Sunday, June 30, 2013

Q AND A WITH YOUNG GEORGE GOSS

WOMEN IN THEIR SUNDAY BEST
PAUL KLEE, 1928
Recently I heard from a lovely young man who lives in the CT/NYC area named George Goss.

Here's his bio: "George Goss graduated from the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts with a political science degree in 2005. After an unsuccessful, but formative three month stint in the Army he moved to the West Village where he is a parishioner at the Dominican parish of Saint Joseph's and frequents the Catholic Center at NYU. He is still discerning his vocation, but in the meantime is content living with his parents, and heading up to his hometown of Guilford, CT on the weekends. He received his Masters in Digital Photography from the School of Visual Arts in 2010. His blog can be found at www.georgegoss.com/blog."

George is a media assistant for Kindly Light Productions, and in the course of preparing me for an interview with Father Gabriel for Sirius XM 129, we had a delightful phone chat. After which he emailed me the following questions. I told him they'd take awhile to answer and invited him to call me again, but then I decided to work them up as a couple of posts. Here's the first.

1. Would you ever consider practicing law again? One of my relatives, her son was shot in the back and killed during a drug deal gone bad-and she does pro bono law work as her primary gift of service. She does all her law work completely for free…she “gave up” on a career. I guess for me I always wonder how people with talents, especially educational ones “give them up” in favor of another vocation like one of my friends who graduated at the top of his class at Cooper Union in Engineering only to leave and become a Dominican friar. Another example is a family friend who became an M.D. only to not be able to “disconnect” from his patients. There was one sick boy that he could simply not treat merely as a patient. He wanted to be friends with his patients as opposed to simply treating them, and going on to the next one. Part of my thinks, ”How can you give up all of that medical talent.? Isn’t it his duty to push past the emotional barriers, and be what he was trained to be?” Is there a certain amount of “waste” in responding to God? Maybe this is just my tight-fisted Yankee roots talking…

No, I will never practice law again: I consciously burned that bridge behind me, on which more below. I so identify with your friend the doctor who wanted to be friends with his patients—that was just my conflict, or one of them, as a lawyer: the professional remove that actually militated against the face-to-face restorative encounter, the only thing, in my experience, that has a hope of making anyone whole. Plus, I’m just a sort of pathetic heart-on-my-sleeve can’t-we-all-just-get-along? type. So not lawyer material.

I think many of us make a great mistake which is to think that God wants us to do the grim, hard thing. “I don’t really want to be a doctor but I will do it for Christ.” “I don’t really want to be a lawyer, but it will make my parents happy.” Christ has plenty of doctors who were born to be doctors. Christ has plenty of lawyers who were born to be lawyers. He doesn’t need another one. I think we are really often terrified of our true vocations. Thus, we make a so-called sacrifice for God that He never asked, never intended, and that can't  bear real fruit.

God calls us to "leave home" (whether or not we physically leave home), family, friends, all structures, all power systems, and to embark on a perilous journey, undertaken alone and in darkness. Real vocation is a sacrament, a marriage, a leap of blind faith into a life we can’t imagine beforehand. I knew what my life as a lawyer would look like; I had no idea what my life as a writer would look like when I gave up the money, security, benefits etc. and started writing at the age of 42.

I have never for one second regretted my decision or doubted that I made the right one. Writing calls into play my entire intelligence in a way the law never could for me, so it’s not a matter of giving up the life of the mind; writing (as I imagine being a friar would), calls my mind (and body, strength and spirit) to its highest fulfillment. Ordering my life to writing has revealed, and continues to reveal, to me a whole way of seeing and being with Christ.

And how beautiful that your relative, in response to what must have been her unimaginable sorrow and grief, has decided to make pro bono legal work her primary gift of service. The Kingdom of God is like yeast, all through the loaf. And what’s absolutely wrong for me is absolutely right for someone else.

2. I don’t really drink. I have a cousin who is “dry.” Is there a test to see if a friend or family member is an alcoholic? Is there a way to tell if I am “enabling” an addiction?

I think the way to conduct all human relationships is modeled to us by Christ, who on the one hand was never a doormat, and on the other never returned violence, whether physical or emotional, with violence. He looked people in the eye with total love and mirrored the truth back to them. So with the alcoholic, we get to say things like “I love you but you’re not welcome in my house when you’re drinking.” We set loving, flexible boundaries that protect our integrity without accusing the other or casting him or her out.

There’s no test I know of to diagnose whether a person is an alcoholic. Though I will say that people who are heavy drinkers but not alcoholics will stop if, say, the doctor tells them they’re endangering their health, or when it starts to seriously interfere with their family or work life. For alcoholics, trouble/problems simply trigger us to break out the Wild Turkey and drink even more …

3. Do you write every day? What books are you reading right now?

I do try to write every day, even if it’s “just” a blog post. My abiding desire is to have many hours alone each day when I can write, which doesn’t always happen. I have any number of projects, ideas, essays, book ideas going at any one time: huge file of quotes, of half-formed “reflections,” passages from books I mean to some day riff off of. So I always have a wonderful (if not overwhelming) sense of anticipation. Lately more of my time has been taken up with administrative type stuff: scheduling talks, editing other people’s work. But my own writing is the insistent pulse that beats beneath it all. It's not even really a matter of discipline. I get extremely edgy when I can't write. And I'm pretty edgy to begin with.

Current reads: Fr. Walter Ciszek’s He Leadeth Me, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Eddie Doherty’s Matt Talbot. The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard: he has a tremendous chapter on nests. I’ve gone back to Romano Guardini’s The Lord. On deck are Elisabeth Leseur’s collected writings and Pilgrim of the Absolute by Léon Bloy, about whom I’m preparing to write a piece.

4. For a few years now I have held the conviction that the women who speak honestly about their abortion experiences are the most effective way to communicate to people and to help us realize what abortion is all about. I have read about 15 pages of your book, “Poor Baby,” and I was surprised to hear that the radio host thought that you did not have the “wisdom” to speak on abortion. I noticed too that this book looks like it is self-published. From what I have read it is hitting the nail on the head. Were you not able to find a publisher for it? Also, when my mom asked about this book at a local Connecticut bookstore the clerk all but pulled a Pontius Pilate saying that she was better off looking somewhere else. What’s the best way to “approach” the “abortion issue?” Is there a game plan to preaching a pro-life message or does it come down to talking to one person at a time and trying to change one heart at a time?

Yes, I self-published "Poor Baby", partly as an experiment in self-publishing (I managed, somewhat miraculously, to design the cover and format it myself); partly because I did try a few magazines but no-one seemed especially keen to publish a 10,000 word personal essay about abortion…

I don’t know any other way to approach anything than from personal experience. I think we evangelize by attraction, not promote, and one of the ways I am attracted is always by the personal, well-told story.

I think any approach that converts hearts is a “good” approach, but we tend to approach abortion as a political issue when it is so much more than that!I sometimes wonder if you asked the Catholic man or woman in the street why abortion is wrong if the person would be able to answer in simple, heartfelt language that would appeal to a person of reasonable intelligence and affection. Abortion is not an “issue” that you pluck out of the whole fabric of life and take a stand on. Either you’re for all of life or you’re for no life. Either you love everybody, or are trying to head in that direction, or you love no-one.

I think abortion is wrong, and in a sense because I think abortion is wrong, for example, I am also horrified by the fact that the United States spends more on the military than all the other countries of the world combined. Some of the people who are most vociferously anti-abortion  do not even consider war, are not bothered by war, take the perpetual state of war in which the United States is engaged as a matter of blind, unquestioned course. Consequently, we tend to have a very set, very constrained, to me very uninteresting and uncompelling and sanitized way of talking about abortion and everyone gets very nervous if you step outside of that. They don’t know what to make of you. A certain language, a certain kind of art, a certain kind of airbrushed Hallmark happy ending get-with-God-and-everything-will-be-tied-up-in-a-neat-package message that bears no resemblance to real life. That’s true of Catholic culture in general.

I’ve never been much interested in Catholic culture. I’m interested in Christ. I read the Gospels. And the Gospels will rip you apart. They’re totally simple and totally radical. “Love thine enemies,” Christ said, clearly, simply, unequivocally, with no conditions, and we proceed to do completely the opposite without a moment of self-reflection or compunction. And then, because we live in a culture of such unalloyed, unremitting violence we’re out with our picket signs shoving photos of bloody fetuses in pregnant women’s faces. We think that's the way to get people to welcome all human life. We think that is the way to love the mother. Let’s stand outside the ROTC recruiting offices, if we want to be even-handed, if we’re so concerned with human life, with photos of bloody soldier corpses, with mutilated children who are killed by U.S. arms. Let's show the 18-year-olds we are signing up what is likely to happen to them and what they are going to be asked to do to others.This is just the most basic willingness to look at the truth, to cop to our inconsistencies, to see how far we are falling short of living out Christ, all of us. Is that left? Is that right? It's both; it's neither.

To love the mother AND the child, our soldier AND their soldier is our task. I don't know how to do that, but I do know Christ did not use violence to get his point across and I try not to either. Try not to, but I have never been so aware of how far I fall short: in my thoughts, in my words, in my deeds. I know so little, can articulate so little (and so badly), am so little.

All I have is my experience of having been shown infinite, utterly undeserved mercy. We don’t attract people to Christ by being loud, or by telling half-truths; we attract by being witnesses to, by living out as best we can, love. We share our own converted hearts and by God’s grace, maybe another human being will identify and be drawn to the light as well.

TROPICAL TWILIGHT
PAUL KLEE, 1921

11 comments:

  1. This made me cry. I mean cry in a good way. Thank you.

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  2. Love the line " not interested in the Catholic culture"..so me right now, I am just above the poverty line and live in suburbia where churches are just so perfect and all the families seem to have their act together. I think where is the place for the rest of us messed up people. I stay for the Eucharist and confession, they heal me.

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  3. Hi there: "Healthy people don't need a doctor; sick people do" is surely one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture. I was thinking this morning there aren't sinners and non-sinners; there are people who know they're sinners and people who don't. There aren't broken people and whole people; there are people who know they're broken and people who can't bear to acknowledge their brokenness. I am spent way lots of time in churches where I seem to be the only broken one there...but you are just right. We are there for the Eucharist. And we get to pray for the "perfect" people. Maybe they don't feel that perfect inside...

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  4. Not sure I know what you mean by "Catholic culture" -- can you explain?

    Afan4life: Wow, some suburbia you live in, with all those "perfect" Catholics. You should see my suburbia!

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  5. Catholic culture as in people spying on each other to make sure they adhere to the party line, engaging in endless political dispute and arcane theological argument at the expense of or instead of falling in love with Christ, abandoning ourselves to God, seeking to penetrate this world to the invisible, supernatural world. Living in low- to high-grade testiness and hostility instead of mystery and wonder.

    There is only one "party line" for the follower of Christ, one thing by which He will separate the sheep from the goats, and that is how we have treated the least of these. So how to get past my own brokenness, shortcomings, hardness of heart, how to cultivate eternal gratitude and humility, how to let my desire for unity go to the stars...those are the questions that consume me...

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  6. Thanks for the answer, Heather. I think, though, that what you point out might be better termed an inauthentic Catholic culture, one that may live in the hearts and manifest in the actions of many Catholics, but which basically misunderstands the teaching of the Church, which is, after all, exactly what you embrace -- from some comments by Pope Benedict:

    "One great problem facing the Church today is the lack of knowledge of the faith, ‘religious illiteracy’ . . . With such illiteracy we cannot grow. … Therefore we must reappropriate the contents of the faith, not as a packet of dogmas and commandments, but as a unique reality revealed in all its profoundness and beauty. We must do everything possible for catechetical renewal in order for the faith to be known, God to be known, Christ to be known, the truth to be known, and for unity in the truth to grow. We cannot, Benedict XVI warned, live in ‘a childhood of faith.’ Many adults have never gone beyond the first catechesis, meaning that ‘they cannot – as adults, with competence and conviction – explain and elucidate the philosophy of the faith, its great wisdom and rationality’ in order to illuminate the minds of others. To do this they need an ‘adult faith.’ This does not mean, as has been understood in recent decades, a faith detached from the Magisterium of the Church. When we abandon the Magisterium, the result is dependency 'on the opinions of the world, on the dictatorship of the communications media.' By contrast, true emancipation consists in freeing ourselves of these opinions, the freedom of the children of God. We must pray to the Lord intensely, that He may help us emancipate ourselves in this sense, to be free in this sense, with a truly adult faith … capable of helping others achieve true perfection … in communion with Christ."

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  7. "In communion with Christ"...yes, exactly! Thank you, Lydia!

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  8. You know what? Your writing truly renews me. Thank you for having the courage to follow your vocation.

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  9. Heather, I think I too have a different understanding of “Catholic Culture.” I see exactly what you mean, but I always associated it in my own life and experience by our lived Catholic experiences, (t)raditions, and history – best expressed in the Arts. When someone says, Catholic Culture, I think of everyone from Michelangelo to Frederick Hart, from Cervantes to Flannery O’Connor, from Monteverdi to Scythian, and from the Medieval Guilds to the Catholic Worker Movement, etc. Most intimately, I think of my grandparents and their neighbors in the largely Catholic neighbor they lived. Whether leaving for Mass on Sunday, or work throughout the week, everyone was wearing a scapular under their shirt, with a rosary in every pocket or purse. I agree that this may be an old-fashioned, or minority, understanding, but I think it’s preferable to what that which as become largely political, and at times pharisaical, in more recent times.

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  10. Oh I love the kind of Catholic culture you're talking about, the there are many rooms in my Father's mansion and each one filled with wonder, mystery, and food for thought. (I have looked up Frederick Hart, thank you...) The old-school rosary and scapular brigade, which in some way I am kind of a part of now!

    I always know I'm on the right track, and am always "happiest," when I'm anonymously participating in yet another daily Mass...Last week I found this kind of semi-ghetto neighborhood church, St. Brendan's in Glassell Park, 8 a.m. daily Mass, frightfully hot (no A/C in the middle of a heat wave), electric candles burning in dim alcoves, hokey statues, the usual scattering of the faithful, and Fr. Perry gave THE most amazing homily I have heard in months. I went back the next two days. And this is what kills me about the Church. You just never know. You love it no matter what. You go faithfully because Christ said "Do this in remembrance of me" and because you love him.

    And it is just everything. In some way you can't articulate or explain, you know you--you! weak, feeble, faltering, deeply distracted, utterly inconstant--have been given the keys to the Kingdom...

    I really SHOULD start wearing a scapular...
    Blessings to you!

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  11. Whoops, I mean St. Bernard's, not St. Brendan's.

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I WELCOME your comments!!!