A column in the June 18 Metro section gave an incorrect date for two D.C. appearances by author Marianne Williamson. She will speak June 27 at 11 a.m. at the Spirit of Truth Center in the Josephine Butler Parks Center in Northwest, and then at 4 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church in Northeast. The first event is free; admission for the second is $25. (Published 6/19/04)
Recently, I noticed that an upbeat friend seemed off her game. Asked why she appeared sad, she answered with a jumble of words: the war in Iraq, innocent kids getting shot, the world having gone crazy. But she'd be fine, she said.
The next day, my friend opened the New York Times. She read an article and the ads around it.
She burst into tears.
The article concerned the soaring price of rice in Haiti. Between late January and May, the price of a sack of rice doubled, due in part to the February ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and last month's devastating flood. In a nation where many people eat just one, rice-heavy meal a day, one woman said, "We have less and less to eat."
Surrounding the article were gorgeous advertisements for a $325 razor, a $4,000 pendant and an $825 handbag. On the opposite page beckoned a heart-shaped "Happy Diamonds" watch. Its price: $32,330.
Unbelievable. Yet I've grown so accustomed to such incongruities, I was surprised my friend even noticed.
"We hear so much that's preposterous," she told me later. "From soldiers assaulting prisoners with dogs to the Iraqi-Osama connection which wasn't real but which sent our country off to war. We're bombarded with madness . . . .
"So somehow, it doesn't even register that a story about people who can't afford rice shouldn't be on a page where people would be shopping for $32,000 watches.
"Reading it, I felt very . . . alone."
Listening, I almost wished she was alone; that I didn't understand just what she meant. Our nation is deep in a war in which our sons and daughters, and even more Iraqi civilians, are dying -- yet the reason for our being there has been proven false. Some of our soldiers behaved unthinkably toward captives in their care, becoming full-color illustrations of the "oppression" of which our enemies accuse us.
And yet the world as we know it -- of Fourth of July barbecues, announcements of an upcoming ABC reality show called "Wife Swap" and, yes, $32,000 watches -- continues. It makes me wonder:
What does God think about this? About us?
How hopelessly old-school of me. What reasonably hip person wonders aloud about how God regards anything? Who even talks about Him publicly unless he or she is making a stump speech, accepting an award or suing for his daughter's right not to mention Him in the Pledge of Allegiance?
Washington minister Carolyn L. Boyd and Marianne Williamson do. Williamson, the bestselling author ("Everyday Grace") and ordained minister, has built her life around talking passionately about God -- and she's not about to shut up now.
(Williamson will be in Washington on Sunday for two speaking engagements. Her 4 p.m. address at Plymouth Congregational Church in Northeast costs $25 and will benefit Boyd's fledgling church, the Spirit of Truth Center. At 11 a.m., Williamson will speak for free at the center, located at the Josephine Butler Parks Center in Northwest.)
My friend's frustration doesn't surprise Williamson. "I think millions of people feel like her," she says. About inhumane activities carried out in America's name, about the disconnect between people who have everything and those with far too little.
"If you believe that what goes around comes around," she adds, "it's really terrifying."
The problem, she says, "isn't that too many Americans are apathetic or in denial. The issue is our urgent need to harness our concern . . . to turn the world around quickly enough and substantially enough to make a difference."
So where does You-Know-Who fit in?
"Either God has put us here to love one another or He hasn't," Williamson continues. "If He has, then our job is . . . to express our love in all the areas of our lives. If we take love seriously except when it comes to economic policy or foreign policy, then we're only expressing a fraction of our full humanity."
Boyd understands such fractions. A minister's daughter who was a high-powered lobbyist for a major telecommunications company, she felt spiritually and financially secure -- until getting fired in 1999 revealed how fragmented she was.
"I went from having all the amenities that go with being a good corporate citizen to having nothing," Boyd recalls. "People who'd been in my corner disappeared . . . . I lost my home to foreclosure."
Suddenly, she realized. "I didn't know me."
Having lost herself, she went searching for God -- and found one that whispered that every human life is divine, that "there is no separate God for Muslims or Jews or Hindus -- that there is one all-powerful force." Ordained in 1999, Boyd presides over a small congregation of about 60 souls.
Losing everything, Boyd says, "was hell. . . . But if it hadn't been for that, I wouldn't have discovered who I am."
So how many of us must get burst-into-tears frustrated before things change? Williamson would remind us of a powerful -- and very American -- force for transformation.
"We'll be electing a president, and representatives for the House and Senate in a very short time," she says. "The tension so many of us feel comes from trying to be profoundly loving and forgiving when we are so angry with our government."
But being loving in the midst of such frustration takes, well, a miracle.
"I believe in miracles," Williamson says. Since we all know in our hearts what's right, "the question is, 'Are we are going to live what we know to be true, be willing to say it no matter how unpopular it seems? . . . Propelling society toward love will happen only if we stop pretending that we don't know what we know."
Can there be a cost for being so honest?
"Of course," Williamson says, suddenly sounding mischievous for a God girl.
"But the prize you get is the satisfaction of knowing, as my father used to say, that you didn't let the bastards get you."