The Soul of Compromise
During the liturgy my soul sat on my shoulder, whined in my ear, and nearly slipped off on the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost at my Episcopal church. My mind trailed off and wondered if my soul’s behavior was an act of rebellion or an act of wisdom. I realized I knew how to love God but I didn’t know how to worship Him.
I was raised in the Catholic faith until I left, disillusioned, when I was thirty years old. I explored other traditions and read about Buddhism, Chinese philosophy, Benedictine spirituality, and Protestantism. For twenty-five years I carried a backpack full of pagan doubts and unanswered prayers until I found my way back to my home faith.
Later, my struggle to stay committed to the Catholic Church during its sex abuse scandals reached a stalemate when I was told I was no longer welcome if I intended to vote for a pro-choice candidate in the 2004 presidential election. This time the church and I closed the door on each other.
Although I‘m a church misfit, for most of my life conformity was my specialty. The first nine years of parochial school I wore a uniform of white blouses with navy skirts. My first job at J.C. Penney’s I was allowed to wear any dress as long as it was black. My second job, in the 1960s, was in a doctor’s office where my uniform was starched white. Later, I worked almost a quarter century at a National weapon’s laboratory where every day I wore an identification badge around my neck and swallowed my peace values.
In the 1980s, armored riot squads controlled peace demonstrators at the laboratory gates. In my office above my desk was a large poster with a deer drinking from a woodland stream, the forty-second psalm was inscribed underneath: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so my soul panteth after thee, oh God.” I sought God’s comfort but doubted He’d interfere in government affairs. The laboratory gates rattled with unrest at the same time voters applauded the nation’s foreign policy.
While history coerced compromise in my work life, my retirement into a middle-class suburban lifestyle required nearly monastic obedience. Here, uniformity is regulated under CC&Rs, community covenants and regulations, designed to protect property values and prevent neighborhood blight. In the suburbs mediocrity serves everyone just beyond walking distance at strip malls filled with big-box retail chains that breakout like pimples on the face of human communities.
The suburbs challenge my willingness to conform while at the same time offer the practice of mindfulness. Inside my tract home I read daily Buddhist wisdom teachings, pray the Catholic Grace before dinner, and frequently attend my Protestant church.
The mysteries of Christianity continue to perplex me but I show up at the table anyway, not because I’m a robotic Stepford believer, but because my sorry, suburban spirit is nourished by formal worship performed by robed priests. I add my white face to the homogeneous congregation and sing slow hymns of praise to the God of blighted souls. He knows me without a nametag, I’m the round one wiggling in the square hole.
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