I mean of all the people we could be hearing from at our national gathering of the United Church of Christ (remember when Barak Obama spoke at General Synod?) why did we get stuck this year with seeing Glennon Doyle’s smiling face as one of our “featured speakers” of the week?
But then on the morning of the second day, when I’m sitting towards the front of the huge conference center, Glennon walks on stage. I’m completely caught off guard. I was going to leave, skip this part – but now here I am stuck up front with no path to an easy escape.
My prejudice against Glennon was based – as all my well-held prejudices are – in a fleeting experience from which I went on to make huge generalizations. A few months ago, in my struggling attempts to write a book, I’d read – or more fairly, skimmed – her memoir, Love Warrior. A promising premise and beginning: a cheating husband, a couple caught in their own foibles and neuroses and a main character who come hell or high water will fight for love to save love, to keep love. Sure enough – as I jump to the end to read – Glennon ends up jumping back in bed with her husband and finding we are assured that indeed love conquers all, Glennon has conquered all in the fight for love.
For all of us with a tendency for obsessive behavior, of fixing everything that is out of place and we have deemed “wrong” with the world, this kind of story is not particularly good news. All us “fixers” read into stories like these that if only we too had been stronger, a better warrior like Glennon with drive and commitment, enough peroxide persistence and high heeled tenacity we too could have soldiered our way through all the foibles and failures, the mishaps and misadventures that have defined our lives. We too could have written a best-selling memoir, have a Facebook following of three-quarters of a million followers (Momastery), and be strutting onto stage to remind good Christian folks to keep fighting the good fight, soldiering through and fixing all problems within and around us.
Instead of throwing Love Warrior across the room – I’d more sanely flung it through the return book slot at the library content to think that I was done with Glennon Doyle, until now when she shows up on the stage and me stuck here with no escape.
I crossed my arms. I expected to be angry. I didn’t expect her to make me laugh but she made me laugh. Laugh right away. Laugh some more and got me paying serious attention when she started by sharing her story of addiction – bolemic, alcoholic, drugs, you name it, since she was ten. She made me think there might possibly be something real worth listening for and when she mentioned her “former-husband” (“spoiler alert” she chimed) – and mentioned she married a woman last year I am startled and caught up in hearing more. Perhaps there was more to Glennon Doyle than I’d assumed.
Glennon talks not – as I’d assumed – about the mighty warrior overcoming all obstacles but about a warrior-ing that is found through being leveled by pain. I find I’m taking notes – pages and pages of notes – more notes than I’ll take all week at Synod.
I didn’t expect her this – I mean her to talk about pain. “Pain is a travelling professor who comes in and sits down to teach me what I need to know,” she comments. I am moved by her story of the mother who writes Glennon distraught by how her divorce and other so-called failures in her life have failed and crippled her children. I am struck when Glennon recalls asking the mom what kind of qualities she hopes her children to have. The mother names – courage, wisdom, compassion. “And what are these qualities born from?” Glennon asks. From pain. We find our way haven’t we all – to any courage, wisdom, compassion we might have in us through our pain?
“We seek to protect our children from pain. Our job is not to protect our children from pain but to direct them towards it, to learn the journey of the warrior in and through the pain,” she says. “We need friends to be still with us in our pain. Two friends who practice not being God together.” Again, I laugh.
“The battle of the warrior begins in sitting 1.6 seconds in the pain. To sit in it and not drink it, snort it, smoke it, work it away but sit in it. To sit with the pain that wants to sit down with us and teach us what we need to know. To help us risk sending our realness and not our representative out into the world.”
I didn’t expect her to talk about faith – and then she talks about walking into my friend Ron’s UCC church in Naples Florida and finding there the people she had been looking for. Sure, she loved the free coffee and daycare but she finds here as well the God who she has been looking for – a God who she is shocked to hear called “She”, a God of “unbelievably low expectations” – low enough expectations to have love even for her in all of her brokenness.
Yesterday I’d told my colleague Dan about my Glennon Doyle experience and he affirmed that my cursory read of her memoir wasn’t all off base. In fact, he told me she struggled in her Facebook postings with the paradox – the public embarrassment, shame – of having Love Warrior come out at the same time that her marriage was falling apart.
Life goes on. Just when we thought we had solved all our problems, climbed the great mountains, transformed our lives, on to live happily ever after – we discover that life, that God, is not through with us yet. Which perhaps, perhaps, is ultimately good news – though it doesn’t feel so oftentimes in the short-term. In the pain that is part of life, like Glennon we too might learn ever deeper that we don’t need shiny or perfect or good to be “successful”, whatever that is, we need real. A real that is found – that begins – with sitting in those 1.6 seconds in the pain, to hear what it has come to teach us. To find the way it is leading us towards the doorway to a deeper compassion for ourselves, a wider love for all the world – yes, Peter, even the Glennon Doyles – in me, in the world, in it all.