Sunday, November 26, 2017

Catholic Fundamentalism

I just had a 9 hour drive to get home from my Thanksgiving festivities. I listened to lots of podcasts, which was great, but I also had a lot of time to think about a conversation that I had with two of my sisters about Catholic Fundamentalism. If that sounds oxymoronic, it's because it is, but we try to live it out anyway. There is some growing discussion about some of this, but it's happening all over the US, whether it's being discussed or not.

I have some extended family members who very much fall into this group, and I know a lot of people who are smack in the middle of this. You know what? I have been very much a part of this without even realizing what I was doing. I hope I can say that I am recovering, but since I was blind to what I was doing for so long, I doubt I'm a perfect judge of this.

We live in a country with very Protestant roots, and there are ideologies from that that pervade our culture and influence us, whether we recognize it or not. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of very influential converts to Catholicism who, while they have done a lot of good in the Church, have also spread a subtle fundamentalist flavor to the living out of the Catholic faith. Don't get me wrong, not all of it's bad, and it's definitely partly a reaction to the cafeteria-style Catholicism that came out from the 60's, 70's, and 80's (from what I've heard, and my own experience in the 80's- I haven't studied this, however). The cafeteria thing doesn't work, but neither does the fundamentalist thing.

Fundamentalist Christians (Catholic or otherwise) are very caught up in the black and white, right and wrong of a thing. There is very little room for nuance there. In the terms of actions, it is often possible to say whether a thing is definitively right and wrong. Unfortunately, I think the tendency (at least, this has been my tendency) is to say that the person is right or wrong, good or bad, based on those actions. We don't see all of the circumstances, and we often don't care because the action is all that matters.

This Thanksgiving, I heard two people say, "I'm not sure if it's possible to be a Democrat and be a Christian." They were absolutely serious! This is primarily based on their reactions to things such as abortion. Yet, while I agree that abortion ends the life of an innocent child and is, in fact, one of those actions that is wrong, I have also talked to friends about why they support abortion. These are not bad people, and while I disagree with their conclusion in terms of abortion, I also see that they are seeing and addressing some very human issues that I have refused to see or address in my anti-abortion blindness. One example is a woman who was aborting her third child because she couldn't afford to be off work when the child was born; she would lose her job, her home, her ability to support her other two children. Yes, there is the issue of avoiding getting pregnant in the first place, but even that is usually a reaction to deep pain and need. We can have compassion for the reasons someone might be in that position. We can see what we can do to support someone who may need financial assistance, we can work to improve laws and working conditions to better support women.

My own fundamentalism in the past would have stopped me from seeing the human needs, the human pain, indeed, the very human person in the midst of this story. It would have kept me from doing anything other than judging this woman. I so appreciate the people in my life (some Christian AND Democrat, some neither) who have helped me to see the human side. To get so caught up in rules and religion that the very people right in front of us are lost is a tragedy, and one that I want to stop in my own life.

I even thought of it a bit when I was putting up my Christmas tree today. There are those that would judge me as not being quite as good of a Catholic because I'm getting ahead of myself a little liturgically. You know what? We need to let it go. When we choose to put up Christmas decorations is not a salvation issue! I think that there is something very beautiful about doing some Advent decorations that are a little less fancy and saving the blow out Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve. But what can I say? I love the Christmas tree lights on these short, dark nights. I like to put them up right after Thanksgiving and leave them up through the 12 days of Christmas, to get the most out of it. Whatever works best for you and your family, whatever is special, is really fine. The important part, the hard part, is figuring out how to celebrate Advent.

I'm not sure how much this post makes sense as I try to work out some new thoughts, but I guess what I'm saying is that I see a lot of Pharisee in me, with all these rules and all these judgements of the people around me. I hope I'm starting to move away from this a little, and now when I hear fundamentalist statements, they are jarring to me. On the other hand, I've got a long way to go, because-among other things- I'm still very judge-y of the judgers. I think this is partly in reaction to my own mistakes, but I don't want to stay in such a reactionary place.

I'm still working through this. What do you think? Have you heard of this idea of Catholic Fundamentalism, or experienced it?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Taking Back the Holidays

It's been a while, but this post is on my mind and heart and won't go away. As I mentioned in my last post, I was struggling some with the end of summer. Then came the Fall, and it got even worse. I think the pressure of the holidays began bearing down even then. The thing is, you would think I would be used to the single thing in general and being single on the holidays in particular, but I don't know that that will ever happen. There is so much about the holidays that is difficult. Even when I am with my parents, siblings, and whatever other extended relatives, the singleness is somewhat emphasized rather than minimized because my family is not there.

I do put up a tree for me because I am worth the hassle, even if there's no one else to share it, and I love the lights of the Christmas tree on the dark evenings. But sometimes in the warm glow, I am stunningly struck by how much better it would be to share it with others. Sometimes in the worst of it, it makes me angry as well as sad, because what? Being single even takes away the joy of the holidays? I don't even get that?

(Side note: I recently read a post quoting Charlie Munger, and he had a friend that would have these cards for anyone who started to say anything that started to lean to self pity. They said, "Your story has touched my heart, never have I heard of anyone with more misfortunes than you." My sarcastic heart loves it, and I have started mentally giving these cards to myself when I start to notice that I am crossing the line from legit processing something that hurts to wallowing in self pity.)

Doing this for so long, I do have some coping mechanisms, some healthy, others not so much. Some of the good ones are to do something that I really enjoy to celebrate, even if it is not the picture perfect holiday that I would prefer. I have gotten to where I really enjoy cross country skiing on Christmas. Time in the mountains with friends? You betcha. I also take a nice long holiday break from social media. So lovely and so necessary.

This Thanksgiving will be visiting the extended family, but there are some landmines there. This is the first holiday that my MUCH younger sister is bringing her husband, and I don't have any idea of they're trying to start a family already, but it wouldn't surprise me, and I will be on edge waiting for some sort of cutesy pregnancy announcement. (Don't get me wrong, I will be very happy for a new niece or nephew if such a thing happens, but not sure I'm up for the in person congrats at that time.) It is the first Thanksgiving without my grandma, and my first time going to their house without her there and with a lot of her things already cleared out. Then, of course, there's the food. With traveling, I have a very hard time sticking with food that doesn't make me sick, and I really don't get to eat any of the fun stuff. Not to mention that there has been a lot of extra family drama in the last couple of years that promises to continue.

As for Christmas, plans are up in the air, but it's looking like there's a very good chance that there will be much time in the city and little time in the mountains.

My super elegant prayer as I was contemplating all this was:

"What. The. CRAP?!"

And, then:

"Right. So it was already hard enough and now You're taking the rest of it away. Seriously?!"

There are several options of what to do in the face of holiday difficulties such as these. One that a friend of mine often does is to treat it like another day and just ignore the holiday part. I get it, and to anyone that needs to do that, my response is, do what you have to do. I don't want that, though. On the other hand, I'm tired. I'm tired of trying to make it special when it's hard. Don't get me wrong, I have had some very special holidays that were even better because of working through the tough stuff. I have had some really hard holidays that were not all bad because of the extra effort. But this year, it feels like even the little I had is being yanked away, and I'm too tired to try to figure out a new way to make things special. But neither do I want to give up.

Then I had this revelation. Now, please don't think I'm an idiot for taking so long to reach an obvious conclusion. The revelation came in the form of a question: If everything is stripped away, what's left?

In Thanksgiving, if you take away the food, if time with family is full of various emotional landmines, what's left?

Gratitude.

Christmas, when you take away all the glitter and tinsel and fun family traditions, etc., what's left?

Emmanuel, God with us.

The essence of the holidays is suddenly distilled, and doesn't require in the slightest for the holidays to be fun or to look a certain way. They can be, but they don't have to be. It leaves room for the things that hurt. I don't have to fight the painful things in order to have gratitude, and if there is pain at Christmas, what better thing to contemplate than the fact that God is with us in the midst of all of it? That Christmas exists so that God can be personally present in whatever we are going through?

The funny thing is that now I'm looking forward to the holidays again, and all I have to do is celebrate what the holidays actually are. I don't actually feel like I'm taking back the holidays, so much as I'm receiving them as gift, one that I probably should have figured out before this, but one that I am grateful to recognize now.