Saturday, July 5, 2008

Such innocence....

I've been hearing about a short story collection called "Say You're One of Them" by Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest from Nigeria. I couldn't exactly remember the title or author, so I was glad to unearth the NY Times review that I'd noticed but hadn't read.

In the opening paragraph, we're told that when Akpan applied to the University of Michigan writing program, "Eileen Pollack, the director of the program, recalled recently, there was some hesitation on the part of the admissions committee. 'There were discussions about having a priest be part of workshops where students would be writing about sex and drugs,' Ms. Pollack said."

Then when he arrived, what do you know? “It turned out he had had more experience of the dark side of the world than all the other students put together.”

I have to admit I really don't know why there is this continued perception that clergy have never been touched by "the dark side of the world." That's kind of the job description, with the benefit and transformative power of redemption. I suspect people think that clergy want to keep themselves separate from such things for fear of being tainted. Instead, the best clergy I know participate in the world, seeing it as honestly as they can rather than trying to create some safely sanitized version of it.

The last few Sundays in the lectionary, we've been hearing Paul go on about this at length. Now, there's a guy who heard it all. No need to keep him out of your creative writing workshops. I'm not saying he's going to approve of people's behavior, but he certainly doesn't need to be protected from it. "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (Rom.6:14)

I have to admit it pisses me off (ooh! A swear word! And me a priest!) when I hear this attitude about the naivete of the clergy. Alternatively, there's a kind of sweet innocence among the secular to think that there's some special type of person that in some way lives in a remove from the world. I'm not sure we should expose them to the truth.

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