Don’t tell anyone I’m writing. I’m supposed to be beavering away on a new curriculum for advanced EFL students. Compared to most of the other jobs I’ve held, it’s more useful, less venal, and engages much more of the gray matter. It’s also deathly tedious. Unless I seize the odd chance to use language — as opposed to decanting it for people who are going to receive it with squints and frowns and all sorts of ungainly, half-comprehending faces – then that will be my marbles lost before much longer.
I’m afraid that is the simplest and most honest explanation why I decided to re-open this blog: There’s something in it for me. Actually, there’s a lot. George Orwell listed four reasons to write: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. Sitting here in Turkey, a Middle Eastern country transitioning from an illiberal democracy to an even less liberal confessional state – a country that’s become the unofficial crash pad for IS recruits – I feel them all.
Taking full advantage of the recent term break, I’ve managed to sell a couple of essays and a few more straight news pieces. One concerns the Lions of Rojava, a branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units that recruits foreigners to fight IS in Syrian Kurdistan. Every day I visit their Facebook page, open a chat window, and type, E-M-B-E-D M-E, P-L-E-A-S-E. Every day I chicken out and erase the message.
But receptive venues are scarce. The nicest editors I know happen to be in budget crunches. (Probably, this is also true for the nasty ones, but I won’t know until they start answering my query letters and submissions.) It’s wise for a writer – especially a semipro like the undersigned – to have a healthy store of unpublished thoughts. In the long run, it’ll mean having less to apologize for. But sometimes, among all the silly thoughts, there appears a legit thought that happens, for any number of reasons, not to be marketable. The principle of stewardship demands that some use be found for it. Thus, blogging.But of course this is no ordinary blog. This is a Catholic blog, one I shuttered about six months ago on the grounds that I considered myself insufficiently Catholic. I must admit – a little sheepishly, if you’ll excuse the pun – that my intellect and will haven’t moved all that much since then. But whenever I size up the alternatives, my heart breaks a little. Left-wing utopians would stick my head on a pike to punish me for microaggressing. I might enjoy liberal consumerism, but my credit rating sucks too badly. Besides, I am finally reaching the age where sexed-up ads make me cranky instead of horny.
No, a person in my age and state of life, with my habits of thought, who slips the surly bonds of Rome – even after serving the relatively short sentence of six years – finds himself in a position similar to the guy in Shawshank Redemption who is granted parole at the age of 105, or whatever it was. The world has gotten itself in a big damn hurry. There’s no keeping up with it, and good luck standing athwart it yelling, “STOP!” How anyone can catch his breath long enough to find meaning or love or dignity is beyond me.
The Church as a halfway house for a jaded reprobate sounds like an image Pope Francis would come up with. Only he’d mean it derisively, leading half the Church to chortle in approval while the other half imagined kicking him down the Bramante staircase. And it’s true that my motives don’t fit in very well with his vision of the Church, which is ever engaged, ever apostolic, and ever adaptable – more like a Stryker brigade team. (If the pontiff wants to use that one, he’s welcome to it.)
But it seems to me that a Church where everyone is running around in a frenzy, shouting at the top of their voices, is going to burn itself out. Pentecost lasted only one day. Moreover, that style of engagement is not going to play equally well in every demographic. Someone has got to address neurasthenic, first-world homebodies in their own tongue.
I am willing to stake a bet that this is where my interest and the Church’s might coincide. I am religious, not spiritual, meaning that the red tape of this world feels a lot more real – and more interesting – than the golden parachute awaiting the top performers in the next. The same is true, I daresay, for many others. Much as evangelists love to prescribe encounters with Jesus and compare conversion to falling in love, the fact remains that if Jesus were so accessible or so easily lovable, they wouldn’t have a job.
The rope around my ankle has always been people – living people who were nice to me, and whom I could relate to. If my unmarketable thoughts and preliminary sketches can be that rope, as some readers have said they were, then maybe I can be said to have taken my rightful place – in the big tent, and in the grand scheme.