The Gospel According to Mick

Throughout 12 years of time served as a Catholic School Mom, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether my kid might say something at school that could get us into trouble at home. I’m sure it’s a fear common to any of us LGBTQ folks who’ve heard what parts of the Church say about our families yet enrolled our kids in Catholic school anyway.

Ironically enough, after the first few months at his sweet little school in Portland, my fears had nothing to do with me being queer and out. I didn’t even worry too much about him saying something about the little statue of Buddha on the nightstand and Tibetan prayer flags that hung above my bed. They could be passed off as souvenirs from my years away from the Holy Mother Church, when I needed peace and community, and didn’t find it in the Church.

No, I worried about what he might say during religion class. A somewhat precocious little kid with an ear for snark beyond his tender age, I dreaded getting a memo from the school that he’d responded to a question or answered a quiz about the authors of the Gospels by naming the ones cherished in our household: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – and Mick. In our household, one might be forgiven for thinking that for us, the Greatest of These is Mick.

We Catholics aren’t big on memorizing Bible verses.  Dear readers, can you quote extensive passages from the Gospels that happen to be part of our sacred canon? Sure, we know the stories, but how much of the text have you committed to memory? Even with a MA (Hon.) in Systematic Theology (no, I don’t know what that is, either), I’d be hard-pressed to recite much at all, myself.

Mick Jagger, in concert

But put us all in a massive stadium, play just a couple of notes, and yes, we’d all chime in in unison, possibly even with more vigor than we sing the Gloria on Sunday morning at Mass. (We need to work on that, ok?)

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Yeah, that Mick. Mick Jagger, lead singer of the legendary rock band, The Rolling Stones. (See music video at end of post for the full song.)

I’ll confess, our “home Church” probably wasn’t all that close to what professional religious educators envision. We never spent evenings reading scripture to each other, and grace before meals was most common on the one night a week when my son’s godfather took him to volunteer at the St. Francis Dining Hall in Southeast Portland. The Gospel According to Mick, though, was a constant. I invoked “Saint Mick” when the reading log needed to be filled out each week and my child who loved to read but abhorred bureaucracy raised a protest. Mick was a consoling guide to me on nights when I wanted nothing more than to relax with a glass of wine and a book, but had to attend one of what felt like hundreds of meetings at the school, stand in the sleet at a kid soccer game, or fold uniform pants for the thousandth time.

None of that, truth be told, was what I thought I wanted. But Saint Mick was there for me. You can’t always get what you want, babe. Remember that.

I really didn’t want to be standing out in the cold San Francisco February rain four years ago, attending a vigil at the Cathedral, a silent protest called by the students of the four Archdiocesan high schools whose faculty collectively bargain as a union established in the early 1970s. They were protesting the Archdiocese’s new ly drafted contracts that contained various clauses about what “the schools believe” – clauses that violated the well-formed consciences of a vast majority of our kids. They saw themselves as integral parts of “the schools,” after all, and they were NOT about to let someone else tell them what they believed. Gay and lesbian faculty were at risk, and our kids were having none of that.

The day those contracts were announced, I panicked and began to research whether I could spring my 11th grader out of school and have him start college a year early, or transfer to public school – anything to avoid the pain and horror of seeing his beloved school and teachers irreparably damaged by the proposed policies.

“Ye of little faith” indeed – faith in God, faith in the Holy Spirit, and faith in our kids. That rainy Friday was a holiday for the schools. While the teachers attended Mass in the Cathedral, our kids stood vigil for them outside. “Saint Mick” must’ve drawn many of us parents there as well, and we spoke to each other with deep sorrow and resignation. We didn’t want this. But when we looked into the faces of the students, we saw none of that there. We saw hope. Resilience. Determination. I suddenly realized, as my 11th grader stood with a group of his friends, that this cold, wet day was precisely why he was in Catholic school. The students were there because their Catholic education had prepared them for that very moment. They didn’t want to spend a day off standing in the rain. They needed to do it. The Gospel According to Mick.

Mick Jagger

When Mass ended, the teachers walked down the block and crossed the street to the school for the meeting where the new contract language would be presented. The students lined the sidewalk from the Cathedral door to the school entrance, tears in their eyes, and tears in the teachers’ eyes as they passed, many stopping to hug their students. They cried tears both of sadness for what was happening, and gratitude that on such a miserable day, one they didn’t want – the kids – their kids – gave them what they needed. The Gospel According to Mick.

My kid stayed in school. He would never have let me spring him – it was (and is, and always will be) HIS school, after all. Several contentious months passed before contracts were eventually signed – ones that did NOT contain the offensive language, and with handbooks that didn’t suggest that the schools were homophobic. The teachers were exhausted and worn down, but I think most agreed that they got what they needed – the love and support of their students and families, and ultimately the respect of the City (you do NOT mess with unions in San Francisco, y’all –the Teamsters and taxi union and others joined a later protest), and contracts that, while imperfect, did not put any of them in jeopardy. The Gospel According to Mick.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Gospel According to Mick myself these days. With the kid off at college, I’ve been reevaluating my professional life and how I want to spend my precious days and be present in this brutal – beautiful – brutiful – world. For several months, I was privileged to do some work that was quite forward-looking, even transformative. My “day job” was still there, but scaled back, and I spent most of my time thinking about how to make the workplace more welcoming, and how to build a community of leaders committed to our collective growth. But then, as happens to many ideas that are ahead of their time, the program was pulled back. The most inspirational aspects of the work were shut down, and we’ve scattered a bit to the winds.

Truth? I’m still raging a bit against the dying of the light. OK. That’s more than a bit melodramatic, but yeah – I’m still sad that the work we’d begun didn’t get to make it to fruition, and angry that so much promise will be left unfulfilled. At least for now. I honestly don’t know what I’ll be doing even a few months from now. I’m not a fan of the uncertainty.

I spent some time this morning as I start nearly every day, sitting on a cushion underneath those faded Tibetan flags. Most of the time, I try to tame the hamsters on a Habitrail in my mind and just breathe. Just. Breathe.

But this morning, my mind attached itself to a mantra.

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Maybe Mick Jagger really isn’t a saint. He’s still alive, for starters. (And the song’s coauthor Keith Richards may well live forever…)

But there’s still good news indeed in that verse. It’s one that even we Catholics can commit to memory, and take to heart. I’m pretty sure it can be summed up pretty well with a word.

Faith.

That works for me, at least today. And today is what I have, and all that we all have to work with. That’s all.

Thanks, Saint Mick.

Sarah Gregory, New Ways Ministry, April 29, 2019

3 replies
  1. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    Gods article! Thank you. And thanks for what you and all the students and teachers working together did at the school. The only thing that changes wrong is joint action by all of us and you proved that.

    Reply

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