Tag Archives: love

I’m 200 feet from the stage, but on the Jumbotron I can see Big Boi’s weird plaid pastel quadruple-breasted suit-short combo thing, and that André 3000’s black jumpsuit says “Art or Fart?” in big white letters. He is wearing a platinum wig. I have been at the Governor’s Ball for the last ten hours, and I am officially too old for this shit.

I’m cranky and my knees hurt and I don’t know where my friends are and even when this concert is over there’s a 45 minute walk and a four hour drive before I can sleep. The crowd is so tight that every time somebody pushes past, I have to grab a stranger’s shoulder to keep from falling over. André keeps ramping up the crowd by saying “We’re just getting started.” I hope that’s just rhetoric.

But if I’m too old for it, how about the performers, who are a decade older than I am? Is it just that they’re cooler than I am? I have to admit that they are that.


How come André 3000 is wearing an oversized tag on his jumpsuit that says “Sold”? Is he saying he has sold out? If so, to whom, and what did he sell, and in exchange for what? Or is he making fun of people who care about whether somebody has sold out or not?

I’m too exhausted to sort it out. I try plugging my ears to see if I can make out the words, because they are clearly very good at saying words very fast. But I’m pretty sure this concert is for people who already know all of the words to all of these songs, not the greatest-hits-only crowd. Unless the people around me are pretending, too. I look around to see how into it they are. Pretty into it, looks like, although who can tell?

Oh phew, there’s Miss Jackson, I know this one, but oh crap, my critical faculty is still going full throttle, so I can’t just enjoy; I have to try to wrap my head around what exactly we are doing here. How come we are all jamming out and Woooo-ing along with the chorus to a song about a custody battle? I don’t understand, am I supposed to dance, weep, or dance so that I don’t weep?

Just when I think that maybe trying to pierce the different levels of irony will be enough to get me re-absorbed in the concert — yeah, that always works, irony always helps you enjoy things — the stage show starts to get porny. André introduces the next song, She Lives In My Lap: “If you came to the show without any panties, you can come to the front, I promise you.” Behind him on the screen, the twenty-foot-tall naked woman (André is strategically blocking her groin) slowly takes off hers.

Oh, I get it, that’s what “The Love Below” means.

I’ve been here before. Ten years ago when I visited a friend in Atlantic City, his friends introduced me to a game they liked to play: you drive up and down the strip, and when you see a prostitute, you open the window and yell out “ONE!” and then when you see the next one you yell out “TWO” and so on.

At the time the only thing I ever wanted was to forget about myself, stop worrying, and enjoy life; I was the perpetual Cameron to everyone else’s Ferris Bueller. But I couldn’t play that game. I didn’t like that game. I wished they would just stuff me in the trunk and forget I existed.

When I told my friend Amos1 about it later, he said, “I can’t imagine a universe where that would be funny.” Which is why I text him now:

I'm stuck at an Outkast concert.

And he does help: he helps me remember that when I get tired, I get scrupulous, which is why I’m uncomfortable about bobbing my head to music I don’t know set to a backdrop of images I don’t approve of, but I’m also uncomfortable just standing there like a chump. A double bind that only a weirdo would understand. Amos does:

I tried to explain ur dilemma
to [my wife] but it is a mystery to
all but those who r both socially
and aesthetically scrupulous

I text back

Oh my gosh thank you for understanding

and start to think that I’m not supposed to pick it apart, just enjoy it, which is probably what my friends will tell me when they read this post, but then “Hey Ya” comes on, and the crowd loses their shit, and I try too, too, I mean, I like the song — but if you listen to the lyrics (are you supposed to?) it has such a weird dynamic, André getting more and more ponderous as the beat gets dancier and dancier:

If what they say is “Nothing is forever”
Then what makes – then what makes – then what makes
Love the exception?
So why oh why
Are we so in denial
When we know we’re not happy here?

And then, he rebukes the audience for dancing to his dancy song instead of being serious about it:

Y’all don’t want to hear me, you just want to dance!

Or maybe he is rebuking himself for being serious when he is supposed to be dancy? Either way, the rest of the song is about fellas being cooler than cool, and ladies shakin’ it.

But okay, André, did you really want us to get all contemplative? What would you have said next, if we did want to hear you? That things fall apart? That everything, even love, especially love, eventually succumbs to the second law of thermodynamics? I’m reminded of an Irving Howe quotation that used to hang, for some reason, on our fridge:

A modernist culture is committed to the view that the human lot is inescapably problematic. Problems, to be sure, have been noticed at all times, but in a modernist culture the problematic as a style of existence and inquiry becomes imperious: men learn to find comfort in their wounds . . . The problematic is adhered to, not merely because we live in a time of uncertainty when traditional beliefs and absolute standards, having long disintegrated, give way to the makeshifts of relativism — that is by now an old, old story. The problematic is adhered to because it comes to be considered good, proper, and even beautiful that men should live in discomfort.2

So I dunno. Maybe the point is to juxtapose heartache with danciness, because real life isn’t scrupulous about juxtaposing the two; like the other day, when a stranger outside my Kung Fu school interrupted Sifu’s fart joke by getting hit by a car.

You can’t pretend fart jokes aren’t good and funny,3 and you can’t pretend getting hit by a car isn’t bad and sad. But you have to live with both. If you’re André 3000, you can’t pretend naked ladies aren’t awesome, but you also can’t pretend that custody battles don’t suck.

I get it, but that doesn’t stop me from being sad for André 3000. Imagine if the best thing you had to hold back the darkness was “Yes, all love eventually dies — but at least I can dance”?

1 This is the same Amos I’ve mentioned before, who runs the Grackle Rag, which sometimes posts my stuff (I’m there as "Melanjolly").
2 From “The Culture Of Modernism”, as fridge-magneted by one P. Bloch. Can also be found here.
3 And I won’t hear any opinions to the contrary.

Just because a thing can’t be, doesn’t mean it’s not good.

Let me clarify. Imagine this. Boy meets girl: call them Dick and Sandra. Dick falls in love with Sandra. Dick marries Sandra.

Now Dick and Sandra both get ten years older. They are no longer as young as they were, and no longer as changeable. The selves they have by this time become, are more or less the selves that they’re always going to be. They’re reasonably content, but for whatever reason, the selves they’ve congealed into aren’t a very good match for each other. Oops.

At this point, inevitably, Dick meets Jane. Jane is a good match for Dick. Not just in a superficial way, either: they seem to have been made for each other, more than Dick and Sandra ever were. Dick complements Jane and Jane complements Dick. If Dick and Jane were together, they would probably improve each other, make each other holier, more fit for Heaven, and incidentally, more fit for earth, too.

And even though Dick and Sandra aren’t unhappy, exactly, Dick and Jane would be much happier. Together, they would probably make a more ideal marriage than Dick and Sandra ever will.

If nothing and nobody existed except for Dick and Jane, we could say truthfully that Dick and Jane ought to be together.

But Dick and Jane don’t exist in a vacuum.1 Things being what they are, if Dick decides to leave Sandra, it’s because he’s an asshole. Not because Sandra is a better match for him. She isn’t! Jane is! But, sorry bro, a vow is a vow. You didn’t stipulate, “Unless I meet someone better.”

But it’s not even just the vow. If Dick pursues Jane, he’ll be pursuing something that is objectively good; but he’ll be pursuing it at the expense of billion other objectively good things: his children’s welfare, his wife’s happiness, his own integrity, the integrity of Jane’s conscience, his reputation, Jane’s reputation, to name a few. And what generally happens, when you drop four good things to run after one other good thing, is that you lose all five —

or even vanish screaming into a misty crevasse — or maybe, what’s worse, you poison all five. It never ends well, no matter how fuzzy the feels when it begins.

It’s possible that the erotic/romantic union of two men is something like that. Maybe, somehow, in the abstract, unimaginably, it’s good! But not in this universe, or not at this time, or not while we are what we are. Maybe in the hereafter. Who knows?

But whether or not there will one day be a place for the erotic union of two men, the fact remains that, here and now, there is not. Here, now, for me, the decision to feed the eros I feel for Ryan will always be a bad decision. Maybe in the resurrection Dick gets to be with Jane. Or maybe in the Resurrection everybody gets to be with everybody, or nobody with nobody. Maybe, as a friend of mine once postulated, Heaven is one big orgy.

Then again, maybe maleness is such that my eros for Ryan is nothing but an illusion and a snare, something doomed from the very start to vanish in the light of reality like shadows before the sun. Maybe the convexity of the male body is an image of the convexity of the male soul (if there is such a thing as the male soul), and a man will never fit into a man the way a man fits into a woman, either in the body or out of it, either now or later.

If that’s the case, then any attempt to fit a man into a man is going to involve some distortion, some violence done to the personality.

How deep does gender go, anyway? St. Paul says that in Christ there is neither male nor female; and Christ himself says that in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage. But I can’t believe that in Heaven we’re all androgynous. Doesn’t the resurrection of the body mean that I will have a penis forever? Even, one day, a Glorified Penis?

I don’t know. I tend strongly towards the latter theory: that eros between men is intrinsically, and not only accidentally, consummationless; unfulfillable in principle, and therefore wrongheaded from the start. But I’ve got good and wise friends — I’m looking at you, Mr. Blanchard — whose experience and conclusions are different. That’s okay.

For me, this is mainly a matter of personal experience. When I give way to eros for a man, I feel less myself, not more. If I decide to gaze at Ryan as a man gazes at a woman, I will always feel like I am violating our friendship, and violating a part of my own masculinity besides. So I’m going to keep not doing it, until finally, if I’m right, the idea won’t even occur to me any more.

If I’m wrong, I’ve got a longer fight ahead of me than I thought. It’s a small price to pay for love.

1 Because if they did, they’d asphyxiate and/or explode. Bam!

I’m eleven, standing in front of a broad painting of a broad woman lying down with no clothes on. My father wants me to look closer — forget what the painting is about, don’t be embarrassed, but see the brushstrokes, look how many colors in the flesh! — but I don’t want to look closer. He puts his hand on my shoulder, nudges me towards the canvas.

I’m not used to my father putting his hand on my shoulder. My shoulder is bony and his hand is big. It swallows me up and makes me small. It feels strange.

Jake the barber touches me efficiently, an admonitory nudge to the head when I slip out of position, a tattooed hand braced against my face while he details a sideburn. I take the touch for what it is. But if it’s a bad week, I confessed once to a friend, I might close my eyes and pretend that the barber is not a barber, and that he is touching my face for other reasons. What do I want?

K.’s roommate is out of town. It hasn’t been long since we met on the JiM weekend, and our newfound friendship(?) is as heady as wine. We are watching Shoot ‘Em Up on his couch. Halfway through, he asks if he can put his head on my shoulder; soon he is cradled in my arms and is stroking my face. I open my eyes and frown. I don’t understand why there is no electricity, why he is nothing but a weight in my lap.

This is stupid. Not in a we-shouldn’t-be-doing-this kind of way, but just in a this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way. What did I want? This wasn’t it. His hand feels like a piece of meat.

In the kitchen, several beers deep, one of the five of us remembers a video the rest of us have got to see, this moment. He pulls it up and we hunch over his phone. S. crooks an elbow and rests it on my shoulder, bending in closer to see past me. Why is he touching me? Is he doing it to show me that he’s not scared to touch me, even though I’m gay? Is he doing it to learn to overcome his own interior reluctance?

No, he is touching me without thinking because it is natural to touch your friends. I could get used to that.

Jesus is on his way to the centurion’s house. He passes through the crowd and somebody touches him.

“Of course somebody touched you,” Peter says. “It’s a mob scene out here. Makes more sense to ask, Who didn’t touch you?”

But Jesus knows it was a different kind of touch than that. You can touch a sick man and put your whole self into that hand, fill it with intention and compassion, focus all your qi in it. When Jesus heals with a touch, maybe this is how he does it, by loving through touch: Take heart, he says with his hands, and only secondarily with his voice.

There are different ways to be touched, too. When the woman in the crowd touches Jesus, all her thirst is in her hand. She is like dry, cracked ground, ready to accept his rain; she is a flagpole, and he is a lightning storm.

This is why Jesus feels her touch. He feels the sudden drop in His interior voltage.

Your faith has healed you, he says. But it is also his touch, and hers, the combination of the two: touch as a mode of love, love that heals. When we touch each other, is it like when he touches us? Is it different in kind, or only in degree? Is he able to heal because he is God, or because he is perfect Man?

What power is in the hands of a man who loves?


1 – Long Dark Tea Time

It’s been a long time since I was depressed, and that’s amazing. The odd thing is how not-sad is not exactly the same as happy. When I was habitually miserable, I always figured that being free from the constant oppressive darkness was all I could ever ask for. Turns out, nope, my appetite for bliss is infinite, just like CSL said (somewhere [probably]), so I am probably just getting started.

Truth be told, I am feeling a little empty. Unfortunately, it’s not the Dark Night of the Soul. That is when you are so so so wonderful that God has decided that the only way to make you MORE wonderful is to withdraw the sense of His presence for a while so that your inner wonderfulness can grow. Anyway that’s what the saints say.

I wouldn’t know, because the reason I feel empty is that I am selfish and vain and I don’t pray enough and I’d rather look at my triceps in the mirror than pour out the love of Christ on my fellow wounded immortals. So I assume.

2 – Baby’s Black Balloon

Speaking of emptiness, Zen Pencils has done a curiously affecting illustration of a C. S. Lewis quotation that I had forgotten I ever read:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.

The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

3 – The Perils Of Being Awesome

That bit about the hobbies and luxuries stung a little, because I had just been congratulating myself on having this chastity thing pretty well down — I mean, not that the old habits of solitary vice1 don’t occasionally reassert themselves, just that I’m not lonely and brokenhearted and stuck wandering the echoing hallways of solitude, wondering how to fill all that TIME; which is what, in my early days as a consciously gay Catholic, I assumed I’d be doing around now.

Because why? Because I do fill my time, with the things I always go on about: tattoos (I’ve got an appointment in two weeks) and Kung Fu (ranking coming up this December!) and motorcycles (there’s got to be one more perfect day before the snow comes) and writing (which I pretend I do a lot more of than I do) and working out (see biceps, above).

Which, ruh roh, none of those things are bad and in fact all of them are good, but they do sort of smack of a rich single guy spending his time entertaining himself. That’s not chastity. The point is not to distract yourself from the fact that you aren’t settling down with a mate. The point is to spend yourself on something, lap strength, steal joy, laugh, cheer.2

4 – Cheer Whom, Though?

Not that the two are mutually exclusive. Whatever we do, even if it’s something for ourselves, there are always opportunities to pour ourselves out.

I walked into Kung Fu on Wednesday feeling like I had somehow forgotten how to be in touch with human beings, so Oh well I better resign myself to just sort of drifting until I remember where my heart is.

Then I remembered that, during that year of now done darkness,3 when the Kwoon became the closest thing I had to an inviolably safe place, somehow the classes when I was most gregarious and most able to pour out love were those classes when I started out feeling the most depleted.

I don’t know what that means. Is it that, when I’m empty, I’m more easily filled by love, which, let’s be ontologically honest, never originates from me in the first place anyway? Regardless, it worked. Step inside the magical door with a quick prayer to my Dad to look out for me, and pretty soon I am scattering brightness.

Or that’s how it feels. Maybe I am just scattering annoyingness. I’ll never know, will I?

5 – The Achieve Of; The Mastery Of the Thing4

What makes me not terribly worried that my hobbies are somehow slowly turning me into a self-absorbed emotional miser is the knowledge that when you do things that are awesome and that you love doing, you can’t help glowing, and the glow can’t help lighting up other people. It’s like capitalism! Except it works.5

Which must be why this video makes me happy beyond all reason.

I don’t care that it’s a commercial, or that Enya is lazy music for gooey people, or that there wasn’t any real danger, or that after all he’s just an actor. Maybe it’s that JCVD has passed from goofy sincerity, through postmodern irony, and has come out on the other side as sincere again. I dunno. The video inspires me because it’s beautiful, so there you go. My heart in hiding stirred for a split.

6 – Gweenbrick

I have been waiting to tell you officially about Gweenbrick ever since I mentioned him. I wanted to make a whole post about him. But if I wait till I do that, I’ll wait a long time.

Anyway, I can’t decide which his posts are more: hilarious, symphonic, Zen, or Hambledonian.6 I wish I could write like this man, and I am proud of knowing about him before the whole entire internet descends on him with shouts of adulation. Get in on the ground floor of loving Gweenbrick. Today’s post is called Slow Yoga With Denene.

7 – Clap Your Tiny Hands For Joy

As long as we are talking about beauty, thanks to Simo7 for posting this. Oh my gosh. Go out and give thanks. Happy Friday.

1 I <3 euphemisms.
2 Hopkins, obvi.
3 Hopkins again. Same poem.
4 The Windhover, this time, which was clearly written about JCVD, whatever else it may have been written about.
5 It is fun to be snarky about capitalism from the comfort of my coffee shop. I do believe that it’s probably the worst possible system, except for all the others.
6 Cf. Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Liff, in which he defines Hambledon as “The sound of a single-engined aircraft flying by, heard whilst lying in a summer field in England, which somehow concentrates the silence and sense of space and timelessness and leaves one with a profound feeling of something or other.” That’s Gweenbrick.
7 That’s “teacher’s wife” for you nonkungfuers.

A reader writes:1

I’ve always had a love/hate perspective on martial arts. On the one hand, it’s so cooool! And I’m really into Avatar (the cartoon), which sort of shows some very different real-life fighting styles, and it’s all very interesting. And…I think it could only be a good thing to be capable of defending myself and others if need be. And anything that gets me in better shape is good.

On the other hand, I’ve got a gentle disposition. I’ve been called extremely phlegmatic, and I always favor amiableness over confrontation, to a fault…And while I’ll readily admit that I could stand to toughen up some, I also see a lot of good things in my peaceful nature.

So, while it seems prudent and valuable to be capable of self-defense, I don’t actually relish the thought of fighting itself. Plus, I get the sense that martial arts should be studied for the “right reasons,” whereas
I would admittedly be reveling in the “look at this roundhouse kick, I’m badass” factor a bit.

Even had I not previously corresponded with this reader, he would have instantly endeared himself to me by revealing his love for Avatar, and distinguishing it both from the Cameron glitzfest and the Shyamalan atrocity.

I think Avatar is a true work of art, and if you’re not sure how a cartoon that’s (ostensibly) for kids can be a true work of art, (1) that’s silly, and (2) how many kids’ cartoons do you know that have the artistic cojones to visually quote from Michelangelo, and can pull it off, too?

Katara and Aang recreate the Pieta

But I digress.

Let me address the coolness factor first. If a thing is cool, and is in no way morally objectionable, I think you should do it. Kung Fu is cool, and is in no way morally objectionable. Therefore, I think you should do it.

That’s a simple syllogism, but people who are thoughtful, serious, and sensitive (like this reader) are not always willing to accept that they should do something just because it’s cool, or fun, or enjoyable — but in the same breath will openly admire somebody who does things just because they’re cool, or fun, or enjoyable.

Sometimes we think we need a nobler reason to do something than just because we like it. This is because of a misunderstanding of virtue. A thing is virtuous despite being unpleasant, not because of it. If we were perfectly virtuous, virtuous actions would be perfectly easy and enjoyable — the way Glenn Gould not only played the piano exponentially better than I ever will, but (after years of practice) had an easier time of it, too.

Or we imagine that it’s selfish to do something just because we like it. While it’s true that it would probably be selfish to spend all our time doing things just because we like them, I doubt that this reader — being thoughtful, serious, and sensitive — lives a life of constant self-gratification. So Kung Fu is probably a good idea.

This business of “doing things for the right reasons” makes me think of Sihing2 Bengie, who is a black sash at my Kung Fu school, and claims that, had Neo mentioned a different martial art,

say, Tae Kwon Do, his own path would have been very different. Twenty-something Bengie saw The Matrix and decided to be just that badass, and so he was.

Thinking of Sihing Bengie reminds me of something else about “the right reasons”: just because you’re doing something you enjoy doesn’t mean you won’t be presented with opportunities to bring love and light to the world while you’re doing it.

Our Sifu3 is very much a father figure to us, and Bengie extends that fatherliness to those below him: he engages others in conversation, he offers encouragement during drills, and when he spars with you, he uses it as an opportunity to teach rather than to dominate. Whatever your religion, these things — care for others, giving of self — lead to saintliness.

I guess you could limit your activities to things you don’t enjoy, but that would be dumb, and you wouldn’t be any holier for it; you’d just be sadder. Or you could limit your activities to things that are only done 100% for the right reasons, but then you’d never do anything at all.

Kung Fu is a field where taking delight and showing love are often done at the same time and for the same reason. Like Heaven.

Stay tuned for Part II on Monday.

1 As always, I have asked the reader’s permission to publish his email, and would never publish private correspondence without explicit consent. That being said, feel free to let me know preemptively if you wouldn’t mind seeing an email of yours appear here.
2 “Sihing” means “older brother”. It’s the title by which we refer to a male black sash. Some systems use this title for any student who is more senior than you.
3 “Sifu” means master or teacher or father.

Part I of this post is here.

Not everything is about sex, but sex is about everything. Look at this, from Mr. God, This Is Anna:

Anna had gotten one end of the burst balloon trapped by her foot to the pavement. While she was stretching it with the one hand, she was poking it with her right index finger.

“That’s funny,” she murmured. Her unblinking eyes solidified this experiment like some twentieth-century Medusa.


“What’s up?”

“Will you pull this for me?”

I got down beside her and was handed the burst balloon.

“Now pull it for me.”

I stretched the balloon for her and she stuck her finger into it.

“That’s funny.”

“What’s funny?” I asked.

“Wot’s it look like?”

“Looks like you’re sticking your finger into a burst balloon.”

“Don’t it look like a man’s bit?”

“I suppose it does, kind of.”

“Looks like a lady’s on the other side,” she said.

“Oh! Does it? Let’s have a look.” I looked, and it did in a way.

“That’s funny, that is.”

“Well, what’s so funny about it?”

“If I only do one thing,” she poked her finger into the balloon again,”it makes a lady’s and a man’s. Don’t you think that’s funny, Fynn? Eh?”

The “one thing,” as I take it, is somehow God’s act of creating us, and not only us but the animals, and not only the animals but the universe as a whole. I don’t know why, but creation is dual: male and female, seed and soil, receiver and giver, divine and human:

All the universe has got a sex-like quality about it. It is seminal and productive at the same time. The seeds of words produce ideas. The seeds of ideas produce goodness knows what. The whole blessed thing is male and female at one and the same time. In face, the whole thing is pure sex. We’ve taken one aspect of it and called it sex, or made it self-conscious and called it Sex. But that was our own fault, wasn’t it?1

It’s one reason Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, about a planet with androgynous inhabitants, was a very interesting idea but didn’t really work: they just all seemed like a bunch of gay guys. Either it would have taken a more talented author than LeGuin to make it work, or nobody could have done it, and I suspect the latter. Humans don’t make sense without gender.

When I tell people I don’t believe that homosexual acts are right, I don’t mean two men shouldn’t have sex; I mean they can’t.

The first time I realized this was while watching porn2 a few years ago.3 These two men were clearly working at something, working pretty hard in fact, and I enjoyed watching it, I guess, but suddenly the whole thing seemed surreal: what on earth were they trying to accomplish? Who were they trying to fool?

I felt like I was watching somebody play golf with a pool stick, or use a tennis racket as a hammer. It was sad and weird and almost funny.

I don’t mean that two men or two women can’t love each other, and take care of each other, and support each other emotionally and spiritually and physically, and be tender towards each other. Recently my friend Jack P. amazed me by saying, of a mutual friend of ours who is also straight and male: “I love him so, so deeply!”

That’s not gay. That’s just people being people.

What I do mean is something like this: masculinity and femininity mean something; they’re not accidental and they’re not arbitrary.

I get that people don’t want to be limited by their bodies, and that between body and soul, or body and spirit, or body and mind, there is sometimes a deep disjoint.

Being both soul and body is a mystery beyond all telling. That mystery goes all the way to the heart of us. That’s why there’s no pain like the pain that happens when it goes wrong. Sex is what we’re made of, and when your sexuality is broken — as all of ours is, in different ways and to different degrees — it feels like fissures in your heart.

1 From Mister God, This Is Anna, by Fynn. It’s worth reading the whole context. As for its being our “own fault”, yes and no. What Fynn is getting at here has something to do with must have gone wrong with sex after Eden.
2 I guess I’m embarrassed about that, I dunno. Nearly every guy I’ve talked to about it either watches or has watched porn at various times in their lives. It’s objectively shameful, the way any sin is objectively shameful, but it’s hardly unusual. I’ve been porn-free for a long time, thanks to this book.
3 Proving that (1) no matter what I’m doing at the moment, I just can’t turn off the analytical bit of my brain, and (2) God sometimes uses really unexpected things to educate us.

To love a person is to learn the language of that person’s heart.

There are as many languages as there are people.

Our capacity to learn languages is endless.

Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.1

One nice thing about going to daily(ish) Mass is hearing about the saints, who I usually can’t even be bothered to talk to, much less read about. We’re under no obligation to do any of the above, of course, which is like saying that the son of a rich man could chew on corn cobs and sleep on a bed of hay, if he preferred to do so. Which of course we frequently do.

When I participate in any kind of daily liturgy, whether it’s the Mass or the Office, I try to remember that the readings for the day might very well be custom tailored to me, might be just exactly what I need to hear, if I have ears to hear it. That’d sound egotistical if we didn’t know the kind of love God has for us, which is — I keep reminding myself — intensely personal.

Today is Saint Luke’s day. The name always makes me think of Brother Lucas, who belongs to the order I stayed with for three months in Peru, back in ’08. My first memory of him is, in a sense, the first time I understood what the order was all about. We were sitting down to dinner and he was talking in Spanish; another brother, Br. José María, translated for me.

From the tone of Br. Lucas’ voice, I would have assumed he was discussing the weather, or the dogs,2 or a trip he had made into town. But the words coming from Br. José María were intensely personal: “It took me a long time,” he was saying, “to be able to offer up to God the blessings he gave me and the good works I did. But then He told me He wanted something else. I couldn’t believe it: I said, No, no, no! Because” — Br. Lucas took a big breath here — “He said that He wanted my sins, too.”

Was this standard dinner conversation around here? Was this, maybe, just what most Peruvians were like? A qualified “yes” to the first and a definite “no” to the second: one of the marks of the order was the sharing of interior lives to a degree I hadn’t encountered before, and haven’t since. But apart from them, Peruvian men aren’t generally big on sharing their feelings.

Mostly it was just Brother Lucas being Brother Lucas.

Brother Lucas is a big man: before joining the order, he used to coach high school crew teams. His voice is deep and rich and he has round, muscular shoulders, but I was always surprised how easy it was to talk to him: surprised because you wouldn’t think somebody with such a face, The Face, would be easy to talk to.

About a month into my visit, I was frustrated: there were some English speakers around, but most of the conversation was in Spanish, and although I spoke some of it, I always felt left out no matter how much the others tried to include me; and then of course if I noticed they were trying to include me, I felt awkward about that. It was an emotional place in general, too: you try sitting for three hours a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament and tell me some crazy stuff doesn’t come bubbling up from your heart.

So I was wandering around the grounds after dinner, 4000 miles from home and feeling every inch of it, when Br. Lucas saw me and asked what was wrong. “I’m sad,” I said in Spanish, “because everybody’s always talking, talking, talking, and I don’t understand anything!” and then I burst into tears.

He sat there with me for a little bit, and then said slowly and clearly: “Steve. Tu hablas Castellano muy, muy bien.3 He said it in Spanish, of course: making a gift not only of the words, but of the way he said them.

Whenever I ask myself what Christianity is all about — what difference it all makes, how it is that Jesus came to save us and yet here we are, profoundly un-saved — I remind myself: the only reason people like Br. Lucas exist is because Jesus came. There’s no other explanation for him than that Jesus lives in and through him. I know it doesn’t come through from two little stories. You’d have to meet the man.

Which applies to Jesus, too: you have to meet the man. When it comes to answering our deepest questions, words won’t do. Only a Person will.

1 From the Responsorial Psalm for today — Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012.
2 They owned 6 German Shepherds, whom they trained assiduously. Naturally Br. Lucas with a German Shepherd always made me think of St. Francis.
3 “You speak Spanish very, very well.”

“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.

Falling in love has got to be the most humiliating thing ever.

Call it a besetting sin, call it a weakness, or just call it the human condition — this is one of the biggest deals for me, and every time I think I’m all done, I get smacked upside the head with it. You’d think it would set off warning flags when I start to have thoughts like: “Oh yes. I used to be like that.”

Well, so it’s not the end of the world. A little heartache, I can deal with. The worst part is what it does to my sense of self: I mean, how embarrassing is it for a 28-year-old man to get all weepy because some guy didn’t talk to him at a party? To get jealous when he goes out with other friends? To start wondering if he should change the way he dresses, maybe start hitting the weights — so he can be more like him?

Just when I was starting to think I was a grownup.

I saw the danger, this time around: but I told myself I’d open up anyway, because it’s better to risk getting hurt than to keep people at arm’s length. Right?

Right. Oh, but ouch.

It helps to remember that it’s not really a question of friendship, or not wholly. I rarely fall for a guy if he and I are naturally simpatico. It’s always the ones who — poor guys, they didn’t ask for this — somehow symbolize what I’m not, the ones who don’t talk or think or dress like I do: the ones I’m always tempted to twist myself into knots for.

In a very real way, it’s not about him at all. It’s like a dream, where everybody around you is really a reflection of yourself. It’s not him, but some part of myself, that I’ve become obsessed with: the part I used to be, or the part I wish I were, or the part I never have been.

If this sounds juvenile and narcissistic, Oh Lord, is it ever. But knowing that doesn’t help a whole lot, any more than knowing you’ve got the flu brings down your body temperature.

Well. It’s not the end of the world, obviously, and one of these weeks the fire will die down, my stomach will unclench, and I’ll breathe easy again. I’ll remember that I am who God meant me to be, and be glad to be it. These things pass! They’ve passed before! And sometimes they leave real friendship in their wake — or if not that, some solid lessons in humility and self-knowledge, and a whole bunch of gifts to bring to the altar.

Just what I wanted for Lent. Lord, you shouldn’t have!