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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why I Became Catholic

I joined the Catholic Church from a Baptist and Pentecostal background during college, Easter Sunday 2007. Lots of Catholics leave the Church but not many Protestants come in, particularly if they're not marrying a Catholic.

So I'm often asked why I became Catholic, especially living in Wheaton where Catholics are few. This is kind of like being asked, "What makes you you?" We can do our best to give a nod to nature, nurture, and choice but we'll never be able to fully explore it.

That's true for me with my conversion and I'm discovering new 'reasons' all the time. And I acknowledge that accepting Catholicism was also a rejection of a lot of the Protestantism of my childhood. That being said, here are 3 main reasons I became Catholic.

1. The marriage of Faith & Reason. Many Christians still hold that scientific evidence isn't trustworthy since the Bible doesn't mention things like evolution. But Pope Benedict XVI said that faith and reason are never at odds. If you think they are, you're misunderstanding at least one of them.

The natural world and its laws are part of God's creation so how can we reject part of God? Let me quote Godspell's character, Galileo in saying,

When it comes to God, I find
I can't believe that he designed
a human being with a mind

he's not supposed to use.

As a young man in college desiring an honest faith, I needed to hear that.

2. Continuity with the past. Growing up in my Protestant church(es) I had the sense that 'true' Christianity came about with Martin Luther and the Reformation. The Early Church, of course, had it right and was perfect until corrupted by Catholicism (insert dramatic music here).

So many Protestants are left with at least a thousand year gap in which there were basically no 'true' Christians. But how could God allow that to happen?

J.R.R. Tolkien once described a mustard seed. It grows and changes over time and the grown tree looks nothing like the original seed because it's not meant to. This is the Catholic Church, he says.

No, there weren't titles like "pope" in 1st century Mesopotamia but these developments are okay and part of God's providence. God uses human agency. And logically, it made much more sense to me that God was always guiding the official teaching of the Church.

There was no thousand year gap of corruption. I accepted that God was there all along and the Holy Spirit has guided the development of Christianity at all times.

3. The emphases in Catholicism seemed truer. I don't wish to anger any Protestants but I really have issues with some emphases in Protestantism. They tend to be less focused on community and looking out and much more focused on the self and looking in. (Catholics, of course, have the opposite problem.)

A perfect example is the individualism found in many Protestant circles. It's just so American(!) and tends to give the gospel an American flavor, which I just don't like.

You get hints of this individualism in some Protestant language. "Have you read your  Bible?" "I  don't like the music at that church." "Jesus is my personal  Lord and Savior." No, he's not! Jesus is the savior of the World!

I think Protestants (and really all of us) can be so focused on our own faith life that we forget everyone else. I think this plays out in things like "church shopping", a phrase I'm convinced can only lead one to conclude that finding a church that suits you is the same as finding flattering pants for your body type.

I found in Catholicism an emphasis on action and not just faith. An emphasis on caring for the poor in all their forms. And I found a primacy of community over the individual.

In Catholicism I heard, for the first time, that we are meant to fit the Church (like a good pair of pants), and not the other way around. That still rings true to me.

Update: After receiving feedback from several individuals, I decided to clarify my reasons for converting and to offer "specifically Catholic" reasons for choosing Catholicism. Thanks to those who gave me feedback. And you can find Part 2 of this post here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Your Notion of "Dating" is Out-Dated

We've come a long way since the Sabine women and the need to literally capture a mate. When it comes to contemporary ideas of "right" or "traditional" dating though, we don't seem that far removed from the medieval notions of match-making, let alone Victorian era gender roles.

I'm not an historian or a dating expert but can't we agree that a lot of our customs just don't make sense with our current and very good notions of gender equality?

I've Got the Power

As a male, I know that certain things are expected of us men on dates - anything from holding open a door to "pursuing" the woman to paying for the date. I can't speak from the women's perspective so I won't. But I have issues with this script.

First, this isn't the 1950s. Men solely paying for dates makes a lot of sense when they're the only gender making an income! Or when their income is enough to support a whole family. Neither of those is true today. Men aren't the only ones working and salaries for both genders generally aren't enough to support a nonworking spouse and any children. I don't mind paying for dates, really. But the expectation that this is the realm of the man is just as outdated as girdles. Maybe even more so since we still have Spanx.

I also have a distaste for guys feeling the need to be the pursuer. A lot of men feel emasculated if they're asked out or bought dinner, and the only reason is they don't feel in control or that they're "wearing the pants" (read "have the power"). A lot of our dating rules seem to be about delegating power to the proper gender, and it's just ridiculously stupid. And downright unhealthy often enough. If you truly can't see gender equality and still feel you need power as a man or need to give it up as a woman, then I honestly don't think your imaging God who is true Masculinity and true Femininity. God isn't concerned with power games.

The last power complaint is women being treated as property. We like to replace "property" with words like "proper" (how very close it is!) or "respectful." Asking for a father's permission may be seen as respectful but it's also pretty outdated. My parents loved us boys just as much as my sister and they don't feel the need to vet girlfriends (or, to their credit, boyfriends in my sister's case). If you're a minor, parental permission makes sense. If an adult, again, it's about a male having power over you, which I just can't understand.

So where to go from here?

Yeah, I clearly don't know the answer. But I know I make it a point to say upfront to people I date that I'm a feminist and that I believe in equality. Relevant to this topic, that takes the form of sharing expenses - usually whoever proposes the date pays. It also means letting go of the reigns. I pursue someone when I like them. I've had women pursue me too, and I gotta say, I'm a fan. If it's not about my ego, which I hope it isn't, then what do I care if someone is up front about liking me? I still do some traditional things in dating but it's because they're my preference and not because they meet some objective standard.

I'll also say, if you just happen to like traditional dating, that's great! Nothing wrong with that. If you like having doors held open for you and being pursued and a lot of other traditional things, more power to you. It's not a problem at all to want to be dated in a certain way. The problem is when you feel, by virtue of your gender, that you're entitled to certain behavior from a dating partner or that dating has to happen a certain way. It doesn't. But we should all know our own preferences, and who cares if yours is traditional?

I'd say that however you feel about dating, be aware that traditional and nontraditional expectations in dating carry with them a philosophy of power and importance distributed between the two of you. I'm uncomfortable having most of the power (as the male pursuer) and hoping that if I ever tie the knot with someone, our mindset will radically be changed to seeing each other as equals. That's unrealistic, and I think the way you date is probably the way you'll see a spouse. Make sure it's a healthy path.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Where is God - the Right or the Left?

I converted to Catholicism just over 6 years ago. It's a long time; I know because my faith has changed. I'm just as Catholic as ever (which was "a lot" when I joined the Church, believe you me) but I view Catholicism and my place in it very differently.

I can't generalize my experience to all converts, let alone Christians, but I think I can speak with some authority based on my own experience and that of other converts I know. When you're converted, for many of us, you want to dive in completely. You want that full body, full spirit immersion as a way of breaking with your old life and feeling a more drastic change to a new one. This is normal! And it's good. Often converts, though they may miss some of the subculture, tend to learn more about and be more devoted to Catholicism than cradle Catholics precisely because they're so hungry for that immersion!

The point is that when you convert, you commit to it fully and you want to lose yourself in it. What a great feeling that God can use toward our good! But there is a danger as well, and I think most converts fall into it. They become, not just Catholic or Christian or whatever tradition you're addressing, but soldiers. They become good boys and girls who step in line and carry the flag: rule-following, legalistic, zealous, righteous, fully committed, and willing to take up arms against any and all threats. (Not literal weapons, mind you, though maybe in extreme cases.) They become ardent defenders and practitioners of their faith and honestly, largely fearful, and that's exactly what I did.

And I thought that's what Catholicism and Christianity were - yes, the message of the gospel, but a very traditional, conservative, solid, and orthodox system. I wanted to be a good, rule following, unquestioning, conservative Catholic because that's exactly the image of God I had. God was a religious conservative, even if not a political one.

And then I was introduced to views that undermine that religiously conservative God. These voices from the religious left (or "liberal" or "progressive" or whatever language you wish to use) were so appealing not because they cleverly spun lies but because they contained a lot of truth. They weren't so concerned with how often you attended mass or if you identified with all of the Church's teachings like a good Catholic. They were more concerned with the mystical, the level of spiritual awareness, the experiential informing your faith.

In France's parliament in previous times, on the right would sit the nobility and the clergy - those with power, and privelege. On the left sat representatives of the common people. The dynamic isn't extremely pertinent for my own story but it informs our notions still - the right wanting to maintain the status quo, the left wanting to throw it out altogether. By the way, Richard Rohr remarks, "What on earth were the clergy doing on the right!"

Most converts and religious conservatives really fear liberal beliefs and even the mere "liberal" language. I did for a long time but eventually I experienced a second, smaller conversion and swung my pendulum the other way, toward the far left. How many times do we do that, going between two extremes of desire or thought? I've "lived" in the left for a while in the past year, where I found a mystical and honestly much more loving and merciful God, only to realize that this liberal view is another face of God but it is not the totality of God.

The danger with the religious left, that I've found, is a casting out of revelation, rules, and law in favor of novelty and too often individual interpretations. The left wants a God who doesn't care about the rules but who also can be made anew and understood apart from tradition (lowercase "t"). But this is recreating God in human form just as much as the conservative image has. There are great dangers from these views and there are great necessities for them as well, which is why God gave them to us.

And I think God knows the different faces we'll see. If we look at the totality of right and left together, we can see that it's completely unimportant to judge where people are on this spectrum. It is important to note the strengths and shortcomings of each. So is God on the right or left? Is the historical, the real, or the mystical Christ on either side? He is on both. And neither. It's okay to live with paradox. God is paradox! It's okay to see that this group has a lot of truth here and this other one has really found something there and to praise the different aspects of God while guarding against those untrue characteristics that right and left ideologies impose on the Divine.

I think neither right nor left is perfect yet both recognize something of Perfection. And the Catholic Church is big enough for both. And so is Christianity. And it's no surprise that so is God. God overcomes our labels and exists on all planes.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Don't Get It

Allow me the liberty of a harmless rant. These are things that I've thought about and really, just don't get. Other people seem to not notice but I hope this isn't true. Maybe, like me, you're a closet ranter and you've just been waiting for someone to articulate these issues. In the interest of honesty, this is completely inspired by my friend Richelle's earlier and quite brilliant rant found here. Without further adieu... People who communicate with their significant other via social media. Really? You can’t text or, I don’t know, talk to them in person? You just thought the best way to say “I love you” was on Facebook? You wanted to thank your girlfriend for being in your life by sending her a tweet? Come on. Just post “look at me, everybody” and at least some people will respect your honesty.

The overuse of the word “passion” and all its derivations. Actually this one I do understand, I just don’t like it. Who knows how many drafts of cover letters/resumes I had to clutter with this word because every job wants you to be passionate! But come on, this has limits. If your life was changed by Cancer Treatment Centers of America you probably are passionate about it. If your job is to blog for the office of tourism, you probably don’t really have a passion for “finding great deals for out of town guests” (actual listed ‘passion’ for a Chicago blogger). How could that be anyone’s passion?

Urine pools under the urinal
. Guys know exactly what I’m talking about. Who’s the neanderthal who can’t hit a 180 degree target from an inch away? Without fail you walk into the bathroom & see a puddle under every urinal there. Come on, guys. So the trick becomes to pick out the vacant one with the least amount of pee in the area where your shoes will be. Revelation to women: never touch the bottom of a guy’s shoes.

Tyra Banks. Oh, she’s so proud, so insightful, so progressive in promoting women’s issues. No, she’s really just a gorgeous person who got her own talk show after she couldn’t model anymore and now she pawns off universally made observations as revelatory. Gasp! You mean advertisements depict an image of feminine beauty that’s horribly unrealistic and it’s a bad thing for girls? I’m glad you noticed. You only profited from that industry, oh, I guess your entire life.

People who constantly praise drinking. We get it, you like the sauce. Your tenth comment about your love affair with alcohol isn’t hilarious. No, you’re not “just so much fun” for wanting every social gathering to feature heavy drinking. It’s called borderline alcoholism and it stopped being funny with the end of college. Maybe even sooner.

Multiple “Honeymoons”. There is one honeymoon per marriage! I suppose I can understand calling something a “second honeymoon” just to connote the purpose of the trip but only if the couple in question has been married for a good while, say, at least 15 years. Third or fourth honeymoon? What the hell is that? I recently saw someone my age - 25 and only married for a few years - declare that they were on their third honeymoon. After your first (and only) honeymoon, you know what that’s called? A vacation. People take them all the time. And they take them with their significant others. You’re not more passionate, special or loving than anyone else. Vacations are special enough. Stop with this “honeymoon” business.

People who “Like” Wal-Mart on Facebook. Seriously? Just...why? It’s a horrible company. I know people like to save money; that’s pretty universal. But by shopping there all the time and by liking their page, you’re endorsing everything they do and you’re voting against all of their competitors. I used to work at a Barnes & Noble. People would complain all the time about the price differences: “They have
The Help for cheaper at Wal-Mart.” Yeah, and have you noticed any differences in our stores? We have carpet. People actually do customer service here. The store is clean and friendly, and our part-time workers get benefits. Sorry if that costs you an extra dollar on your book. But if you actually want every store to eventually look and act like Wal-Mart then always shopping there is definitely the way to go.

Mops. I don’t think they’re doing anything.

Duck Hunt for Nintendo. This is the only confirmed case of actual magic in human history. How else could it work? Amazing! But incomprehensible.

The rising price of higher education. Granted, I don’t know the intricacies of this. But I know that at the private, Christian, liberal arts college I attended in Michigan, the cost grew a couple thousand just in my time there. It was one of the most expensive colleges in the state, which I honestly couldn’t have afforded without assistance. I had a great time and absolutely loved all of the concerts, events, new academic buildings and dorms, athletic facilities, etc. that I got to use for free. But was it really necessary? And are these really to entice students? It seems to be a very bad pattern of rising tuition to cover campus projects, which are done to attract students who have to pay higher tuition to cover campus projects, and on and on. Something really has to be done.
Did I miss anything? What would you add to the list? Leave a comment!