By Reverend Donna Schaper
“Attractive, well-placed Reverend seeks equally comfortable secularist for non-violent communication, partnership, (d) alliance.” I could publish this ad in the New York Review of Books or write this essay. At 285 dollars per column inch, I figure I get more value for my buck here. The ad could continue, now that we aren’t paying for it, this way: “She is erotic in the Marcusian sense, interested in the eroticization of everyday life while changing the world casually and forcefully. She is interested as Murray Kempton was, “in everything and nothing less.”
Kempton probably made her write this essay: She can’t stop wondering why secular people aren’t as interested in her kind of religion as she is in their kind of secularism. The loneliness is often bothersome, exaggerated as spiritual alienation or neurosis, even though she has been over Camus, as well as psychoanalysis, for a long time. “She is over most things, although not yet over her hope for a grand coalition to disrupt the devil’s mighty works and ways. She wants to kick hope into high gear.”
The last ad she responded to was in Sun Magazine, where the writer said he was a “shambling grizzled student of wonder.” She thought he might be her kind of guy. Her husband, a secular Jew, told her to toss the Sun into the recycling because he can’t abide “personal essays.” Married for 35 years, she isn’t looking for another husband. Instead, she is looking for someone who lives in country secular and is interesting enough and interested enough in “everything” that he or she would like to visit country religion.
She remains interested as well in the personal essay, despite those disaffected by it, thinking it has the battery power that helps people take control of their own lives as well as being the missing ingredient in forging democratic institutions. Personal power is the missing link on the road to Gdansk. Personal power plus personal persuasion, salted by spiritual power, becomes revolutionary power. The math is not two plus two making four but two plus two making 20,000, without having to lose their personal signature on the way in.
None other than the Ford Foundation has stopped making grants to religious organizations right as they move towards a focus on income inequality, which, in case they haven’t noticed, the religious right hates. How secular social activists think they are going to make social change without religion or religious people is anybody’s guess. Since many know we are one climate catastrophe or one terrorist incident away from a Trump presidency right now, I wonder if anyone is going to help the American people mature spiritually? Or are we just going to wring our hands in helpless lament over the good/bad dualisms many think religion is? Which it is not.
Think of my reach towards you, as slightly erotic, like the Grand Tour of Edith Wharton’s yore. Or urban exposure. Or a year abroad. Or what we Christians call a mission trip. Or what Teju Cole means by the white savior industrial complex reversed and teased. I don’t want to save you. I want to understand you. I want to understand why you aren’t interested in the most interesting part of me, the spiritual part, the Christian part, the religious part, the ordained part. And yes, I am white in an off-color, queer kind of way.
I know some of your distance has to do with the hidden power of the female making an insertion into the world, which she has been told often enough to leave alone. I also know that religious power in women frightens even women. But I still don’t understand why the ancient injuries of religion—the violence, the pogroms, the Spanish destroying the seed, the Crusades destroying our capacity to crusade, the priests and the boys, the dullness of most sermons, all of that with multiplying power akin to my hopeful kind—allow us to remain boys and girls about religion, when we could be men and women and queer the thing into something we want and can love.
I want to understand what makes you afraid of me. I want to normalize my perch and understand why, to you, it is abnormal. I want to build a coalition that can challenge the religious right of punishmentalism, idolatry, and stupidity—and I need you to do that.
Stay tuned for Part Two!