In the movie “The Departed,” Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is given a choice: join the police and be seen as a hero in the fight against crime, make small arrests, and maintain the status quo, or become an undercover agent, and gather the evidence needed to arrest major crime figures, doing the real work of batting crime. Matt Damon, his opposite, is the criminal who gets the credit for being the hero, while doing the work of the mob.
This reminds of when Jesus told a story in Matthew 28: “There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
When I was twenty, I was going to be an Episcopal priest. I have always been an empathic person, able to take a person’s perspective and suffer their pain or share their joy, and undergrad community service altruism counselors convinced me that I could translate this empathy into action, and truly help those people in need. My plan was simple: I would become a priest, I would help the needy, I would learn about scripture and teach people about it, and I could serve the Lord on earth. “Badabingbadaboom, there you go,” like Sonny said in The Godfather. It’s done.
Also, I fucking love Jesus. He has this energy like Superman did in his first appearances. First appearance Superman was like, “Oh, what’s that? You’re beating your wife? FUCK YOU MOTHERFUCKER!”
Early Jesus (my version) was also not here for your bullshit. When a woman was about to be stoned to death for adultery, he started writing all the sins of the rock carrying dudes in the sand, and they all just … walked away.
And when Jesus came to Jerusalem, and he found that jerkwads had turned the temple into a fucking casino? Went apeshit. “Fuck those motherfuckers. Peter! Dude, hold my chalice. RAMPAGE!!!!”
Priest! Right. I worked for the Episcopal church for a summer. I asked for a downtown Pittsburgh church where my brothers and I had served soup kitchen so I could get involved with social justice activities. The priest I worked for was a middle aged woman, tough and stern, and she hated me. I’ll call her Reverend Heat. She thought that the priest’s job could be better done by a community organizer. She went around and talked shit to the other priests in the area, and she got upset with me when I stepped out while she was berating other priests. Her opinion of me, thinly veiled, was that I should go do something else, that there must be something I was more interested in than this job.
All the while, I’m looking at the Episcopal churches. Huge, old wooden building, 1/4 full on a Sunday, with massive organs and choirs. What the hell was all this? Was this serving God? It felt more like placating old people who were still tied up in the religion of their youth.
Whenever I talked to Reverend Heat, my eyes would go wide, my mouth would close and I would purse my lips. I would feel tightness in my abdomen, like I was about to get punched in the stomach. When I walked in I took small steps. I tried to say as little as possible. I considered and reconsidered my words. Even now it’s tingling, like I ate too much and I am about to have heartburn.
I gave one sermon, while Heat was out of town. I talked about how you should treat every person like they’re holy, like they could be God’s messenger on earth, like the men of Sodom didn’t. The looks on the listeners said, “OK, this is fine.” It was basically a literate, measured, scripture based plea, “Why can’t you be nice to me?”
(Can I say, as an aside, I think it’s bizarre that homosexuality was labeled sodomy for so many years. When you read Genesis, Lot defends the visiting angels who are about to be raped, like a prison movie. He offers them his daughters, so they can be raped instead. It’s a fucked up story. When, though, the problem isn’t which hole they used, it’s the rape. Also, Lot, WTF? The story ends with his wife turning to salt because she looked at the destruction (almost like a nuclear bomb …), and finally, he gets tricked into banging both his daughters. What’s the lesson supposed to be here?)
I asked to be transferred to a different church multiple times. I asked for help, for some kind of intervention. I left more than one message for the priest from my home church, Trinity. I got jack shit. At the last meeting with the organizers of the internship, one of the other interns had also gotten shit on. They weren’t interested in helping us, they thought it was all fine.
When it ended, I went to a monastery, up in Michigan. It was beautiful, it was quiet. After three days there, I was going to prayers six times a day, walking in the woods, writing in my journal, and then came my old friend, anxiety. “Simon, we’ve got shit to do. We can’t spend our whole lives hiding in the woods!” I thought about the priesthood, my experience, and the likelihood that I would exert a net positive influence on the world as a result of my actions. “Fuck this,” I said, looking out among the pine trees and the tiny chapel. I had work to do in the world.
The Departed! So, while I didn’t go into the priesthood, I think of myself as Leo in this movie. I don’t wear a collar or a robe, but I hope that I can do the Lord’s work, even if it looks like I’m not. I’m a physician helping to save and improve lives. I’m raising three kids in a safe and healthy home. I’m writing erotica on my website, and hopefully encouraging healthy sexuality and reflection for my readers. I’m talking about Jesus on the internet, which should at least get me partial credit.