Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Confiteor in Leather

We build in vain unless the LORD build with us.
Can you keep the City that the LORD keeps not with you?
A thousand policemen directing the traffic
Cannot tell you why you come or where you go.
A colony of cavies or a horde of active marmots
Build better than they that build without the LORD.
Shall we lift up our feet among perpetual ruins?
I have loved the beauty of Thy House, the peace of Thy sanctuary,
I have swept the floors and garnished the altars.

T. S. Eliot, Choruses from ‘The Rock’

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It’s been a strange year—not unlike 2013, though less skull-crushingly awful (for me personally). I can’t tell whether my spiritual life is cyclical in an ascending-Mount-Purgatory sort of way, or whether I’m just in a rut. Probably the latter.

Diagram of Purgatory from Dorothy Sayers' introduction to the Purgatorio.

I’m entangled in a great many things that I should leave behind; most of them have to do with a leather bar here in Baltimore that I go to a lot.1 Now, before you flip your lid, gentle reader, allow me to assure you that Fifty Shades of Grey has as little to do with my life as it does with yours, and that in my (limited) experience, men and women in the leather world are some of the most sweet-natured people on earth. Kind of like people who work at Hot Topic. That’s a big part of why I am thus entangled: that bar is full of my friends. I like them, I like being with them, I feel lonely and bored when I'm away from them too long. And, like most millennials, they have to work so much to make ends meet that hanging out with them while they’re both off work and awake is a challenging, rare prospect.

There are less creditable motives, obviously. I like getting drunk; I like looking at men in leather, or out of it for that matter; I like fooling around with them. I have no desire to paint myself as some kind of compassionately conflicted saint—or rather, I have a great deal of desire to paint myself that way, but it wouldn’t be true, which is what matters.

Take that, pedestal.

All the same, as shabby a witness as I am (how credible, exactly, is a guy who will dance around in a jockstrap and a harness but won’t eat meat because it’s Friday?), I worry that there’s no other Christian presence in the lives of a lot of these guys; and that does matter to me. Messiah complex, probably. Foolishness, certainly: it’s neither my job nor my business to save anybody, and God is perfectly capable of reaching them without my assistance or my embarrassment. Is it better to be a scandal, or not be there at all?

Theologically that question is easy. Better not to be there. God can reach them as he pleases. Living in sin is destructive, by its nature; they are not (as far as I know) transgressing their consciences, whereas I am, and I should cut that shit right out. We know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal.

Yet I can’t get St Paul’s other strange words out of my head: I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. That can’t apply here—can it?

I loathe easy answers, and perhaps that’s the problem. I have a deep-seated mistrust of any answer that dissolves one of the parameters of a paradox; my whole life, I’ve found paradoxes to be built into the fabric of the universe at every level—scientific, social, theological, personal—and accordingly look for them everywhere.2 Maybe I’m more addicted to paradox than I am to truth? Or maybe I’m looking for the wrong kind of paradox here, more invested in a romantically dark conflict than in illumination and harmony. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time I made a bad decision.

Jesus embraced whores. He didn’t pay them, though. How do I become that person instead of this one?

Christ and the Samaritan Woman (St Photini)

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1It ain’t to hand out tracts.
2What confirmation bias?

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