Tag Archives: religion

Why I Am [Still] Catholic — or perhaps you would disagree. Either way.

There’s a big book I want to read, but as with that grocery store, I’m a little scared to read it. (I’m such a chicken!) I can’t really put my finger on what makes me nervous about it, exactly, but I think it’s important that before reading the book, I at least make an attempt at finding my own answer.

The book is Why I Am A Catholic by Gary Wills.

And today I’d like to talk about why am Catholic. Or at least my very best, super non-eloquent, attempt at explaining why. Because Joan suggests that it might be time.

“Keep traveling, Sister! Keep traveling! The road is far from finished!” –Nelle Morton

Unrelated side note: sisters are the best, best, best!

“Indeed we are not finished. The struggle for women is only just begun actually. But I have come to the conclusion that social change does not happen in a straight line. It’s run and coast, run and coast all the way. This is another deceleration period, perhaps. Everything has quieted, slowed for a while, no big demonstrations, no great amount of organizing. But it is precisely now that we must not stop or we will stand to lose our hearts along the way.” –Joan Chittister

Whether you agree or disagree with me, in my own personal world where the opinions are 100% and entirely my own, my struggle with my faith has often been reflected in, as Joan calls it, “the struggle for women.” Where the word “women” can be replaced with any truly marginalized segment of the population.

I am what many would call a “cradle Catholic” — I was born into the faith. My parents met as catechism teachers, for pete’s sake! (And their first date was to see the Star Trek movie and they’re so cute/gross (they are  my parents, it has to be a little gross to me) and so happy even after like a million years and three wack job kids and a bad, bad dog– I love their story!)

Anyway, I was born to Catholic parents. Baptized in the Catholic church. Attended CCD once a week during elementary school, went to mass on Sundays, made my basic sacraments, and wore the pretty dresses when required (Easter, Christmas, but none more beautiful than my first communion dress– handmade by my mom, eyelet lace, and I loooooved it).

I even went to youth group off and on as an awkward teen. And oh snap was I ever awkward. It’s hard not to cringe when I even think about youth group… (I had such a crush on this handsome young man (that’s the old lady way of saying “total hottie!”) named Andrew who had gone to my school before leaving for a private Catholic school. I screwed up the courage to ask him to Homecoming my senior year. He initially said yes and I freaking flipped until he reversed his decision on account of “Saturday night hockey practice” (riiiight… i.e. I can’t go to Homecoming with a nerd at my old school! I’ll never hear the end of it) and I was very understanding (to him) and mortified (in private) and all that. Oh, so so so cringe-worthy! Although, date or no, in retrospect, I looked HOT at that Homecoming dance, so whatevs. Also, good on me for having the courage to ask!!)

[[[Dang it! I was sure I had a picture somewhere around here from that dance– lots of other dances, Homecoming, Coming Home, Prom, etc… but not that particular one. I looked good though, I promise. And even if I didn’t, I was awesome! His loss!]]]

I even went to church on my own in college. I walked up the hill from Wadsworth Hall to St. Al’s in Houghton and sang my little heart out whenever I could get out of bed in time to make it (because think what you like, I love traditional Catholic hymns– I just do). A lot of my friends were Catholic too, so it was always a social experience, and when I started dating Seth my sophomore year we had that in common. It’s always just been a thing. Albeit, a rote thing, because this-is-the-way-it’s-always-been thing. Not much in the way of thought at any point. Although, I should point out that I was not confirmed in the church along with my peers… because I didn’t really see the need, and neither did my parents who were going through their own thoughtful faith period. While it has caused me some problems along the way (marriage prep– oy), I do not regret it. It would have just been another meaningless hoop to jump through on what was already a very rote path. I have since toyed with the idea of going through the RCIA process to become confirmed as an adult and I am grateful for that because over and over again it has made me examine the central teachings of my Catholic faith with a more discerning, thoughtful, and critical eye than I would have possessed at any point earlier in my life and that has made all of the difference.

The next natural place to go as I’m writing this is, I’m sure, toward a theological discussion of what I agree with, what I disagree with, and so on. But instead, let’s just say that my concerns center largely around the way certain groups of people are treated– women, LGBTQ individuals, divorced/remarried couples, the homeless, etc. (Sigh for Catholics in San Francisco at the moment, yes? Seems as though they’ve been in the media recently for every last one of these things.) It bothers me because I feel confident that Jesus loved everyone and that as followers of Jesus (i.e. Christians) we are also called to love everyone, always, no matter what, and with no questions asked. Even when it’s hard. Lepers and prostitutes, tax collectors and pharisees. Everyone is welcome. And we even sing that, in church, some Sundays– allll are welcome, allll are welcome, alllll are welcome in this place. I really, really believe that.

So the question then becomes: why stay? Why do I still consider myself a Catholic?

Reasonable question, and one I have honestly and whole-heartedly asked myself. For a few months a year or so ago I found myself bouncing around from church to church to church. I tried them all locally, and even not so locally (driving long distances on Sunday morning was not something I particularly enjoyed, but I tried it, to be thorough). I liked the service at the Episcopalian church in town (the minister even referenced Joan Chittister in her homily! sermon, maybe?), but ultimately, even that just didn’t fit quite right. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t home.

In the end, I still attend Catholic mass on Sunday with my husband. I get quite a bit out of it, but sometimes it definitely makes me a bit rage-y. Mostly only when the homily gets political– even subtle politicization is enough to boil my blood. But I can listen respectfully and dissent in the car on the way home. I can do it. And I can work to change those things from elsewhere. To make my church more just. To make my spiritual home a place that I am proud of. Hence, my involvement in Call To Action.

In the end, I relate it back to politics after all. I may not always like my political leaders and the policies put forth in the US, but I’m not going to move to Canada over it. I’m sure there’d be something there I would disagree with too. And ultimately, Canada, lovely as it may be, is not my home… not the place I feel like I belong. (Granted, I have not tried living in Canada, so that’s not a super fair statement, but I’m sure you get my drift.)

When I think about this concept of your church or faith or lack thereof as a home or place of comfort, I think that my husband’s family really demonstrates how true that is. My father-in-law is Catholic and my mother-in-law is Lutheran. Neither converted or changed anything when they got married. My MIL continues to attend her Lutheran church and my two sisters-in-law have always gone with her. My FIL continues to attend his Catholic church and my husband has always gone with him. All three kids are amazing people– morally upstanding, grounded in their faith, kind, beautiful and compassionate and spiritual people. Two were raised Lutheran, one was raised Catholic, all three came from a household that values family and love and respect and hard work. The two raised Lutheran have chosen to remain Lutheran, likewise for the Catholic, and while I haven’t actually asked them why exactly, I imagine that the concept of familiarity and home would come to mind eventually if I did. Probably the same would be true for their parents– they still got married and spent the rest of their lives (to date… can’t predict the future, of course, but their also pretty cute/gross) loving, respecting, and raising a family with one another. And I think that’s what we’ll all do as we grow up– what our parents did. Seth and I will (fingers crossed!!!) have children someday and raise our kids in the Catholic church, but we’ll also raise our kids according to our own moral values and our kids will be shown that all people are welcome, no matter what, no questions asked, because that’s what we think Jesus would do. And more to the point, what we think is right. Should someday they decide to move on to a faith or religion or spiritual practice (or, again, lack thereof) in which they feel more comfortable, more at home, that’s totally cool. For me, it just so happens that that place of spiritual comfort is Catholicism.

Progressive Catholicism, anyway. Catholicism with a twist.

And that is my best answer to that question posed by Gary Wills. A long time in the making, but most brilliant works take a minute, eh? 😉

I think I am ready to read that book now. To see what Gary has to say. (True story: I almost wrote Mr. Wills right there, but then stopped myself– I never write Ms. Chittister, or even Sister Chittister… I always call her Joan, like she’s my own personal friend and never with the respect of the title she’s probably owed. Yet, interestingly, I have actually seen Gary Wills speak in person, closer to a friend therefore than Joan is, and still I initially went for the mister. Glad I can catch myself in these super anti-equality moments. Wonder how many more I don’t catch?).

As you can see, I certainly can’t defend my Faith with any kind of theological argument, but my faith, with the little f, which is the one that I practice rather than the one I necessarily subscribe to or attend, isn’t based on theology really at all. It’s based on a feeling and an ideal of goodness and rightness that really isn’t something that can be argued one way another because it’s 100% personal. So I consider myself Catholic, whether or not I’m a good one according to the hierarchical Church. (And I doubt very much that I am.) But I don’t do it for them, I do it for me and for God. And no one can come between God and my conscience. (That’s a direct quote from a Catholic priest, btw. Must be true!)

I’d be really very curious to hear about the experiences of others– not the doctrinal/theological reason for belonging to one group or another or not at all, but rather, the personal history- and feelings-based reasons. I can’t be the only one, can I? Tell me about you!




PS: Talking about that youth group-based Homecoming rejection, and even more so, joking about it– HUGE deal for me! Turns out, it legitimately no longer hurts. And I’m grateful for the story. I wonder when that happened? (But was he ever dreamy to my 16 year old self…) FREEDOM!!

{Source} Kind of what it feels like 🙂

A Sufi Tale, but not that one from Pinterest.

Losing sight… easy to do…

And there it is– day 3 of Lent.

“When the death of their master was clearly imminent, the disciples became totally bereft. ‘If you leave us, Master,’ they pleaded, ‘how will we know what to do?’ And the master replied, ‘I am nothing but a finger pointing at the moon. Perhaps when I am gone you will see the moon.'” –Sufi Tale

What does Joan have to say?

“The meaning is clear: It is God that religion must be about, not itself. When religion makes itself God, it ceases to be religion. But when religion becomes the bridge that leads to God, it stretches us to live to the limits of human possibility. It requires us to be everything we can possibly be: kind, generous, honest, loving, compassionate, just. It defines the standards of the human condition. It sets the parameters within which we direct our institutions. It provides the basis for the ethics that guide our human relationships. It sets out to enable us to be fully human, human beings.” –Joan Chittister

And she’s a NUN! A nun who super gets it, right?

It’s not about following the rules. At least it shouldn’t be. Yet for so many people it is. Church, religion, it becomes a recipe, a prescription, a set of Ikea instructions.

True, when it comes time to build the MALM or the HEMNES, there’s probably one best way… leftover screws can be dangerous. But when you pull it out of the oven, a pie is a pie is a pie is delicious no matter what recipe you followed.

Related: mmmm… pie.

I think religion is like that. If the religion you follow or don’t follow helps you to be fully human, to be kind, generous, honest, loving, compassionate and just, if it points you in the right direction, then who cares what religion it is? Who cares if we’re taking directions from a different master? The moon is still the moon. A pie is still a pie.

Related: mmmm… moon pies.

Yep. I’m prone to losing sight of what matters.

Work’s been like that for me lately. I’ve been feeling unappreciated… in need of more thanks, more gratitude, recognition, pats on the back, etc. Thanks had become my religion. And I was using it inappropriately.

I Stella-style got my groove back this week though. At least temporarily. I started working on a new grant and it’s kind of awesome.

A lot of work. Tight time line. Little bit of stress. But dang– if we get it, it’s going to help a heck of a lot of people. People who really need help.

And that is the point.

My job matters not because of the thanks, but because I get really great opportunities to help– to encourage physicians and researchers, to empower them to implement new programs, to bring services to people who really need them. Most recently, opioid treatment services for addicts in the northwoods. Recently, for people suffering from a rare genetic disorder. And before that, kids in the foster care system.

Honestly, I’m pretty lucky. Just got to keep my eyes on the prize… and not let myself get convinced that the thanks are what matters. Nor is the salary. Or the hours. Or whatever. I feel fulfilled. I am participating in improvement of the human condition.


Speaking of Sufi tales… I keep seeing this bad boy on Pinterest and tonight it popped up on my Facebook feed:


I’d seen “Sufi” this and “Sufi” that so frequently that I really thought it was one really wise and eloquent person. Turns out it’s an Islamic concept. Fascinating. Thanks, Wiki.

Different recipe, same conclusion. Love.


Pi, Nuns, and Dreadlocks — a recipe for spirituality

I recently read the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  It was a beautiful book and the boy’s adventure was absolutely magical.  But honestly, my favorite part of the book was the beginning.

In the beginning, Pi, a born, raised, and practicing Hindu, begins exploring other religions.  He becomes, simultaneously, a Hindu, Christian, and Muslim.  He is devout in his practice of all three.  Until the Hindu pandit (new vocabulary word! yessss!), the Christian priest, and the Muslim imam realize that he is practicing more than one religion… at which point, everyone gets upset.

While the three religious men are busy making arguments in favor of their own religion and against the others (because religious discourse tends to go south very fast, doesn’t it?), Pi and his father make some really beautiful points of their own.

First, Pi quotes Gandhi: “Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God.”

Then his father backs him up saying, “I suppose that’s what we’re all trying to do–love God.”

Finally, Pi explains: “Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”

At the same time I was reading Life of Pi, I was also working my way (again) through Joan Chittister’s book Welcome to the Wisdom of the World.  (I always read more than one book at a time…)  Joan Chittister is a ridiculously wise and eloquent nun from Pennsylvania.  While she is indeed a Catholic sister, she is also a brilliant theologian who understands, and in this book explains, how all of the worlds major religions are ultimately devoted to helping people understand the answers to the big questions in life.  She draws beautiful parallels between Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and uses their parables to answer some of the tough questions that we all ponder at one point or another.

I think the essence of Joan Chittister’s book is summed up when she says, “Every major spiritual tradition – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – brings a special gift to the art of living the spiritual life.  Each of them refracts the light of its own spiritual wisdom text in particularly sharp and distinct ways.  Each of them strikes a different tone in giving the great truths of life that form a chord, a symphony of truth.”

One of my favorites so far (yes, I’m still working my way through it– I think it’s because I’m scared to get to the chapter entitled “What’s Wrong with Me: Why Can’t I Change?” because I’m afraid it’s going to strike too close to home…) was her chapter that discusses what it means to be a spiritual person using the wisdom of the Hindus.  She says:

“Religion and spirituality are not the same thing… The truth is that we can go through the motions about something all our lives and never really become what the thing itself is meant to be… religious practice without the spiritual development that is meant to proceed from it is the more deceptive of the two.  It leaves us in danger of being keepers of the law rather than seekers of the truth.”


This weekend I am in Milwaukee for a spirituality-based conference with my dad.  The conference is the national meeting for Call To Action, a group for progressive-minded Catholics interested in creating a more inclusive, loving, and justice-seeking faith community.  I don’t expect anyone else to agree with my meanderings through the world of faith, religion, and spirituality, but after this weekend I have learned one thing and I’ve learned it really well:

For me, meandering is the way to go!!

I can’t be spoon fed and I can’t be told what to say, do, think, or feel, but the more information I take in and the more I let myself discern with my heart what feels right and what doesn’t, the more clear my path becomes.  And right now, learning is my path.

Spiritually, I’ve always felt a bit like that creepy Voldemort character, writhing on the ground in that in-between place where Harry goes to meet Dumbledore at the end of the series.  (That thing is creepy!)  (Omg… I was just going to link you to a picture, but got to creeped out even looking at them!  Just awful!  I take it back!  My spirituality is better than that!  Maybe like a mandrake root— creepy, but not that bad.)  But I’ve learned so much this weekend and heard so many new ideas that I’ve become incredibly anxious to learn more and I know I’ll grow up out of that creepy place soon.

For me, the best way to learn is to read (I’m not the doer or the listener learning type– reading is definitely my thing) and my list has grown by leaps and bounds this weekend.  I even bought a book while I was here and had it inscribed by the author (color me star-struck!!).  Unfortunately, I haven’t the slightest idea what the inscription says!!  So sad– I’m sure it’s something really clever and meaningful!!  The book is Occupy Spirituality by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox.  We heard Adam Bucko speak about his work with homeless youths in New York City on Friday night and his talk was incredible.  Amazing.  Inspired and inspiring.  And I’m dying to know what he said to me!  (He’s Polish and was impressed with my Polish last name– could it be something about that?  He also has like 6 feet long dreadlocks (no kidding), but I don’t think it’s about that…  To Rachel- May you be… WHAT?!  Please, help me!!)


Be the first to tell me what the inscription says and I will literally send you a copy of the book.  (And I actually know what the word literally means, I’m using it correctly.  I will purchase the book on Amazon and have it sent straight to your home.  Literally.)

So, yep, I went to the spiritual place.  I understand that it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people, but I also think that as human beings, we are all gifted with what Adam Bucko called “spiritual intuition for justice” and I think that idea transcends any particular religion or faith practice, and is rather something like the intention of every religion or faith practice.  So I think we can talk about that here, right?