A fart in church

One of the best parts about writing for this blog is the diversity of thought and experience of the readership. That’s not me blowing smoke. It’s true. I have found that I learned a lot about my own position on this big blue rock from hearing of the positions of others here than I learned anywhere else. Agreement, disagreement, whatever. It comes down to people coming at an idea I have from a variety of angles.

Never more is this true than in the field of religion, where not only do people come from various faiths, but various positions on faith, spirituality, organized religion and other “not for me, but do what you dig” ideologies. So this piece isn’t as much about me offering thought as me asking for the sounding board to bounce thoughts to me.

I spent a dozen years in Catholic school and remain a semi-regular participant in the ritual that is Saturday/Sunday mass. My kid is in Year Six of the schooling and gets more of that at home from my mother-in-law, who spent her whole life as an educator of the faith and a pretty “hardline Catholic” (if such a thing exists). My parents are active in the church back home: Dad’s an usher, Mom does the readings. They still attend the same church they got married in almost 50 years ago.

So that’s the set up for what happened two weeks ago as I took Mom to church on a Saturday afternoon when I was in town for our other religious ritual: The monthly baseball card show.

The new priest we got (we seem to be going through them at a fairly brisk pace) isn’t the world’s most likeable man. He met me for the first time about a month ago and noticed that I had lost a lot of hair as he had at some point in his life. “I like your haircut,” he said as he laughed.

Thanks, Father.

The bigger “problem” is that the man is hearing impaired, which makes him difficult to understand. To that end, he has his own personal deacon who does a lot of the talking for him, including the homily.

For those uninitiated in the faith, a deacon is a layman (all men still. My faith needs to grow up.) who serves as kind of a “caddy” for the priest. I’m sure some of them are decent people, but I’ve yet to meet one. My experience with deacons is that they are power-hungry, self-important assholes who believe that God has chosen them to fill the role. This man is like an Alpha Deacon in that regard. He has created rules that prohibit church members from approaching the altar during certain parts of the mass. He forbids readers to sit up front, which means they have to walk up to do the reading, walk back after the reading and then walk back to do the second reading. All of this makes no sense, as most readers are in their 70s and are lucky to be walking at all.

Above all else, however, this guy has that “presence” about him: Holier-than-thou. Smug. A Chosen One. He also looks like Ben from the Dilbert cartoons.


So all of this conspired to let the priest give Deacon Dickhead the mic for the homily at mass two weeks ago.

My mother kind of captured my thoughts on what the homily should be for me: “I go there to feel better,” she said. “I want something that makes me feel inspired or at least like I shouldn’t feel bad about something that is happening in my life.”

I agree. Even if it’s a little more toward the fire-and-brimstone side, it can be helpful and inspiration.

The readings were good ones: Moses holding up his arms with the staff of God helps his people win a battle, but as he grew tired, his arms fell. When his arms fell, the opposition had the better of the battle. Thus, two guys gave him a place to sit and held up his arms for him. The Gospel was similarly about getting by with a little help from your friends. (I don’t complicate my faith, I guess…) Thus, I’m looking forward to a good bit of preaching, even given this guy’s limited capabilities.

Instead, I got a political lesson.

The guy got up there and started talking about the election and how neither candidate was good, but one of them was going to make it easier for people to get abortions and we can’t have that. He told some story about Hillary Clinton not clapping for Mother Theresa. He then told this “real story” about a guy who died:

A guy feels sick and goes to the doctor. He finds out he has a virulent strain of cancer that despite every effort, he can’t overcome.

He dies and meets God. “God,” he says. “Why do we have something horrible like cancer? Why can’t you send us a cure for cancer?”

“My child,” God replies. “I did send you a cure for cancer. But she was aborted because her mother wanted a boy.”

At the end of this horseshit, people broke out in applause.

In church.

During mass.

Did I mention we’re Catholic, where we don’t pretty much get jacked up about anything during church?

I could feel my field of vision narrowing and my head pounding as I saw a woman two pews up clapping like it was a Trump rally. I looked over at my mother who was just silent, so I had a hard time getting a feel from her about this.

When communion came (or as my kid once noted, “That time where you go up and get a cookie from the priest), Deacon Dickhead was running my line. I was torn between three actions:

  1. Stay put, take the thing, don’t embarrass mom
  2. Cut across the aisle to the other line, likely create a small scene, but feel better
  3. Stay put and when he says, “Body of Christ” respond with “Fuck you you fucking fuck” and then take a swing at the guy. Larger scene, but probably worth it once in a lifetime.

I went with the first one because it was my parents’ church and I didn’t want to bring shame on the family. I did the perfectly Catholic thing: I sucked it up and took it. At the end of mass, the priest made a point of complimenting the deacon and people applauded again. I wanted to tell them both to fuck off and die. I remained politely Catholic.

On the way to the car, I began with the “So…” line, only to have my mother start railing against this like she was Regan in “The Exorcist.” Certain words don’t sound natural coming out of the mouth of a 70-year-old woman on her way out of church.

Mom found them all.

It got so bad, she forced my father to avoid that topic of discussion at dinner, a meal that was accompanied by a big jolt of wine.

I spent the rest of that week bitching up a storm in my head. Separation of Church and State. Self-righteous prick. Use open records and FOIA the shit out of everything he ever did and hope he had a sexual rap battle with Ken Bone.

I still don’t know why this is eating at me so much. It’s not like the church ever would be in the “Do what you do, just don’t get any on me” kind of thing when it came to anything sex-based. I never imagined my faith to be OK with life not beginning when a man unhooked the woman’s bra. What is it about this one speech that really pissed me off?

Part of it was the messenger, I’m sure. I dislike people who enjoy talking the talk but have never been forced to walk the walk. I also dislike people who cling to false stereotypes of people that serve as strawmen for their bullshit. I REALLY don’t like bullies and this guy is one of those as well. He’s basically an asshole fondue of everything I hate, so I get that.

Part of it was the venue. When I’m watching a baseball game and I get a commercial for Trump or Ron Johnson or Viagra (all equally helpful in getting old angry white guys hard), I’m not thrilled, but it comes with the territory. I also know that my faith tells me God is supposed to be everywhere, and if you watched the ALCS, you know he’s with me when the Indians are playing. Still, when I’m in His house, I’m not watching commercials on my phone, so I’m thinking I’m safe from this shit.

Maybe there’s another part of me that has allowed me to kind of compartmentalize my faith into areas of agreement and areas I ignore. When I’m forced to confront those things I like to keep in the trunk of the car, it really irritates me. I don’t know.

What I do know is that for all the trouble this faith is having in keeping people engaged, pissing off one of the few people in that joint under the age of 70 isn’t a great idea.

Thus, I leave you with the questions that have bothered me: Is this a big deal? Am I overreacting? What should I do?

9 thoughts on “A fart in church

  1. There are, of course, lots of alternatives. The one you might avail yourself of is the written letter to the pastor (and whether you send it after you write it is another decision). That way, you can organize your thoughts (deciding whether “Fuck you, you fucking fuckhead fuckface” might be communicated a little more elegantly), and be sure not to miss any of your points.

    In our congregation, we take time after the sermon (or homily) for “talk back.” People might amplify a point the pastor made, delve a little deeper in an aspect they thought was overlooked, or even directly oppose something she said. It’s usually a pretty calm affair, and gives the congregation some new and deeper insights. Sometimes, it can get kind of rollicking. Oddly enough, we have found over time that this segment makes both the preacher and the congregation sharper and more engaged in the sermon. That may or may not be a desirable development at your parents’ church.

  2. You could have gotten up and walked out during the homily – right after whispering to your mom, “Sorry, I have to go to the restroom…” Might have been fun to see whether anyone joined you.

    I watched my dad rip a deacon a new one after a mass following a similar experience, probably 45 years ago. It was glorious and frightening; I’ve never forgotten it. Still makes me a little queasy.

    But that being said, one of my all-time favorite people was a deacon – they’re not ALL bad.:)

  3. I’m surprised this is the only issue you have with the church. I had 16 years of catholic education and struggled with many issues including its treatment of women. After some years, I drifted away. I was unable to be a cafeteria catholic. So I empathize with you. Try a different parish. You don’t have to put up with arrogant, blowhard bullies.

  4. If the parish is incorporated as a charitable nonprofit, direct endorsement — for or against a particular candidate — is a violation of the tax code and can cause the corporation to lose its tax exemption. If you want to make a scene, reporting to the nearest office of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Section might be a fun way to do it.

  5. Your story reminds me of a story my father used to tell me. He told me this story every time I would get in jam; so I would have to hear him retell this story often:

    There was a poor farmer who was barely able to scratch enough dirt to support his wife, daughter, and young son. After a very long day of working in the fields and tending livestock, the weary farmer wondered to the family’s dinner table. The hour was late as his wife served the farmer his evening supper explaining to him that she had served the children earlier.

    Just as the farmer picked up his fork to begin his meal, his young son came bursting through the door screaming, “Pa! Pa!” Alarmed at his son’s agitation, the farmer did his best to calm his youngest child. Gasping for breath and laboring to speak the son explained, “Paw, I was in the barn tending to the hogs when I hear giggling coming from the hayloft.”

    “Go on,” the farmer encouraged the lad.

    “I climbed the ladder real quiet like,” said the excited boy. “I see Sissy in the hay with that traveling salesman feller,” as he panted. “And Pa, Sissy was lifting her skirt and that feller was dropping his trousers….” The boy finally runs out of breath and gasps for more air.

    “Go on, boy, tell me more,” pleaded the anxious farmer.

    “Pa, I think Sissy and that feller are fixing to pee all over our hay!”

    With that, the farmer with an agility that belied his fatigue, leaped from his seat grabbing the shotgun from atop the mantel. As he sprinted to the door, he stopped and turned to address the young boy, “Son, you have ascertained the facts correctly but have come to an entirely wrong conclusion.”

    In my experience, that boundary between religion and politics is becoming more indistinct. More and more, I find that I am asking the same challenge question my dad would ask me, “Are you the farmer or the boy?”

  6. Over the years, I’ve read your writing here. Always thoughtful, caring, with real attention to right and wrong.

    So, pardon the personal question, but what are you doing taking communion from Deacon Dickhead?

    You’re validating a system that’s against everything you believe in. I doubt that’s a good thing. Even on the cafeteria plan.

  7. I agree with the comment, find another parish. One of the best parts about living in SoCal is that you don’t have to go far to find a church with a LT Jesuit and women serving at the less well-attended masses. The church has already changed, there’s just a few (million) who need to keep up.

  8. A similar thing happened to me several years ago. The homily was given by the trainee priest which a google search revealed that he had ripped off from a conservative catholic website. He was Republican-splaining the unfairness of the Dems toward some of Bush II’s judge nominees (Pryor and some other hacks).

    I walked out in the middle of the homily and in the end, I came back after it was over and finished the service. The next day I sent an email to the priest explaining that it was not proper to engage in political speech in a church service. He replied (I paraphrase) that the young man was overcome by (as Kramer would say) “his unbridled enthusiasm” for all things Catholic and right wing apparently. And he said that he discussed the inappropriateness of it with the young dickhead.

  9. I was forced out of my position as music director at a United Methodist congregation in 1994 after being outed as gay, and while visiting my brother and his wife some years later attended their Nashville mega-church at their invitation. I had lost my religion but still enjoy a good show. The “message” contained a heavy dose of everything wrong with militant gays… the usual us or them. After the service was over I went to shake the pastor’s hand and when he (always a he) asked did I enjoy the service I replied “not really. I’m queer and somehow felt I needed to shake hands with a pharisee. I won’t be back.”

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