Someone told me today this is “Holy Week,” that Easter is this Sunday, and it caught me off-guard.
There was a time very recently when, not only would that have been incredibly pertinent to my life, but my work would have revolved around the whole week in some way or another. Nowadays, it couldn’t be further from my mind, and in a weird way that’s refreshing.
For the first time since my first job in 2001, I can say that I am not working for a religious nonprofit. There’s no priest at the helm, no pastor-boss that I report to for my paycheck. There’s no worship or vespers service. There are no formal prayers. There is no stopping to think about the decisions we need to make for weeks on end and then slowly if ever getting around to making them. There’s no theological debate about it. Or about anything. There’s no hypocrisy or egos masquerading under the guise, “God told me so.” There’s no dogma or doctrine, sure as hell no “Book of Discipline” or “Catechism.”
And, it is awesome.
I don’t mean in saying that to trash “the Church” or religious institutions. But, sometimes when you step away from something for a little while, you can see in hindsight just how toxic it was for you personally, and suffice to say, I have never been happier with a job – a career and calling – than I am now that I’ve gotten a little bit of distance from the world of religion. And the crazy thing about it is that, while my new organization is not a religious institution, in some ways the work feels more “true” to what religion should be compared with any place that might fancy itself as “sacred ground.”
I’m in the business these days of protecting truth-tellers, journalists mostly, of raising concerns about press freedom, of helping people like a young freelancer about my age who has been held captive God (and Assad) only knows where in Syria for the last seven years.
My colleagues are young and wicked smart and fierce and passionate about the work. They’ve sat in front of a computer for hours diving deep into different languages, researching every nook-and-cranny of the planet for people whose lives are threatened because buzz phrases like “fake news” and “the press is the enemy of the people” has empowered fascists to double down on their oppressive approaches to stomp out truth if truth might threaten them. My colleagues then fly to every corner of the planet and they stand before those oppressors and speak truth to power, and sometimes, sometimes, they win new legislation or get people released from prison.
So, naturally, I’ve thought a lot lately about what all that means exactly. I think, in a way, we just slapped some modern terminology onto today’s “prophets.” I think “journalists” are at risk because they ask tough questions to the people who believe they are above the answers. Those questions they ask can change societies or cause revolutions if they’re allowed to follow them to the bitter end. And they can also and very often do get those journalists killed. The story hasn’t changed much in two or four thousand years. They are the purveyors of truth, the truth is dangerous, and is anything more sacred than that?
That said, I guess I’ve “left” a “career” in the “Church,” but in many respects, I kinda feel still very tied to something deeply sacred. Something bigger than me, at least. And found, maybe, one of the greatest ideals in human history in confronting a kind of truth that is paradigm-shifting in its power, in the fear that surrounds its power.
And at the same time, the new role has gifted some strange impostor syndrome of sorts for me. Brushing shoulders with Oscar and Pulitzer prize winners and major business executives who are a household name. Finding out you are going to a Gala the night before the event – and it’s at Cipriani or some other ridiculous venue. Or working side by side with some of the smartest people on the planet and wondering how in the hell you ended up in that room, with them. It tests your ego, somehow inflating and deflating it at the same time. You feel like you’re awesome, lucky as hell, and living a lie all at once.
For me personally, my chase with this particular truth is a chase with myself. I can almost empathize with dictators, fascists, oppressors: I know well what it’s like to not want to be faced with the truth, to ignore it and run from it. But my struggle with it lies in acceptance and in the ability to realize that this moment is the one where you need to be, right here and right now, and then to take that moment and run with it and do everything you can to soak it in and continue to fight for what is right and what can change people’s lives or literally keep them alive in places where life is so insanely precious.
Maybe I am an impostor. Maybe the “Church” that I’ve “escaped” from is where I really was supposed to be, but if I can take this momentary blip of my life and do some good for the little time I’ve been gifted, I think I’m immensely grateful for that, too. And whatever road it might lead down. Because we never really leave something behind. We always carry it with us with the many other blessings and curses we picked up along the way. So, whether it’s Holy Week this week or whether every week is ‘holy’ on some level or another, we just keep trucking, doing what we can, and holding ourselves and others accountable because that’s the loving and the right thing to do.
And, that, is awesome.