27.12.04

Meditations Aboard the Saint Charles Streetcar

On Carrollton and Claiborne the Streetcar begins about three blocks from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.
The streetcar that I ride is classic Christmas green with brown edging. Usually once a week I’ll walk down to the streetcar stop to take a ride. My destinations vary. Yesterday I took the streetcar to visit a High School religion class on Saint Charles Avenue. I spoke to all four classes and at the end of the day got back on the streetcar, a train that does not care about race or sexuality, education or gender. We all sit in the same car (thanks to Rosa Parks) and commence on our respective journeys.  One little girl about as tall as my knee told her girlfriend how she couldn’t wait to get home to eat cornflakes, take a hot bath and get a nap in before her momma got home. On another day, the driver spoke to me about the Presidential elections. He was very passionate about his election choice, warning me about the next four years. I thanked him for his observations and got off at the Latter Library. Another time some tourists in front of me were murmuring about how loud it was and how they should have stayed at the hotel to take a nap. I sat on the seat clutching my bookbag, protecting my laptop so it wouldn’t fall. Streetcars are bumpy, you know. The benches are hard so your body feels every movement, every shock of electricity. The lights will dim off and on near Carrollton and Willow. No one announces the stops. You just have to know. There are no maps in the car, just the signs from the windows. As I ride along, I watch the people get on and off and sometimes I hear the driver announce the next stop. She’ll even announce a good place to eat if you listen. This is journey. I’ve learned you have to listen if you want to reach some kind of spiritual maturity. It is a spiritual journey because it is humanity gathered together  I see it as nearly as I see my own hand typing these words. It is humanity in the fullest sense, an existential snapshot of the human condition right there on Carrollton and Claiborne.
If you liked this post about New Orleans — read more in my book
Things I Probably Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas).
On the streetcar you see lots of things out of your window. Low-economic housing and a few blocks away on the same street, huge Garden District mansions, College campuses, zoos, and parks.  Pedestrians and bikers. I was translating Ancient Greek at the car stop one afternoon and was yelled at by college guys in a red truck. They called me a freakin’ queer. I had my back turned to the street, sitting on the concrete with a book bag, an open Greek book and two stacked notebooks by my leg.  I heard their taunts and whipped my head around.   I didn’t say anything, just heard their jeers and saw their contorted faces. A jolt of anger ran through me.  Who were these boys to lash out at me because of their own insecurity? Do we live in a world where it is insane to read? Where reading is queer, different, out of touch? Sometimes in this journey, I feel like I live in a dystopia.  It is then that I feel lost and discouraged, reluctant to take the ascent to a newer level. I become despondent and alone, jaded about the world around me and discontent with the state of affairs. I fail to see the possibility of spiritual ascent.  All the ladders seem broken, all the paths are one-way streets. I envy Jacob and his ladder. The vision of angels descending and ascending. Spiritual life is in the midst of the urban jungle. There is a world pulsing at every moment. But, I can stop on a street corner and take a deep breath of acrid air, sigh, lift my hands high and thank God for his many gifts. I thank God for how he has blessed me.  I say a small prayer on the earth that I stand, no matter where I stand. I whisper prayers to myself as the car rumbles.  I can hear the electric lines above snapping and recoiling, their vicious dance apparent as we roll down the oak-lined street. I think of the ladder of ascent. I pray to God to illumine my eyes, to soften my heart and to open “the ears of my heart”. These are not stages. I am not on the journey one day, and then on the next, ascending the spiritual ladder. At the end of the day, I do not suddenly become mature in my faith. The journey is continuous. Whether it be here in New Orleans or back home, whether in the motions of my heart and mind or in the paths of my friendships and loves, in the intimate whispers of my prayers to God. Maturity is marked along the path.  Sometimes without a street map handy to guide the way. Off the cuff and without warning I have to be Father to someone in need, and just as unrehearsed I have to be nurturing mother. The reality of father is new to me.  The reality of son is a comfortable role for me. I notice that I am being called to spiritual fatherhood. I sense that this is an important step in my spiritual journey. I am nurturing mother in the way that I care for the elderly in my community and my family. The opportunities for maturity are there, surely, I just do not always apprehend them as I should. Because I am lackadaisical and unaware of the possibilities around me to grow in my faith.  I certainly have the knowledge.  I certainly have the brain. But as my mother has told me in the past, I do not always have the heart. Sometimes my heart says things I do not know how to articulate.  Sometimes I am at the end of the streetcar line and I have to get off. The outside wind is often cold and the ground is hard on my feet. I have a few quarters in my pocket, not enough to take the bus.

So, I walk, meditating again in the urban jungle.  Suffice it to say I am on a journey, a mediocre journey (I have come to terms with my own mediocrity long ago) and not always sure where the road will lead. I am okay with only having questions.  I am not so naive, or vain, or prideful (thank god) that I need answers. I am a seeker. That is the best word that describes my spirituality. I am a seeker on a particular rung of the wheel.
Saint Charles Avenue Streetcar, New Orleans, Louisiana
To me, the ascent is rather a wheel than a ladder. A ladder presupposes one way up; while a wheel implies by its very design that different spokes can reach the same spiritual center.  The wheel turns with all of its spokes intact.  The center will hold; I believe that.  I am on the streetcar now and it has come to a stop, so I really have to get off now.  I can hear the driver yelling already!

7.12.04

Theology: Reflection on the Vatican II Document Sacrosanctum Concilium

Second Vatican Council convenes in St. Peter's Basilica
It has been over thirty years since the Vatican Council began, since the renewal of the liturgy and the subsequent changes that have affected Catholic worship as we know it was first set into motion. I was born in 1979, more than a decade after these changes. I grew up knowing nothing different than the Mass that I know today, in the vernacular, which for me was the familiar language of English. I only know Mass where the priest faces the people, not the other way around.
     Little did I know as a boy in Catholic grammar school that the liturgy and worship of my time and place had had a long and tumultuous history, a journey spanning two millennia, from the the breaking of the bread recorded in Acts (2:2), to the Greek concept of koinonia, the Orthodox liturgy of the East, to the dramatic Papal displays of Medieval Europe to the Tridentine Mass so familiar to a whole generation of Catholics who came before me.
     So, reading the document on the liturgy from the Council today, more than three decades later, is very interesting, because it is important to go back to the source of what changed dramatically a liturgy that had been practically unchanged since the Council of Trent. What has really changed and what has really stayed the same? What did this document have to say and how have we been faithful to it in our interpretations?

3.12.04

Poem: "Bobby"


Bobby was bigger, but only by a few inches; in a fight, he always toppled me
effortlessly to the ground
with a swift kick of his Keds, a warm thud: undulated by the trampoline’s
attraction to the center of things.  Bobby snarled like an innocent kid on crack as he stood over me, his hair almost falling into my face —
then laughing, jumping into the air,
landing on my belly
laughing —
again

I was angry by this
invasion after school with something I could only guess was
fucked up camaraderie,
his cat calls of queer only adding to the sting of the taut tarpaulin,
the weight of Bobby,
my own inability to stand on my own two feet, the feeling of
discontinuous motion,
too fueled with raw gut to understand what he meant when
he pushed his weight on my stomach,
his Abercrombie jeans against my ribs.

If there was intimacy,
it was only for a moment —
and even then,
I surmise,
illusory
for
he took my head
back to the grainy tarp, my face a contorted red mash:

His suck-my-dick mantra seemed a distorted fraternal gesture,
an initiation into the world of men,
inverted love and affection parading,
threatening to undo me —
pinning me in a corner,
giving me a cruel chance to

not verily “men loving men”
as I would read about later —
when I got older —
not a continuum —
but fractured fraternity,
violent; 

And he would
clap my back after we fought
as if it was a ritual of friendship.

as if the previous humiliation was nothing, really, as if I had nothing to be ashamed about — any feelings I might have had were none at this moment because Bobby was kind
and generous.

You did okay for a pansy.  Really.
Can I borrow X-Men?

I would say “sure” and “okay” like a monk at chant.
“They’re in my room”.

But, he was my friend.

Bobby in his white cotton v-neck Fruit of the Looms
and Abercrombie jeans,
wiry blonde hair —
(he didn’t sleep; red circles around his eyes)
would
graciously accept my comic books
as a token of some sort,
a secret pact between us —
and he would bring them back,
in their plastic slipcases,
as if he knew they were precious to me,
punching my chest with a cordial
fuckface,
not too distant from my mother’s call
to come to dinner.