***A note concerning terminology: there is a difference between ‘gangsta’ and ‘gangster.’ The former is an expression of a spirited person, someone who is “cold-blooded,” “ice-cold,” who doesn’t crack under pressure. The latter is a member of the mob or a genre of films like Scarface, starring Al Pacino with machine guns and cocaine. They’re not unrelated, but they’re most certainly not synonymous.
Please, more stuff on gangstas. That’s serious. A real sense of what’s important, and a composure such to call out what’s not for what’s not. Aristotle called it ‘megalopsuchia.’ OG.
– J., selected from a comment.
I guess I take requests now. Especially when they’re convenient. Let’s return to that crazy gangsta from Galilee: Jesus, the real OG. (If you missed that post, you can read it here.)
In today’s Gospel, he really lets loose. Here’s the whole thing:
The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”
I’m no scripture scholar, but there is no doubt that Jesus was PISSED. What stands out today, and adds to yesterday’s reflections, is how uncompromising he is. Gangstas never compromise. When a person to the side of the argument got his feelings hurt and says the equivalent of “Hey now, c’mon Jesus, you’re hurting our feelings too, cut us a little slack over here,” Jesus doesn’t soften. He goes harder. He takes on all comers and disposes of them equally.
Whereas yesterday Jesus was a rude houseguest, today he’s just a street fighter, willing to mix it up with anyone. “Oh, okay; you want some too? Come and get it.” This, my friends, is what it means to be an original gangsta.
If you juxtapose that from Paul’s continued letter to the Galatians (in today’s first reading) you might feel like things are a bit out of balance. Paul says “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Was Jesus being all those things? Of course he was. If we have to choose one or the other, Paul himself would tell us to go with the Gangsta from Galilee.
The lesson is simple: we need not sterilize the fruits of the Spirit into the sort of thing that paralyzes and compromises. Paul never said “the fruit of the Spirit never offends, never hurts feelings, never makes people uncomfortable.” If we understand Jesus’ outburst in the Gospel as harmonious with the fruits of the Spirit in the first reading, we begin to see the whole picture. This is why I argued that the new evangelization needs profanity, in love. It needs a gritty edge, and edge we desperately lack.
EWTN and Catholic Radio and similar outlets are not only boring and predictable most of the time, they are also an aesthetic wasteland. This is not polite to say in public, but it needs to be said and heard. Many priests — the rude ones I mentioned yesterday — have assured me in private that they agree. The New Evangelization needs to take the world back by the hair. Sorry fans, but For Greater Glory was third-rate cinema at best. Just because film or media is Catholic and devout doesn’t mean it’s beautiful.
This aggressive rhetoric scares the daylights out of our non-gangsta culture nowadays. We pride ourselves on the fact that we do not make a scene in public. When the Enlightenment was young, in the earlier days of modernity, this was going to prevent religious warfare and violence. Good. But it failed. Miserably. The previous century has been the most violent century in human history. Yet, despite the constant wars we wage, we continue to believe that silence and politeness is better than offending someone with reality.
Our key example today is St. Ignatius of Antioch. Perhaps the most cold-blooded gansta of the Early Church. A total nutcase. This guy was borderline suicidal, like Christ. Read his Epistle to the Romans. He’s telling the local Church “do not interfere,” like Jesus told Peter to put down his sword. It’s basically a death wish. Here is the paragraph that contains his most famous, Eucharistic passage, used today as the communion antiphon:
I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all realize that I am voluntarily dying for God — if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts — that is how I can get to God. I am God’s wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. I would rather that you fawn on the beasts so that they may be my tomb and no scrap of my body be left. Thus, when I have fallen asleep, I shall be a burden to no one. Then I shall be a real disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more. Pray Christ for me that by these means I may become God’s sacrifice. I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles: I am a convict. They were at liberty: I am still a slave. But if I suffer, I shall be emancipated by Jesus Christ; and united to him, I shall rise to freedom.
One more thing: there is something about this gangsta theme that is very appealing to men. It gets us all riled up. Lots of men in the Church like to get juiced up on Ignatius or Jesus or whoever and go on online crusades against heretics. They rage and scream like Don Quixote: at social media windmills, to an audience that mostly agrees with them. I’ve tangled with some of these Catholic tough-guys before — and I suppose that sort of makes one of them too — but I’ve also met many of them in person. Hell, I went to college with them! They’re not exactly the kind of people who I’d ever really want to hang out with, party with, and I’d never get into a fist fight or a wrestling match with them, cause, frankly, I’d feel bad for them. They’re weak.
I find them close kin to the New Atheist tough guys on Twitter: they repeat the same, spoon-fed refrains and give the same sanctimonious retorts, with a supportive choir singing right behind them. They take on the weakest arguments and blow them up with insults. This is NOT a gansta. Kicking the shit out a straw man is not impressive. Online posturing and indignant flyers distributed after Mass over coffee and donuts, often belie a total cowardliness and softness on their part. A real gangsta calls them out for posing. Posers, all of them.
When I say gangsta, I mean it. Women, on the other hand, tend to be much more consistent in this regard. Fearless. Mean sometimes. Scary. Intimidating, like Christ. I reject the idiotic idea that men today are too feminized. No. We are becoming more and more masculinized, in the image of the self-enclosed and heady modern man. We need to be more feminized, womanized, more impassioned, less reasonable. Erotic. We need to become more hysterical. Crazy. Totally mad, like Christ.
So don’t use this as fodder for an online crusade. Go outside instead. Find someone and talk to them. In that conversation, don’t be afraid to show them what is real and beautiful. Tell them about yourself. Let the fruit of the Spirit guide you. Do not compromise if you must convict them of emptiness, shallow-heartedness, or superficiality. And if you pick a nasty fight online, you’d better be ready for it when the doorbell rings.
That’s the New Evangelization, I think. At least it’s part of it.