“Run, Ashley, Run!”

ashley-judd

So Mitch McConnell and his staff think Ashley Judd’s bouts with depression and her understandings of Christianity are hilarious. That’s the impression emerging from a meeting of the senator with his staff as recently reported in Mother Jones.

Perhaps instead their hilarity should make us rethink Mitch himself and his fitness for holding public office. Let’s hope it convinces Ms. Judd to rethink her decision about opposing McConnell in 2014. Here’s what I mean . . . .

Until recently film star Ashley Judd had considered running against ole Mitch for his Senate seat. So his staff was huddling about how to discredit this well-known movie star who also happens to be a graduate of Harvard’s J.F. Kennedy School of Government. Apparently, however one staff member was a mole.

Whatever happened, someone recorded the conversation and later released it to Mother Jones. An article based on the transcript showed the McConnell team as a rowdy bunch of “good old boys” having a great time yucking it up about mental illness, environmentalists and of understandings of faith actually daring to differ from their own.

As her autobiography makes clear, Ms. Judd brings those issues together in ways that might appeal to constituents actually living in the twenty-first century, rather than with Mitch, his staff, and the best minds of the Civil War South.

Evidently, those minds have a hard time wrapping themselves around issues that really impact people’s lives such as poverty, climate change and coal’s relationship to global warming. They have difficulty understanding the concept of patriarchy and its impact on women (and men and children!), and that Christianity might not be synonymous with their own Bible-thumping fundamentalism.

So the boys had some good laughs talking over Ms. Judd’s well-known bouts with depression which she has documented in her autobiography. They seemed to agree that far from evincing a rather high degree of maturity, facing up to mental illness, writing about it, and helping others with similar problems make anyone permanently unfit to hold public office. Instead, they implied those who consider mental illnesses laughable are best fit to lead.

The boys also strategized about painting Ms. Judd as an unstable carpetbagger – because of her residence in Tennessee (though she spent the majority of her early years in Kentucky). Furthermore, she takes climate chaos seriously and so could be painted as “anti-coal.”

But above all, staffers gloated, she has these crazy ideas about Christianity! Yeah, she thinks it’s played into the hands of the “patriarchy.” How crazy is that? She actually thinks that God is much bigger than the concepts of male and female. She has this insane idea that the church is too male-dominated and might benefit from women pastors and preaching and who knows what else?

And “Get this,” one of them guffawed, “Judd actually wrote

I still choose the God of my understanding as the God of my childhood. I have to expand my God concept from time to time, and you know particularly I enjoy native faith practices, and have a very nature-based God concept. I’d like to think I’m like St. Francis in that way. Brother Donkey, Sister Bird.”

Evidently, that last line was just too much for everyone. The laughter got even more out of control. Apparently laughing through his tears, one meeting participant managed to get out “Brother Donkey, Sister Bird! That’s my favorite line so far. Absolute favorite one so far!” Ha, ha, ha!

Imagine a person actually taking seriously someone like Francis of Assisi, the 13th century spiritual father of the environmental movement. That particular nut once preached a sermon to birds—”my little sisters”— and referred to his own body as the “Brother Donkey.” How crazy was that?

And imagine a person needing to rethink her concept of God on a regular basis! Ha, ha, ha!

Ashley, you are what Kentucky needs. It’s time for us to ditch Mitch. He’s so 1862!

Run, Ashley, run!

ReFirement Not Retirement

I have a friend who like me walked away from his job in 2010. Here in Kentucky, where people talk about retirement as being “retarred,” my friend likes to refer to himself as “retarded.” Despite its political incorrectness, his line usually draws a laugh or at least a smile.

Last week when he was speaking at Berea College, the great spiritual theologian, Matthew Fox, had a better line. He said the adjective “retired” should itself be retired. It should be replaced, Fox said, with the word “refired.” Of course, he meant that the “third age” should not be characterized by withdrawal from the struggle for peace and justice. Rather it should represent a time for refocusing, re-evaluating and re-committing.

Matthew’s redefinition reminded me of another friend of mine (also a former priest and one of my colleagues in the Columban ordination class of 1966). A few years ago when we were both attending a reunion of former members of the Society of St. Columban, I had made a couple of public remarks – I forget about what. Afterwards my classmate said, “I can see you still have ‘the fire;’ I just don’t feel it anymore.” And yet as I spoke with him and his wife, it was clear to me that they both had as much “fire” as I did. They were both engaged, reading, thinking, discussing, and trying to be the change we’d all like to see in the world and in the church. They were refired but didn’t see it.

The fire in their bellies and in mine could be called “enthusiasm” in its etymological sense. The word comes from the Greek phrase “en Theos” – being “in God.”  A person who lives “on fire” lives in God; she or he is enthusiastic. She or he recognizes the spark of the divine in herself, in others, and in all of creation. As a result, she lives accordingly. To do so as never before is my refirement aspiration.

So I’m going to stop thinking of myself as retired. Instead I’m now thinking in terms refirement. It’s a time when as never before I’m free to go where the spirit leads me. Doing this blog is part of it. So is being faithful to the daily practice of meditation which by definition is immersion en Theos. Through both the blog and meditation I’m trying do my small part to rescue Jesus’ radical vision of a world with room for everyone (he called it the Kingdom of God).