Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: Pho, Fried Plantains, and Welcome Tables

Lines overheard in a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Paul:

"You leave there smelling like pho and fried plantains."

"It's called Señor Wong's."

"Well, pho and plantains both smell good.  So why not?"

And as I listen to the table of young folks, most of them Vietnamese, one an African-American friend, chat back and forth, the black teen speaking a few words of Hmong as the rest of the table laughs uproariously, I think of Whitman.  Of his boundless revolutionary confidence, confidence only a cracked mystic could generate or sustain, in the vision of a democratic society in which all alike are endear'd: America as the

centre of equal daughters, equal sons, / All, all alike endear'd . . . . 

A vision the United States has never realized, except in frenzied occasional glimpses.  But the foundational vision of American democracy.  And a vision seriously under duress at this point in time, when those who run things so patently don't hold all citizens in the nation as "alike endear'd."

A vision captured by a table of multi-ethnic young folks sharing bowls of pho together, as they talk about a South American-Vietnamese fusion restaurant serving both pho and fried plantains.  As they sit around a single table, with no high place and no low place.  With no good food and no bad food.

A table at which pho is as welcome as plantains, and Hmong as welcome as African American.

And I wonder what other cracked mystics throughout history have had a similar vision of a world in which all are alike endear'd, all are invited to the welcome table.

P.S. The portrait of Whitman is by Thomas Eakins--a tormented gay painter capturing the soul of a gay mystic-writer whose work powerfully interprets fundamental themes of American democracy.  As I look at the portrait and think about the lives of both Whitman and Eakins, and of the myriad gay and lesbian artists, writers, teachers, scholars, builders, makers, interpreters who have enriched my native culture and every other culture in the world, I think, too, of how outrageously wrong, how outrageously cruel, is the attack of the leaders of my church on LGBT persons right now.

I wonder if Eakins and Whitman would have felt as conspicuously unwelcome at the tables of Catholic churches in Minnesota right now as Steve and I have felt, traveling this past week in the state, while the bishops of the state incessantly beam messages to Catholics throughout Minnesota to demonstrate their Catholic identity by amending the state constitution this fall to inform a targeted minority group it's unwelcome in Minnesota.

And that no place exists at Catholic tables for the sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles who happen to be gay.

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