Divisions

(If you’re looking for pictures from my weekend with Jessica to celebrate her wedding, don’t worry, they’re coming!  It turns out being a woman of the 21st century with the digital camera doesn’t automatically mean I take the thing out of my purse and use it!  🙂  So I’m waiting for some pictures from my friends to supplement my scrawny collection of 5 pictures from the whole weekend.)

I’m thinking “unity” thoughts again today.  Awhile back I made a decision that if I’m going to “be” Catholic, I need to understand what the Catholic church teaches and get on board with it.  Or, if it turns out that I discover that the Catholic church is wrong, I need to understand why.  Either way, I need to be able to verbally defend my position, so to speak.

(In this post, I’m going to use the terms “Catholics” and “Protestants,” even though I don’t think they sound like what I mean.  Labels like that sound judgemental, and I hope you understand I’m not making judgements, just observations.  I’m using label-like terms for ease of reading, because saying “people who participate in a Catholic church,” etc., would be distracting to the reader.)

I’ve found testimonies of Protestants who converted to Catholicism.  I’ve found testimonies of Catholics who convert to a Protestant church.  The thing is, both perspectives make very good points!  The idea that the Catholic church would claim itself to be above God is repulsive.  But the idea that Protestants are missing out on key elements of Biblical worship is sad, as well.  And there are hundreds more arguments from both sides!

I find it very sad that there are sides at all.  I think God wants a church that is one, the one Body of Christ.  I don’t know what He thinks about all the specifics that different denominations disagree on, and I don’t think I’m going to know until I’m asking Him in person in heaven.  I will tell you that despite all my research, the most important thing remains the most important thing.  I am to accept Jesus’ gift of his death on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.  And I am to follow him, by pursuing a personal relationship with him, and by treating others the way he wants me to.  Everything else is just discrepancies in how people do those things.

One thing I find very discouraging…and I may have talked about this before…is that I seem to meet all kinds of Catholics who have not accepted Jesus’ gift of forgiveness, and who do not pursue a relationship with him.  They seem to be “culturally Catholic,” meaning they follow traditions and rituals, but not God.  So whether or not I find myself agreeing with Catholicism as a set of beliefs, I find myself in conflict with my fellow Catholics.  I find myself defending Catholicism to those who are not Catholic, and defending Christianity to those who are Catholic.  (Not all who are Catholic, I must clarify.  I have met some very godly men and women who participate in a Catholic church, and I am so grateful for their example.  If it weren’t for them, I know for sure this wouldn’t be a conflict within me, I would be firmly on the Protestant side of the fence.)

I have asked this question of Catholic friends in my Bible study: If God led you to leave the Catholic church, would you go?  I was floored when I found myself arguing with some of them!  I wasn’t proposing that it’s probably what God would do, or anything like that.  My question was simply, if God asked you to do something so dramatic and life-changing, and you were certain it was God who was asking, would you say yes?  It started a deep and meaningful discussion, which was my hope.  Toward the end of the discussion, I wrapped it up with my simple statement:  “I follow Jesus, not the Catholic church.  I am a Christian, a follower of Christ.  I go where he tells me to go.  End of story.”  I was profoundly disappointed and discouraged that my statement was so shockingly received.

Your church community is supposed to be a safe place, a place where you can be confident that everyone shares your perspective in this one issue, the role of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our lives.  I don’t know if other Christian churches are like this, but I’m saddened to discover that within a group of people who are supposed to have fellowship and community, there is such division.

Perhaps the Catholic church is Christ’s true vision for his followers.  I don’t know yet.  I’m starting to doubt if I will ever know.  But if we as Catholics are really Christian, if we are really followers of Christ, then we should be willing to follow him anywhere.  And if the Catholic church can baptize infants into the community of followers of Christ…  I don’t know, I’m starting to doubt (again) that a church community can force faith into a soul the way that doctors can inject antibiotics by IV.  Just because I’m not in a church receiving Communion doesn’t mean God isn’t in me today.  Just because I do the physical act of taking Communion doesn’t mean I’m asking God to be present inside me.  On the other hand, if I do take Communion with a true and prayerful desire for Jesus’ presence, I will receive it.  But if I say a prayer in the morning asking for Jesus’ presence, I will also receive it.  I think faith is not about following a prescribed set of rules and traditions (Catholic or otherwise).  I think faith is about pursuing the Lord, and answering when he pursues us.  It’s about a real and true following of Jesus Christ with our lives.

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My Journey…so far…

The rest of the Seattle pictures are coming, I promise!  With wordpress’s new layout, it takes forever to upload them.  They added a couple of steps in the process, for some reason.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, so in the future I will probably use one or two pictures and lots of words to tell about vacations!  In any case, the pictures have been waiting since August, they can wait a little longer!

Tonight I want to address faith.  In this post, not too long ago, I made an offhand comment about how as Catholics, “we baptize the babies before they are old enough to choose for themselves.”  I promised to come back to this topic.  It might sound like I was criticizing our Catholic traditions, but I’m really not, and let me tell you why.

In Protestant circles, it is common to tell one’s conversion story, how one became a Christian, how one decided to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  I’m going to start a new trend and make it a good thing to do in Catholic circles..at least my own Catholic circle!  The thing is, as Catholics many people seem to be adverse to the idea of “leaving the Church.”  To parents and grandparents, it seems like the end of the world when an offspring decides to go in a different direction.  As though between staying in a faith-less state in the Church of our birth, or growing in a faith-filled relationship with God in another church, the faith-less life would be preferable.

Even if you never “leave the Church,” I can’t imagine going through life without some form of conversion here and there.  You can’t possibly have the understanding at the age of 5 that you would at the age of 15, and 25, and 85.  If you are pursuing a relationship with anyone, be it God or a earthly person, that relationship changes as you grow as a person.  So I am going to share the highlights of my conversion, thus far.

When I was a child, my faith was rock solid, but incomplete.  God was real, and He loved me, there was no doubt about it.  He was in me, and all around me.  It was not uncommon for me to be outside, singing church songs at the top of my lungs, because I knew in the sunshine and the great expanse of air and land and sky, God could hear me there.  But it was incomplete because I was a child, and I was not always the most accepting of truths I couldn’t understand.  “Jesus died for our sins…”  I thought that meant Jesus died on the cross to make us feel guilty for all the bad things we do.  Or to show us the horrible things that will happen to us if we are bad.  It didn’t fit with the God that I knew and sang to, who lived inside of me.

By high school, I had accepted that there are truths of God that we can’t understand, and I let it go and focused on the parts that I could understand.  I went to a Catholic high school, and my child-like singing had turned into a constant dialogue with God throughout the day.  We prayed in the morning and afternoon, and in many of our classes, and they all ran together, interspersed with little comments of my own.  “God, please help me, this test is really hard!”  “God, what should I do about this situation with my friends, or this boy I like, or this teacher?”  “Okay, God, I have a ton of homework and I have to be at work at 5:00, but my friend wants me to go get ice cream and hang out at her house…what should I do?”  Anything and everything was brought to Him.

In college…it wasn’t so easy.  I didn’t go to church very consistently at all, which isn’t a big deal in itself, but the constant dialogue with God turned into silence.  I would not consider myself wild or anything, but I made some choices that I now wish I had known better.  To be more accurate, I wish I had asked God what He thought I should do more often, instead of asking my friends!  God was still real to me, and a couple of my sweetest memories from the college years are going to church with Tara and Amy on campus, going to church and praying before meals with Julie and her family, and praying around Becky’s parents’ kitchen table before a meal.  Actually, the first time I went to visit Julie’s parents, her dad was praying before dinner, and he thanked God for my presence in their lives.  I forgot about that until just now.  I remember it felt so…loving.  I had never heard anyone pray for me aloud before.  But between me and God, personally, there was only silence.

I’ve told you that I think God waits for me in the library…  When I was a senior, I stumbled upon the book Boy Meets Girl, by Joshua Harris.  I took it home for two reasons.  One, I felt like I had heard of it, or heard of the author, and I was curious.  Two, it was a book about relationships, and my number one life goal at that time was to get married.  But God wanted me to read that book for a completely different reason.  While reading Mr. Harris’ chapter about dealing with your past, I finally understood why Jesus died on the cross–to pay for my sins.  To take the punishment.  For me, personally.  Because God loves me so much that he doesn’t want to punish me.  After that moment, (and if I looked hard enough, I could tell you the exact date because of what I wrote in my journal that day), during the rare times when I did go to church, suddenly every part of the Mass reflected that truth!  To this day, I am amazed that I heard it so many times for the first 22 years of my life but I couldn’t understand.  I am amazed that, during a time in my life when there was basically silence between me and God, He took it upon himself to intrude into that silence with such a truth.

Shortly after that, I moved to Omaha to begin student teaching.  I went to church almost every weekend with Brian and Jenna, the married couple that I was staying with, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I started reading my Bible once in awhile.  When my Grandma was recovering from surgery, I prayed the rosary every night before I went to sleep, because I knew she loves to pray the rosary, and I had this thought that if she was too tired or in too much pain, maybe God would appreciate one from me on her behalf, maybe my prayer could somehow help her through the process of healing.  (I actually don’t think I ever told her that…so if you’re reading this, Grandma, I love you and I hope it helped!)  I read more and more books by Christian authors, anything I could get my hands on.  I moved out of Brian and Jenna’s house, and into an apartment with Tara and Chad.  Tara and I eventually found the church that I am involved with now, and many weekend she and I went to Mass together.  Tara and Chad got married, and I moved into an apartment by myself, and continued to attend that church.

And as my faith grew, and my relationship with God grew, I began to wonder if the Catholic church was not the right place for me.

I was looking for people who were as passionate about their faith as my Grandma, and these authors that I was reading, and I didn’t think I was finding any.  I especially wanted to meet people my age with this passion.  I didn’t want to leave my traditions, but I was reminded almost daily of the verse about “he who leaves mother and father and sister and brother, and picks up his cross and follows me…”  So I ventured out, and tried two evangelical churches.  I loved every minute of it.  The preachers were passionate, everyone I met seemed to be passionate.  I met people who understood my situation, they had also grown up Catholic.  But in those months, I never reached out and got involved, or formed any lasting relationships with the people I met.  Looking back, I realize that I never felt at home, I found what I was looking for but I sacraficed a lot for it.  Catholicism, the sacraments, the traditions, those are the heart and soul of my faith.  Those are the places I can go when I’m looking for God.  I was looking for fellowship, relationships with other passionate believers, and I found a place that I could have that fellowship…And I found God, too, in other ways.  But I missed my home.  I found myself going to the Catholic church that Tara and I attended about every other week.  I was just waiting, looking for God to tell me what I should do next.  And I saw in the bulletin at the Catholic church that there would be a young adult Bible study starting up.

What!  Catholic young adults studying the Bible together!  I’ve gotta be a part of this!  It was like the fellowship I was looking for was right at home.  That was a little more than a year ago.  Over the past year, I feel like I have grown more in my faith than in the previous four years combined!  I want to bridge the gap between what I have learned from the Christian authors and pastors, and Catholicism.  I truly think we are more similar than any of us tend to realize.  We debate about things that, in my perspective, we actually agree on!  But mostly I want to be a Christian woman who loves her God, pursues her faith, reads her Bible…and is also Catholic.  I did not lose all parts of me affected by Catholicism when I “left the Church,” nor did I lose all parts of myself affected by other Christians when I came back.  All those influences live, peacefully, together in this one person, and there is so much of the journey yet to be experienced!  I have that same hunger now, except it’s directed toward Catholicism.  I want to learn as much as I can about this faith we share!  I no longer have the rebellious, I’m not going to follow this statement from the Church until I believe it’s right! attitude.  Now it’s more, I assume the Church is right, I trust that it’s right, but I need to understand why.  Don’t think I’m a dork…or do, I guess I don’t care…but I bought the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, which is the book the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote as a U.S. version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and is the book used by my church for adult formation classes.  It’s a comprehensive presentation of what the Church believes and teaches, and my thought is that I will go through it and really study anything I don’t understand or anything I have a hard time believing to be true.  It’s not like I think when I finish this book, my faith will be perfect.  I understand that it’s a journey you make your entire life, but I think this is the place for me to start, a direction God is leading me right now.  I am embracing my Catholicism!  (However, the thing is 637 pages, so I expect I will learn quite a lot over the next…year?  Five years?  How long is this going to take me???  It’s not like I’ll stop going to the library in the mean time…)

I have no doubt that if there are more people willing to step out and experience something they didn’t grow up with, even if it’s only temporary, we can open ourselves to the unity that Jesus wanted for his Church.  It’s such a long road, with so many misunderstandings and prejudices to be corrected.  But it’s because of this road, because of this need, that I have no regrets about any of this journey.  I really don’t think I was meant to do great things with this new wisdom.  But if I bring a bit of understanding to my Catholic friends…if I brought a bit of understanding to any of the other Christian people I met…if I encourage a single person on his or her journey with God, wherever that journey leads…maybe I can have a tiny effect on this one great need, to unify the Christian church for our one God.

A new perspective on some inconveniences

Yes, Tara, I know!  🙂  I know you wish you loved to swiff as much as I do!

I’m skipping choir tonight.  Just needed a nice relaxing evening.  Besides, it was snowing like crazy when I finally got home, and in the back of my mind was the thought it’s not worth it to drive on the roads just for church choir.  And then when it was almost time to leave, I peeked out the window, and there was a huge Nebraska Furniture Mart truck parked behind my car, so I couldn’t leave anyway.  I took it as a sign, and stayed home.  I will responsibly put the sheet music in my binder, and arrive early on Sunday to mark the necessary pages in the “blue book.”  (The book we use with all the regular church songs in 4-part harmony.)  Although, I don’t know what possessed someone to agree to drive a huge Mart truck through the snow!

Yesterday was stressful.  My car was in the shop, and when I went to pick it up I discovered that the thing that needs fixed could be very expensive.  My brother can “fix” it for free, but it will damage the part of the car that reduces harmful exhaust emissions.  The third option is to go to a specialty muffler shop that can fix it more efficiently, for less money.  Then, I got home to discover that my bathtub had been resurfaced, with no warning, so I wasn’t allowed to use it until tonight.  Actually, they didn’t put the drain back together, so there was no chance I would disobey.  Had I been warned, it would have been no big deal.  And it does look great…but to be honest, it was in perfectly good condition before, so I don’t care so much if it’s shiny or not.  So when The Boy picked me up to go play basketball and indoor frisbee with the frisbee/capture the flag crowd, I took a shower at his house before he brought me home.  You have no idea how tempted I was to start off this blog with that detail!  🙂  “Showering at Mike’s.”  Hehehe.  I think all of the women who raised me read this blog from time to time, and even as an adult, I love to freak them out! 

ANYWAY, here is my point…  I was incredibly stressed and beyond irritated last night.  But there was no need for any of it!  The car…At least I have transportation.  If it’s in the shop, I’m so lucky to live near people with whom I can carpool to work.  And I have choices.  I don’t know what I will choose, because I’m falling under the trap of what people tell me to do.  Both my brother and The Boy think I should just let my brother fix it and who cares about emissions.  I’m absolutely not spending two thirds of my February paycheck on the repair.  But I think I will get an estimate at another place.  Because, although it would be easy and free to do it my brother’s way, I truly think I should do my part to reduce the strain on the environment.  It’s bad enough that I drive so far to work each day.  But I’m not a broke college student anymore, and I think getting it fixed would be the responsible thing to do in this situation.  I think I should stand up for what I believe and take action accordingly.  Otherwise, I’m selling out for the sake of money.

Yeah, drama, drama.  It’s not a big deal, I realize!  Just trying to make my own decision here, based on what I think is right, rather than going along with the people whose advice I appreciate.

And the inconvenience of the bathtub…I am so lucky.  If I hadn’t been able to impose on The Boy, I could have imposed on Tara and Chad, or my coworkers that live close, or Jenna and Brian, or one of my church friends.  I may have one bathtub in my apartment, but I have many available to me because I am not alone in the world. 

I’m starting a new category for unity.  That seems to be a theme of mine lately.  We are all connected.  At its very basis, that’s what faith is.  That’s what God is.  I may believe one thing, and you may believe one thing, but the bottom line is, we were all created by the same One, whether you call that One God, or Yahweh, or Mother Earth or Father Sky, or even the spirit that runs through all of us.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s all one.

All of you faithful, please join all of us teachers in praying for snow!!!