Going through my old journal, I found this account of a dream I had in 2010 right around Holy Week, a time when the abuse crisis was big news and my own irritation with the Church was threatening to come to a head. Interesting to look back on it now:
I was sitting in a restaurant, having dinner with a person I don’t know. We had nothing in common other than that we were both queer Catholics, and the conversation was extremely awkward–I really wanted to get this person to like me, and he/she (the gender wasn’t obvious) was uninterested.
The waitress came to the table with our food and said, “Now, make sure you eat quickly, because after a few minutes the lice will start releasing poisonous chemicals into the food.”
She wasn’t apologetic at all for serving us food full of vermin, and she didn’t act as though she expected us to complain. Neither of us did. Sure enough, the food was crawling with tiny, tiny insects, more the size of ticks than lice. It smelled delicious, and I actually tried to eat a bite or two, but couldn’t do it. I tried to pick out the individual bugs with my fingers, but there were just too many, and time was going by–if I stayed there picking then the food would get cold and the bugs would release the toxins into it. My dining companion watched with distaste, but said nothing, didn’t commiserate or invite me to go elsewhere with him/her. The waitress never reappeared. I felt discouraged and humiliated. And hungry.
It was obvious to me as soon as I woke up that the dream was a metaphor for how I feel about the Church right now, and a pretty grim one. (As well as some semi-Biblical imagery, a mote in the eye or straining at a gnat, I just realised that it reminds me of the old Kids in the Hall shitty soup sketch.) […] And then I think, “look, it’s not my fault there’s bugs in the food.” That is not my problem, and I shouldn’t be the one who has to bend over backwards to find ways around it.
It hasn’t been easy to confront my anger and disappointment about this, mostly because I’ve felt that I don’t have the right to feel that way: if I break with the Church over this issue, it can only be because I coldly, rationally decided they were wrong, and not because they hurt me or made me angry. If I admit to being hurt, then I’m open to accusations that I’m only trying to justify my actions after making an emotional decision, and that good Catholics would sit there and shovel in the food before beginning the debate about whether there may be poisonous bugs in it. And now that I’m exploring Judaism, again, I feel like I have to cast all my disagreements in the form of “I just don’t believe that’s true” rather than “trying to believe in this really messed with me.” I don’t want a rabbi to think that I’m just going through a rebellious phase, and of course I also want to make sure for my own sake that that’s not the case.
I also really don’t want to be an angry ex-Catholic. What I’d really like, at this point, is to revisit the books and music and art that first made me love the Church, and to see how I feel about those things now. How much of it was aesthetic pleasure, how much was a sense of connection with my roots, how much was genuine love of God? What doesn’t work anymore, and what does?
But when I look back over some of those things, I do find that I’m angry. Mostly at myself for allowing it, but also at the Church for serving the buggy food in the first place. I’m old enough to know that in any religious community you will eventually be served a plate of that stuff. Nobody’s immune. To overcome it is a spiritual challenge that you meet in one form or another over and over again until you learn how to deal with it. What makes it bearable or unbearable are the options you have as a patron of that restaurant: can you complain to the management? Can you get help in picking out the bugs? Will your dining companions be sympathetic, or will they act like it’s your fault? Will anyone anywhere be sorry that your dinner was ruined? Does the sign out front just say “INSECTS ‘N’ QUINOA” and you’re supposed to just deal with it? How many bugs are you willing to eat? In other words, what avenues are there to find sustenance in spite of the problems in the kitchen?