Seeking to be Maladjusted . . .

Staff_McDermott, TomWhen my brothers and I were kids, we got to spend a lot of quality time with our grandfather. He was a general surgeon in Fort Worth, and we lived by the adage “Why adhere to the warnings of adults when you can learn from the mistakes firsthand.” So we spent a fair amount of time in his office — we were slow learners. Sometimes we’d have to wait for an hour before we got to see Nurse Luckey (her real name — I was exposed to the profound nature of irony at an early age). Perhaps to keep us from any prolonged anxieties about what awaited us with Luckey, or perhaps to prevent us from further injuring each other, Granddaddy had plenty of kid’s magazines in the waiting room — Jack and Jill, National Geographic, Life, Boys Life . . . One of my early favorites was Highlights for Kids.

Highlights had great stories and puzzles (such as find the hidden hat and hammer in a field of dancing panda bears). But I liked the “Goofus and Gallant” stories. Goofus and Gallant represented bad and good behavior — Goofus was bad, Gallant was good. And the stories were always in present tense: for example, Gallant picks up his toys and papers. Goofus sees if he can set paper on fire in the windowsill with a magnifying glass. Gallant helps put the leash back on his buddy’s runaway dog. Goofus wants to know “What’s inside a squirrel?” It was always so clear who was right and who was wrong, except that I was often left with the conclusion that we were more wrong than right.


In reality, there’s a little Goofus and Gallant in all of us. It’s never so black and white, so clear-cut as Highlights perhaps. But we mostly try to temper the one with the other (I’m assuming that would be more Gallant than Goofus for most of us).

But the issue of right and wrong, good and bad behavior gets a little murkier, I think, in the presence of the Gospel stories. Not so much because the Gospel is all about judging good and bad behavior (which many of the stories seem to suggest) as it is about challenging us to rethink the way we think about and see life. And that’s where the story, our story, gets interesting.

IMG_8408Heschel, the well-known Jewish rabbi and mystic, once wrote, “The greatest hindrance to knowledge is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental cliches. Wonder or radical amazement, the state of maladjustment to words and notions, is, therefore, a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of that which is.” He also spoke of the importance to being surprised by beauty, by daily moments with life, even by evil — not to be so accustomed to evil or adjusted to it as to be ambivalent about it or hide, but to be surprised by it as to find oneself maladjusted, adding later, “I am the most maladjusted person in the world.” What does the Gospel tell us of maladjustment, the world, and God’s Kin-dom?


This Sunday, January 24, in eleven:eleven celebration:

“living among the maladjusted”

with poetry, comedy, and the music of Peter Mayer, David Bowie, and Erika Luckett


Hope you can join us!



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