Deep Dish #2: Why Francis Matters

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Subscribers are already digging into the latest Deep Dish offering, Untier Of Knots, my essay on Pope Francis released last night:

Thank you. Sublime. Beautiful. A gobsmacking refutation of fundamentalism and affirmation of what remains the best of Christianity.


This is a very fine essay on Pope Francis, I believe. Raised as a pastor’s son and steeped in the Protestant tradition, I am fairly ignorant of Catholic tradition, but I learned an awful lot here. I’m not one to kiss ass, and I’m an obsessively critical nit-picker, but this essay was profound and Untier-Of-Knots-Cover-Imagearticulate and intellectual without being elitist. This is a hard thing to craft. I appreciate your context on his Argentine history and the connection to St. Francis. I am very agnostic and not practicing these days, and am certainly not about to convert to Catholicism, but I have found some meaning and comfort in the humble tradition of discernment in the past year or so. I truly admire this man for humbly living out the Gospel, rather than perpetuating dogma and disconnection from the poor and the planet.

Isn’t it also something of an absurd blessing that a man such as this came into the Papacy, an institution encrusted with privilege, authoritarianism, and hypocrisy, as you and others have documented? By that I mean, in what other institution could such a man have this sort of platform and power today? We have a habit of ignoring, slandering, imprisoning, or killing off those who truly seek, speak, and act out this modus vivendi. I know he’s a man like you and me, and I don’t mean to elevate him to sainthood (something I’m deeply skeptical of), but I can’t think of any other way he could achieve this sort of stature without being dismissed as a crazy person, a phony intent on his 15 minutes of fame with serving-others publicity stunts, or a political ideologue.

I may only be restating your own arguments here, but anyway, I thank you for this essay and look forward to much more from Deep Dish! Keep up the good work.

Subscribers can read the Francis essay – and listen to my long, bawdy conversation with Dan Savage in the same issue – here. On the Dan podcast, another reader writes this morning:

Well, I loved it. The frankness, the fun, the openness, the charm, the filth … wonderful.

savage-podcastYou want me and Dan unplugged? It’s all here – on sex, love, gay history, lefties, marriage. Recording a podcast with someone who’s been a real friend for a long time – as opposed to someone, like Mikey Piro, whom I’d just met – was an eye-opener. It’s so easy to forget the microphone, because in so many chats over the years, there has never been one. Which is to say that there are probably passages in the podcast I really should regret. But it’s too late now.

A spot-on take from a subscriber:

I could listen to Dan Savage forever. He’s so fucking smart and clear-eyed. I’ve been reading him since I was a 20-something in Seattle when he first started his column. Like a lot of my peers, I was a reflexively homophobic straight guy. Not crazy, just more like, “I need to make sure nobody thinks I’m gay.” Through his column Dan stripped that shit right out of me. He even taught me how to eat pussy. Now I take pride in him as a representative of our generation. He is an American hero, embodying the best of this country: self determination, rebellion and humanity.

If you want access to the podcast and the essay, but haven’t yet subscribed to the Dish, you can do so [tinypass_offer text=”here”] for just $1.99/month. Another subscriber writes:

I don’t know if I’m approaching a spiritual crossroad, but the more I read your religious views, the more I feel something stir in me that wants what you describe. Maybe Pope Francis was what you’ve been waiting for, and I was waiting for you to find someone to share with me that I could relate to in a way other than as a representative of a cold, indifferent defender of authority. I had enough of that rammed down my throat for being gay in a fundamentalist Christian home and community.

The Advocate just named Pope Francis as their Person Of The Year, and in the past I would have objected on the grounds of Benedict’s legacy alone that such a selection was insane. But I could not do that with Francis. Like you said, Francis became very popular very fast and I just happened to be tuned in and watching, so I know the man is the genuine article. The doctrine hasn’t changed, but the emphasis of the Church certainly has.

And he’s the kind of guy you feel like patiently waiting on to untie all the knots. You can’t imagine him any other way than for his goodness. I try not to get emotionally wrapped up in people like him. When I do and then they stumble, I usually hit the pavement harder than they do. So I’m watching him like kids watch a scary movie; sort of peeping between my fingers during the scary parts and hoping for something good to happen.

I’ll try to be patient. I think he’s worth it.

I think he is too. Update from a few more readers:

I’m one of those non-Catholics who have been following Pope Francis with increasing astonishment and joy since I first saw him wash the feet of the prisoners at Casal de Marmo. I subscribed as soon as you announced the new Dish, and UNTIER OF KNOTS instantiates why I will be resubscribing. My hand is already aching a bit from copying long portions out into my notebook. I’m still living with this latest piece, re-reading it and savoring it, but want to take a moment to call attention to the earbud metaphor, which struck me as odd at the start of the paragraph but had won me over entirely, emotionally, by the time I got to the word “practice.” It’s really such a lovely thing you did there. Thank you.


As a lapsed Catholic and atheist, I was moved by your piece. It reminded me of the church I attended as a young boy with a dynamic young priest (Father Baxter) who attracted us with sports and made us love his church and become altar boys and thoughtful people. He was the first adult (after my father) to really have an impact, as he taught us about the love of Jesus and the tolerant message of the church of John XXIII. Yes, this was the Sixties and the talk of love was everywhere, but the atmosphere that pervaded was pretty darn close to what you described in your piece.

It wasn’t the god of the Old Testament, the judgmental god, but rather the God of Love, the Jesus God that loved me warts and all. Not the protestant god by any means, not the god of Robertson and Falwell et al. No fire and brimstone for us. Our God was a patient and understanding one, a God that deserves the capital G. We rarely heard talk of Hell or damnation, though we were surrounded by the French Catholic clergy of Quebec that practised that approach! Ours was an English Catholic parish serving mostly Italian immigrant children going to English Catholic schools in French speaking Quebec – talk about confusion!

What does this have to do with your piece on the pope? Well, obviously this is where your Deep Dish dive has brought me back to the future, I hope. Not that I am about to believe in god any time soon, but it did clarify for me the reason I have trouble listening to proselytizing atheists of the Dawkins type. No Grace, as you put it so well. No forgiveness, no understanding, no love – just pure materialism, pure ideology and condescension. They can only point to the evils of the church, none of which were practised at my church.

In fact, that teaching carried over to my later experience in college where I met my first full-blooded homosexual. He was one of my teachers, an American having fled the draft and attracted to Montreal’s gay culture. He made me think about homosexuality and conditioning that I, as an Italian immigrant’s child coming from a fairly macho culture, had never really confronted. We were not peculiarly cruel, and we didn’t use words like “fag” or “sissy” all that much, but we had the usual prejudices and attitudes. However, it seems that the teachings of Father Baxter had an effect, and I never felt threatened by my teacher and learned quite a lot from him. He took a few of us to a gay bar and introduced us to gay culture (well, a certain gay culture that you and Savage talked about in your podcast).