In praise of the underdogs

I’ve long had a love for underdogs. I suppose it has something to do with being raised on Rocky movies and westerns, but I love the story of the person who accomplishes the unexpected and improbable. Anyone that turns the tables on the overly-entitled or powerful by fulfilling a legacy they chose for themselves is someone I’m interested in learning about.

That is the person I want to know.

I know that these people are not perfect and that, as the cliched warning says, making sausage can be an ugly job. I know the truth of the indelible words of Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds: “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of a son of a bitch or another.”

The best of intentions can fail miserably.

When I wrote a book (Katherine Parr: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Reformation Queen) on Katherine (Catherine, Kateryn, Katharine) Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, I did so because I saw in her this kind of person. Parr was a subtle and brave—though somewhat-closeted—reformer and activist, with a mind for transforming the Church of England and for making religion accessible to the people. She was also a woman who, while privileged, attempted to teach a man about religion. And this was not just any man; it was the giant ego known as King Henry.

This I can appreciate.

Do I share her theological perspective? No. Is she a hero? No. She’s a flawed human being (and heroes are overrated anyway). Give me the conflicted or the troubled. Give me the person who tries to be a better human being despite their flawed nature and consistent failure. Give me a Don Draper or Gregory House over a Superman any day. (You call kryptonite and having a boy-like crush on a reporter a weakness, really?)

Parr’s efforts came at a time when the Mass and the Bible were in Latin. Millions worshipped with very little knowledge of what the church actually supported. Priests even repeated the mass without understanding the Latin they spoke. If someone is religious, I’d rather they understood what it was they were saying, what the rituals meant, and who they were worshiping. I’d want individuals to be responsible for their own beliefs, rather than blindly trusting anyone. Parr made that closer to a real possibility.

She did great things. She was also a flawed person in many ways. She was unbearably and blindly drawn to her real love, Thomas Seymour, who by any estimation was a deceitful and charming con of the king’s court and who was far from being devoted to one woman, or truthfully to anyone but himself. She also confidently overshot her position with Henry, nearly ending her life in the process (according to one biased report) and solving her life-threatening dilemma by debasing herself and her gender before him in public.

Still, I can’t help but appreciate her story. And so last week, I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about Queen Parr, whose quincentenary is going to be celebrated this September 9 with the re-enactment of her funeral.

The Queen was initially an historical curiosity (as that is my field), but I admit, I gravitate toward underdogs, those challengers to the status-quo, whether they are Queen Parr, Martin Luther King Jr., or Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.

I can’t say I admire everyone that protests something or every counter-cultural idea; Westboro Baptist Church, for example may speak to power, but they promote a different form of oppression and the world would obviously be better off without their hate. However, I do appreciate those who are, from within their own historical contexts, their social positions, and specific worldviews, are trying to bring honesty to the world, even if they, their methods, and ideas aren’t always perfect. They remind the world that abusers will always be challenged. Someone will always question those in power for the benefit of others. It just may take time.

Read more at The Huffington Post…

In search of belief changing ideas