Monthly Archives: September 2012

“I think,” says Fr. John from behind the confessional screen, “that we tend to see our sexuality as a burden, instead of a gift.” He laughs to himself a little, maybe thinking You and me both, buddy; you know as well as I do that celibacy is no joke.

“It feels like a burden because it’s so powerful,” he continues, “and so hard to control. But make this your penance: ask that the grace of this sacrament will help you to see your sexuality in a positive way. As a gift.”

Phew boy, okay. I’ll try. A couple of thoughts flit through my head — about fatherhood as an expression of masculinity and therefore of sexuality, about how all men, even (especially?) the celibate, are called to be fathers in one way or another — but mostly I put the question aside and hope I’ll remember to pray about it.

While Fr. John is still talking, I glance up at the screen. Usually I go face-to-face, because I like Fr. John and he knows all about me and it’s nice to visit with him and confess at the same time. But the screen’s good, too. You can’t see the face of the priest, so it’s a little easier to realize that it is in fact Jesus behind there, and that the kindness and humanity of Fr. John is at least equal to the kindness and humanity of the One he represents and makes present.

More than equal, of course. But I make allowances for my weakness of imagination. When I picture Heaven, I stop short of the Beatific Vision and just picture a place where there are always friends to go exploring1 with. When I imagine Jesus, picturing somebody more or less like Fr. John is a lot easier, and a lot more effective, than trying to conjure up an image of perfect love, and ending up with some saccharine2 unreality.

I’ve been nursing a grudge against the Lord, because I still don’t understand what to make of the hell I went through earlier this year, the hell He didn’t save me from; I’m still trying to learn what trusting Him could mean. But while I imagine Jesus behind the screen, listening to my silly little selfishnesses, the grudge melts for a moment, and I whisper, too soft for Fr. John to hear: How do you put up with this shit?

I don’t mean to swear at the Lord, and I hope he takes it the way I mean it: as a squalid little cri de coeur instead of a sign of irreverence; as a way of saying, I’m confused and angry and grateful and in love all at the same time, and I don’t know what to do with any of it because, like Philip, even after keeping your company all this time, I still don’t know you. I hope he takes it the way he must have taken it when his earthly friends slipped up and let fly with the occasional oath.

They were, after all, a bunch of fishermen and whores.

1 Like this.
2 Like this.

I smoked my first cigarette at age 10, in the raspberry bushes across the street with my friend W., who had stolen his father’s pack. We hid the rest under a bush for later, but that night in a fit of penitence I came back and snapped them all in half, then mixed them with sand for good measure. When we met up to smoke some more, I pretended to be as surprised as anybody.

I didn’t smoke again (except cigars, which don’t count) until I was about seventeen. I had been just sort of wanting a cigarette for a while, no particular reason, just wanting to check it out; when lo and behold, I stumbled across an unopened pack in a parking lot, cellophane still on it: Marlboro Ultra-Lights, I’m pretty sure.

These days I’d have to smoke three of those to feel anything (ultra-lights, pshaw!) but back then a few puffs would send me pleasantly reeling; so that summer I’d go for a walk each night, taking the pack (which fairly tingled with verbotenheit) with me. Eventually my mother found the matches in my jacket pocket, made a guess (I probably stank) and confronted me.

So I agreed not to smoke, except I smoked anyway, because here was a positive pleasure in what was already a fairly lonely life. It didn’t really pick up until my 18th birthday, when I quit my heinous summer job as a Kirby salesman and bought the first pack that I didn’t have to beg anybody for. I finally asked my mother to remove her injunction against tobacco, since it wasn’t doing anything but make me feel bad, and she relented.

Smoking became a part of life. After meals, after Mass, after class; and then also before meals, before Mass, before class; after a movie, before a movie. After and before anything at all. Something to look forward to in the morning, something to close out the evening. By senior year I was well past a pack a day.

I marked time with cigarettes, the way we mark time with sleeping. If our bodies didn’t need sleep, we’d still want it, to prevent life from becoming one long blur: we need lines, demarcations. Life without smoking, like life without sleep, was a kind of nightmare.

Most people had only two forms of bodily consumption to enjoy, eating and drinking: I had three, and wasn’t eager to part with any of them.

Some time after college came my first serious efforts at quitting. The most success I had was the three months when I stayed with the order in Peru, when I didn’t smoke a single cigarette…okay, a single one. I managed to separate myself from the group during a trip to the market, bought a half pack, finished my chores early, and smoked behind the chapel like a fifth-grader. Then I had to confess it.

When my stay was done, Padre F. dropped me off at the airport; as his pickup pulled away, I walked to the newsstand — trailing clouds of glory from my three months of prayer, service, poverty, and soul-searching — and bought a pack of Camels.

Last Saturday I sparred after Kung Fu class for the first time in months. I didn’t do badly, and learned a few new tricks, but had to bow out early because I was puffing and blowing too hard to continue. The rest of the class, from fifteen years younger than me to fifteen years older, continued on. I was still riding the rush of a few good matches, but losing my breath — when the rest of my body is healthier than it’s ever been — made me feel frail and a little sad.

As I write this, it’s been 43.5 hours since my last cigarette. The last couple days haven’t been that bad. I am twitchy and achy and feverish and disconnected, but it’s not that bad. My little brother described it pretty well in a sympathetic text message: “For me [quitting] always felt like all the interstitual fluid in my body was becoming mildly acidic.”

And it leaves you wanting…something, something like smoking, something slightly forbidden and mildly painful that makes you feel an immediate difference. Like sticking your finger in an electrical socket; that might be an appropriate substitute.

I know if I start again I’ll just have to quit again. I know, also, that after the physical addiction is gone, the psychological addiction will linger. Meh, like they say, one day at a time. I can’t wait to take on my Sifu without wheezing like an invalid. I think I can feel the difference already.

The interview went great. I’m grateful to Chris over at Warrior Catholic, and to the people who called in. You can find an archive of the whole half hour here.

Paul H. asks:

Any chance you could post a list of the other christian gay online/print resources that you mentioned during the show?

Sure! These were off the top of my head, and there are a few I forgot to mention. A few of them are also listed on the sidebar, further down the page, under “Gay Miscellany.” But here you go. A lot of these people have books, twitter accounts, etc., but judicious googling will get you that stuff.

And then here are a few I forgot to mention:

Happy Sunday!

I’m reading Eve Tushnet’s bit in the October First Things — a response to Douglas Farrow’s “Thirteen Theses On Marriage.” (You can find the theses, and the whole set of responses, here.)

Eve’s stuff is always worth reading. The theses themselves are pretty dry, albeit maybe only in the sense that Aquinas is dry: they succinctly distill a whole worldview, and so they don’t admit of much poetry. Eve characterizes them as having a “certain antiseptic sting,” and the same is true (maybe by necessity) of many of the responses. Not Eve’s, though. Her reaction is first of all a human one.

Here the bit that made me leap for tumblr:

For me, as a lesbian Catholic with no discernible call to monastic life, the absence within the Christian churches of a deep understanding of the human need for vocation is glaringly obvious. Too many gay Christians grow up learning that there’s simply a blank space where God’s vision for their future should be. There’s a list of do-nots and a free-floating sense of shameful disorder, but no image of a path in life on which God might call and lead them. But this void in our culture damages everyone.

Yes indeed. But then there was this:

In this world, no one is called to a life of sacrifice; they either choose the life they want and claim it, or long for it and never find it.

My first instinct was to disagree: everyone is called to a life of sacrifice, right? Marriage, the religious life, and any other legitimate vocation all involve sacrifice.

But then I saw that wasn’t what she meant. Her writing elsewhere consistently points to the necessity of serving others through self-denial. So maybe she meant something like this: that nobody is called to a life of mere privation; that is to say, a life defined by not having those things that, given your nature and the deepest desires of your heart, you hope to have.

A year or two ago, I would have disagreed with that, too, because I was very caught up in the notion that it was my job to suffer, to be deprived, and to offer that deprivation up for the good of anyone I could think of. That’s not how I think anymore. Now my M.O. has more to do with St. Irenaeus’ “The glory of God is man fully alive.”1

What do you think? Is there any such thing as a “victim soul”? Is there anybody who’s just plain made to suffer?

Or is suffering just an unavoidable, but still essential, part of the Christian (or any) life — to be endured and accepted and offered up and even welcomed, but never positively sought?

1 That smacks of being misquoted and/or misattributed, but I don’t know for sure. Still, regardless of whether St. I. or somebody else said it, it seems true.

“You know what’s funny?” says A., coming up to me while we practice Bok Pai Chuan and grinning painfully. “How you’re so much better at that form, even though I’ve been coming here for longer!”

“Aw, but you don’t get to come here as often as I do!” I say, hoping my grin is less transparent than his. He really wants me to think he thinks it’s funny, but he doesn’t think it’s funny, any more than he thinks that time he threw up in class is funny, or the time he lost his balance and crashed into the weapons rack.

But he’s always joking about those things, too, long after everybody else would have forgotten them. It’s a scab he can’t stop picking at.

A. is a gangly blond kid with a high voice, a bad haircut, and glasses that fall off a lot. He’s 15 or 16. Everything he does is a bid for affection. He tells dirty jokes, like he’s heard the other kids do, but gets the rhythm wrong or takes it too far and just ends up sounding like a pervert. He butts into conversations and pretends to know things. He told me that he practices Kung Fu six hours a day.

His wounds couldn’t be more gaping if he were actually bleeding all over the practice mat. I wonder when I look at him: Who did this to you? Who’s responsible? And what can anybody do about it?

I pray for him occasionally, greet him loudly when I see him, laugh at his terrible jokes when there’s anything possible to laugh at. That stuff is easy, and it doesn’t cost anything. I hate the way some of the kids his age treat him — I want to say: Don’t you have any coolness to spare, can’t you spend some of it on him? Are you all so poor that you can’t spare a few pennies of your coolness?

But I remember being that age, and I know what I would have done. I would have been scared that some of his social poverty would rub off on me. God help me, I still do it sometimes, when the stakes are higher. It’s hard to realize that, especially at that age, almost everybody thinks of himself as the odd man out; almost everybody’s a pauper, scrabbling for the riches of confidence, affection, respect.

Good Lord, A., I hope you find somebody to love you besides me. I’m nowhere near enough.

Sooooo, no, this isn’t a real post, just a heads up: I got a tumblr account! It’s here.

I guess this is kind of like when Kate Beaton stopped posting her awesome, awesome comics so often but kinda made up for it with frequent sketches & other stuff. Not that I want to invite comparison with Kate Beaton, as any such comparison would necessarily end poorly for me.

The main idea is to put up all those quotations which I am always frantically underlining in the things I read and forever planning to write posts on, but never getting around to it.

Maybe, too, it will be a spot where I can jot quick thoughts without feeling like I had better make it the BEST POST EVAR.

I am quite gratified that, before I even told anybody about this and while I was still copying quotes from my journal, someone named iamfitzwilliamdarcy started following me and gushed “Steve Gershom has a Tumblr what omg this is the best day ever”.

Thanks, Mr. (?) Darcy, that gave me a lift.

How ’bout this: The Warrior Catholic wants to interview me. I’m excited. If you don’t know already, I have a deep, mellifluous, exceedingly masculine voice that has been compared to:

  • Butter,
  • Dark velvet, and
  • Vin Diesel.

Some of that is true.

Anyway the interview will be on Sunday, September 16th, at 3pm EST. You can even — whoa — call in with questions. Details for how to listen and how to call in are on the site.

As for everything else: yup, sorry, I haven’t blogged in over a week. It’s not on purpose. I tried to write a post about how an encounter with a jerk who said he was a Zen Buddhist made me think that maybe he better watch it or people will think all Zen Buddhists are jerks, and then how that made me think about how I better watch it or people will think all Catholics are jerks, but that just turned into me thinking about how I’m not actually that much of a jerk.

So I decided to save writing that post for later, when I have become humble. It might be a while.

Meantime, I am not being silent on purpose; it’s just that my poor introverted life has been flooded lately with seeing people and doing things with them. Imagine my surprise to discover that I have been enjoying it. More as soon as I have something worth saying. Peace.