The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Spectacular losers

Sean Penn as Sam Blicke

Isn’t this really how it’s done? This blogging thing? I honestly don’t know. I’ve never written spontaneously, not even in my private journals. Always an editor. Always polishing. I guess it would be a discipline of sorts to let this go, now, with no editing, no back-spacing to make corrections — which I’ve done twice since I began.

Sitting here in the semi-dark, a little drunk on three glasses of jug wine and four pieces of frozen pizza, wondering whether I’m as crazy — or whether I might have once been as crazy — as Sean Penn’s character, Sam Blicke, in “The Assassination of Richard Nixon.” Depressing film. Maybe that’s why I liked it. I like watching Penn, but I also identify with ordinary guys who fall over the edge. Spectacular losers. The problem is that they hurt people.

Prodigal priests are those who go crazy, spectacular losers who have let themselves be overthrown by something other than the promises they made once upon a time, in a church, in front of God and everybody. Usually their families, their best friends. It’s kind of like a graduation. Liturgy tedious for everyone but those immediately involved. Well, maybe not. I hadn’t been to that many ordinations before I went to my own. I do like to worship. Always have, whether from the pews or from the altar. Never could resist being up front, whether in the choir or as an acolyte or what have you. I’ve never had a moment’s stage fright. Always the show off. Always the priest.

Maybe that’s the problem, or was the problem. Wanting to be up front is not good enough reason to feel called to the priesthood. There was more to the call, I guess. I both feared and loved theology. I wanted to be a learned priest, a good confessor, an inspiring preacher and a holy presence at the altar. And maybe that’s the problem. I wanted to be all those things. I wasn’t content to let myself be all those things. It’s an unhappy thought that maybe the church is a lot better off without my wearing a collar. (That’s something else I liked a lot. To this day, I hate figuring out the wardrobe of the day. Back then, it wasn’t a problem. I had a closet full of black shirts and slacks. Put ’em on. Button that collar and out the door. Oh, for that liberty!)

It was a crazy time, right after I was inhibited. No job. Divorce in progress. Wondering whether the woman for whom I’d let myself be overthrown would actually become my wife. That’s the way we’d planned it, but of course, it didn’t happen. Just as well. Hell for sure, for both of us.

I was so out of touch, though. I wept all the time, especially in church, but I really didn’t know why. Must have had something to do with the woman I loved, right? Well, probably not. Had I examined it more at the time, I might have found that I missed my family and I missed my vocation. Had I been honest, I might have found my way back to both. Then again, I may have just been feeling sorry for myself — aye, there’s the rub. All those tears. Self pity. Denial. Grief? Too noble by far. I really didn’t give a damn about anything, except that I was not having my way. Hell of a state. Damnable.

What I recall from those years is vivid, but I doubt I’m remembering everything. I guess it was inevitable that I would leave the church, although I hadn’t thought so in the beginning. I actually believed I might worm my way back into the ministry. Others had, but it would have been awful for the church and for me. I was sick. Maybe not sick enough to assassinate the president, or to try to hijack a plane, but not well, certainly not well enough to return to the altar.

And now? I’m well enough, but not worthy.

June 3, 2005


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