclude my “therapy” by writing this post!
It is small comfort to know that anyone who does anything worthwhile is bound, from time to time, to receive a response calculated to destroy your character and reputation, and call into question your integrity. And it doesn’t help “knowing” that often such responses represent a troubled personality or a misperception of reality of an individual or a cohort.
That I found it amidst hundreds of notes, letters, and e-mails thanking me for my writings and ministry might only imply that I “fooled” everyone else!
Off the top of my head, I can list at least half-a-dozen “bombshells” that archivists will find in my papers, and I can only hope to God that they can contextualize complaints as I at least try to do, though such toxic dumps can temporarily poison me.
I admit I did consider shredding the paper, but I have tried to be above board and inclusive in my self-documentation. Given that it must exist somewhere else, too, I felt it better to attach a brief response.
I’m not delusional enough to think that any researcher would want to wade through my files of “too much information,” but I do fancy a student might someday want to write a paper on what it was like be a gay Christian activist over the past four decades. Even more important, many if not most of the communications are outpourings of the lives of a broad spectrum of LGBT people of faith and their family members, their friends, and their advocates.
The irony is that I am minutely aware of my “character defects, limitations, and sins,” in the words of Henri Nouwen, alluding to his own. What seems contradictory is that those who have endured my shortcomings the most have been the most forgiving, while those who have endured my limitations the least make the most of them!
But I am also aware of my intentions, and to have them misunderstood wounds me, going back to a couple of childhood incidents I described in my autobiographical Uncommon Calling. I suggested in that first book that I believe that being misunderstood is a common fear for us all.
My original title for Uncommon Calling was A Profile in Grace. But fear that that title would be misunderstood—as if claiming I was gracious—my editor and I looked about for another. What I intended was that we all live by grace, God’s grace, and I felt blessed by that grace.
I also concluded in that book that perfection is not the goal of the spiritual life; rather, integrity is. And integrity is a never-ending process, as “new occasions teach new duties,” in the words of the old hymn.
Another little irony is that the person who wrote the toxic piece is presently a Facebook friend.
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