I don’t like priests.
Priests are thugs in God’s gang – the enforcers, the money collectors, the drug pushers. They get their orders from the top, and make sure everyone in the neighborhood falls in line. Do this, don’t do that, say this, repeat after me, eat this, drink that, sit, stand, kneel, pray…beg for forgiveness and mercy. You don’t wanna see what happens if you don’t.
But mainly I don’t like priests because a lot of them just phone it in. If I have a presentation at work, I make damn sure to prepare ahead of time, practicing my speech until it’s just right. However most priests ramble like bus station drunks, armed with the advantage of having one-sided presentations where there is no possibility of questions being lobbed out from the crowd.
“Wait, wait, wait…how did Mary get knocked up?”
“Hold up there, Twilight…what do you mean eat his flesh and drink his blood?”
Others in church appear not to notice the priest’s shortcomings, and instead are busy pretending to absorb grace, when in truth they are doing the same thing I’m doing – judging others. Sideways stares, guilty half-glances and hushed hearsay about illegitimate children, lost jobs, divorces, foreclosures – all families who become known as “sad situations” who we will all “pray for.”
But mainly we pray it doesn’t happen to us.
This was the scene I found myself in during Christmas, and I sat in a pew with my family listening to our priest babble on nonsensically while I traded angry glares with an old man in front of me who seemed irked I wasn’t joining in the singing. As much as I tried to tune the priest out, I was drawn back into his sermon when he said,
“…and it is this time of year when we’re reminded about the importance of love. And not just having love, but making love. You need to make love as much as possible. When you get out of bed in the morning and it’s still dark, stop for a minute, and think about Jesus. And then think about making love.”
I looked around to see if anyone else had heard this, and at any moment I expected the organist to play “bow-chicka-wow-wow” and the lights to dim. But I had to block out the porno priest, because there was a reason I was in church. And I had a reason to pray.
* * *
Earlier that morning I stood on a crowded platform at Market East train station, jockeying for position among other present-laden commuters traveling home for the holidays. I was carrying a box with a Cuisinart juicer for my parents in one hand, and balancing an empty rolling red suitcase in the other, which I hoped to fill with food after I used the juicer as a distraction.
I had been in a pessimistic mood all week, dreading the shopping, good tiding and forced merriment that accompanies the holiday season. But as it was Christmas Eve (and the end was in sight), I decided to get into the festive spirit more and ignore…
…the goateed gentleman with a neck tattoo of a skull slowly approaching from my right…
…the mother smacking her child while simultaneously gnawing on her Subway sandwich…
…and the Asian man wearing a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt who was gesturing for me to remove my iPod.
While the recently released felon and the mother-of-the-year were easier to ignore, the Asian man seemed intent on speaking with me. I had a choice. I could either sneer at the man (as I’d been trained to do in Manhattan), or in the spirit of the holidays, see if he needed help.
Against my better judgment, I removed my headphones and jutted out my chin to signal my willingness to hear his story.
“No English. No English.”
“That’s okay. What do you need?”
“R5. Here. Here.”
He was pointing a stubby finger at a crumpled train schedule that had the 1:10 PM R5 train to Landsdale/Doylestown highlighted. I was waiting for the same train, and smiled at the man to reassure him.
“It’s okay. I…me…getting on same train. Here…wait here. Wait…me…you…choo choo.”
I don’t know why, but when speaking to foreign people I sound like Tarzan the babysitter.
It seemed to work though, and the man flashed a broad grin. He then pointed back to the bench and I saw he was traveling with another elderly woman and two small children. I waved, and gestured for them to join me. They soon shuffled over, bowing and thanking me for my help.
And why shouldn’t they? After all, not everyone was this kind. My charity, my compassion, my gregarious, yet humble, sense of social responsibility was second to none. I dipped my head regally and gazed upon the others waiting for the train. My admirers. I accepted their nods and smiles of approval with a dignified poise, and raised a hand as if to say, “Please, it’s not about me. It’s about the holiday season.”
The train arrived a few moments later, and I ushered my adopted family on board ahead of me. The man seemed hesitant for some reason, but I calmed him with a kind smile and a shove in the back. Sometimes charity needs a firm hand.
The train was crowded and my additional luggage meant that we all couldn’t sit together. I bade them farewell, and took my seat near the window. The woman behind me was on the phone, and I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation.
“Yeah. Yeah, no, fuck Sesame Street. I want to help out my friends and all, but this time he’s staying in jail.”
Who was this woman? And why did she have the power to release her friend from prison? And moreover, was Elmo in jail? I debated saying something. Did she not see my display of kindness back on the train platform?
Two stops later and the engineer came sauntering back to collect everyone’s tickets. I could see the Asian family in front of me, crammed into one seat together, and when the engineer asked for their ticket, the man began flapping his arms. He seemed anxious and was pointing at me, and then his train schedule, and then back at his family.
The engineer turned and walked over to my seat.
“Apparently they don’t have a ticket, and that guy keeps pointing back here. Are they traveling with you, sir?”
I looked at the engineer, then at the Asian family, and then at the other passengers. My admirers. Some of them were donning Santa hats, and presents were everywhere – on laps, in the aisle, on luggage racks above the seats. It was Christmas time, and I had a wallet full of cash.
* * *
Kneeling in the church pew, I heard the priest explaining that there were Gluten-free communion hosts available for those with a wheat allergy.
“…I encourage people to form a line here, where I’ll be waiting to satisfy all of your needs and desires…”
But I didn’t snicker. Instead I was bowing my head, thinking about that poor Asian family who was kicked off the train into the cold. Such a sad situation. Then I began to pray that the lottery tickets I’d purchased were winners. I mean, just think about how much good I could do if they were.