Fr. George McCauley, S. J. is a former teacher at Fordham University (New York City, NY) and editor of SJ New York. He comments on his newly published book Eddie’s Dream, available for ordering at somethingmorepublications.org.
Hanging in There with Eddie
I wrote this book over a lot of years, amazed at the mob of characters taking shape around me. Some I liked, some I found boring, others intriguing. I spent one entire summer creating a fictional religious order, inventing a history for it, supplying it with a mission, giving it its own spiritual jargon, and actually picking sites for a fictional college and university it ran. It got kind of scary, to the point that I called up an experienced Irish novelist friend and said, “Bob, this is weird: the Christian Fathers seem somehow more real to me than my own Jesuit order!” “Relax,” Bob said, “it happens all the time.”
Why I wrote this book seldom entered my conscious mind. First, there was the sheer pleasure of writing scenes where you, the reader, could walk in and suddenly you’re in the middle of a scene where everyone looks, feels, and sounds real like they were there before you arrived. Second, given the time span I was dealing with, my mind recoiled at the prospect of trying to make sense of it all or indeed of anything. We’re talking the Great Depression, WWII, Korea, the burbs, the civil rights movement, Sputnik, Elvis, JFK, Vietnam, the Beetles, the Golan Heights, Humanae Vitae, MLK, Vatican II, Reaganomics, perestroika, 9/11, dissent within Catholicism, gays, the women’s movement, the changing of religious life and the departures from it, the embattled image of priesthood and the Age of (and aging of) the Laity.
I did my thinking about these things through Eddie without, I hope, making him me, or me him. We share one common characteristic: We’re both priests and neither of us is stupid. Not “stupid/as in brains,” but “stupid/as in a stupor,” that is, impervious to the dynamics of human projections, whereby people unconsciously draw others into scripts running in their own heads that are traceable to their own anxieties, yearnings or feelings of resourcelessness, and then assign to others roles that don’t belong to them and put pressure on them to behave or react accordingly. My experience of consultation with groups around issues of power, authority and leadership taught me a lot about projections, but perhaps not much more than the average parent, teacher, shop boss or authority figure learns over time. But with priests it’s hairier because God is in the mix.
But no sweat. Neither Eddie nor I are stupid enough (stupid/as in brains) to worry about handling the projections. They go with the territory. In fact, Eddie gets a mind-blowing creative realization one day: “Hell, he thought, if people can load me up with their lousy projections, why can’t they do the same to God?” That moment sets Eddie off on a marvelously quixotic campaign to change the world a campaign that’s simultaneously funny, wily, frustrating, smart, sad, yet full of warmth. He takes on not only the predictable arbiters and poobahs of acceptable religious language, but also the people crouched there in the pews who see certain perks to that posture. Nobody is perfect.
Eddie tries to peel away every insulting, crazy, sloppy, misleading, demeaning image of God, Jesus and Co. that there is. If there was a benchmark to success, Eddie would probably tell you it’s when you finally can really believe that God is nicer than you are!
Inevitably, his campaign crashes and he walks away from it with dignity. So why did I write this book? I’d have to say that I got to like Eddie and felt I should stick it out with him to the end. That’s what creators do, don’t they?