Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eating, Drinking, and Living in Exile: Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day and American Catholic Identity

As I flounder in the wilderness, words that are signposts for me (I choose the word "flounder" instead of "wander" deliberately: "wander" doesn't begin to touch the depths of spiritual alienation I feel in response to my Catholic church at this point in time):

As survivors and families of survivors you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that what you thought was true, just wasn’t so.  That big institutions and people loyal to the institution are sluggish (at best) to change.  Finally, that sometimes we do have to go into Exile in order to find our way home.

Claire Bangasser describing the purpose of her A Seat at the Table Blog:

I re-imagine a Church engaged in dialogue with people at the margins.

Let's not give up the ancient longing for commensality: everyone eating and drinking together as brothers and sisters in the Great Common Home. 

John Dominic Crossan in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (NY: HarperCollins, 1994).

The deliberate conjunction of magic and meal, miracle and table, free compassion and open commensality, was a challenge launched not just on the level of Judaism’s strictest purity regulations, or even on that of the Mediterranean’s patriarchal combination of honor and shame, patronage and clientage, but at the most basic level of civilization’s eternal inclination to draw lines, invoke boundaries, establish hierarchies, and maintain discriminations.  It did not invite a political revolution but envisaged a social one at the imagination’s most dangerous depths.  No importance was given to distinctions of Gentile and Jew, female and male, slave and free, poor and rich.  Those distinctions were hardly even attacked in theory; they were simply ignored.

But, then, there's this--and so the floundering, the deep, fulsome alienation, the spiritual search.  The exile:

That line at Chick-fil-A touched me like a banner of unwelcome, like a vigilante caravan of people who could hardly wait for the opportunity to openly express their belief that I was an enemy to be conquered -- someone they longed to see be put back in her place as an anamoly, a threat to society, a pervert, a half-person. 
It broke my heart. 

A gay Chick-fil-A employee talks about last week's Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day:

The people I work alongside kept going on and on about how powerful it was to be part of such a righteous movement, and how encouraged they were to know that there were so many people who agree with Dan Cathy. They went on at great length about how it was wrong not just for gays to marry, but to exist. One kid, age 19, said “I hope the gays go hungry.”

Some nights, I realize there really isn't a place for us here.

A father to his son James after James has told his father he's gay:

I hope your telephone call was not to receive my blessing for the degrading of your lifestyle. I have fond memories of our times together, but that is all in the past. 
Don’t expect any further conversations with me. No communications at all. I will not come to visit, nor do I want you in my house.  . . .  
Goodbye, Dad

To which John Aravosis appends the following observation as he publishes the text of the father's letter to his son:

This is how the religious right, and the Republican party that enables them, quite literally kill people.

And then there's more: against the backdrop of the foundational imagination of Catholicism--a seat at the table for everyone; a table open to receive everyone, with no one left hungry and no one shoved from the table; a table at which all voices are welcome and have something of value to say--against that backdrop(!), two leading lights of the American Catholic church last week published ugly, gloating statements about how they had eaten at/intended to eat at Chick-fil-A to stand tall and proud with those eating and drinking the death of their gay brothers and sisters by supporting Chick-fil-A.

With those eating and drinking their own death (1 Corinthians 11:27-32), since that's what we do when we choose to set a table that deliberately excludes some of our brothers and sisters from the meal.  When we choose to set a table the very setting of which sends a strong, decisive message to some brothers and sisters that they're not wanted.

That they're denigrated. 
That they are not valued. 
That their voices do not count and never will count. 
That there is no place for them.  Not at our table. 
That they should shut up, vanish, stop bothering the righteous by claiming a right to exist in the world of the righteous.

In the very week in which hordes of righteous American Christians flock to tables to eat the death of their gay brothers and sisters, thereby eating their own death, two leading lights of American Catholic journalism--let's call them Mike and Cathy--not only decided to eat and drink exclusion, denigration, and hatred for their gay brothers and sisters, proudly contributing to a company that funds such strategies for those who are gay:

These leading lights of American Catholic journalism, who are routinely asked by important mainstream media outlets like the New York Times or important television personalities like Stephen Colbert to tell the rest of the world what it means to be Catholic: these powerful centrist spokespersons for American Catholicism, these arbiters of what it means to be Catholic in America today and arbiters of who will (and, of course, will not) count in the American Catholic conversation, Mike and Cathy, took it on themselves to announce to the world that they intended to stand with Chick-fil-A.

And with all Chick-fil-A stands for, since where our money goes, there our hearts lie (Matthew 6:21).

And this, of course, leaves me and many other American Catholics with a very difficult spiritual task, one that places us in a space of exile: when the very mouthpieces of what it means to be Catholic in our nation today inform the world that those who are gay and lesbian have no place at the table, what can Catholicism really mean, when all is said and done?

And when Mike and Cathy write articles (as they frequently do) about how we should address the exodus of brother and sister Catholics from the church, or how we might do a better job of evangelizing today, what can they possibly mean?  What can their Catholicism mean?  When they proudly contribute to the stigmatization and marginalization of some brother and sister Catholics.

When their Catholicism celebrates the very antithesis of catholicism.

When it celebrates the exclusion and denigration--eating the death--of brothers and sisters who are gay.

And when it is constitutionally unable--stubbornly, defiantly, belligerently unwilling--to hear the voices of Jane, Thom, James, or the gay Chick-fil-A employee who can't even afford to speak her own name.  When it deliberately and cruelly excludes them from the conversation that defines American Catholicism today.

Or, for that matter, when their Catholicism is constitutionally unable to hear the voices of Claire, Patrick, Leonardo, or John Dominic.

Or, it seems to me, the voice of Jesus himself (Matthew 11:28-30).

The graphic is from Pat Dollard's The War Starts Here blog, and is accompanied with the caption, "Happy Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day: stand up to anti-Christian, anti-chicken heterophobic bigots."

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