Friday, December 13, 2013

7 Quick Takes on That Old Time Religion


When I was about the age Ruby is now (well, maybe closer to four and a half or five, but it was still while we were living in Holland, Michigan), I remember drawing a picture of Jesus and his disciples on a fishing boat. After I had finished, I wrote, "To Jesus" at the top and left it for him to come and get...in my closet. In case he wanted privacy for His quick trip back. When it was still there the next day, though, I was not disappointed. I figured that since God is everywhere, He had already seen it but didn't feel the need to take it with Him. I wonder if my mom still has that drawing. It was also the age where I first became acutely aware of being sinful. I don't know if this is unusual for kids, but I remember feeling quite grieved and upset over some of the things I did that I knew were wrong, like stealing some play money from someone's house (and then having to confess this and return it when the deed was discovered). I had what my mom calls "a tender conscience." I think St. Augustine calls that "prevenient grace."
Every morning during my elementary school years I remember eating breakfast in the kitchen while my mom had either NPR's "Morning Edition" or Dr. Dobson's "Focus on the Family" and Chuck Swindoll's "Insight for Living" on the radio. I've always liked Chuck Swindoll, but even as a kid Dr. Dobson got on my nerves a little bit. Who says "Poo-berty?" Come on, man! It was also from him that I learned about the dangerous threat of homosexuals. I wondered what they looked like and how to avoid falling into their clutches.
I didn't meet any actual homosexuals until I went to college. Then I met several of them, and they all seemed like pretty nice folks. I also met some of the bleedingheart liberals that Rush Limbaugh had warned me about, and many of them seemed not only nice but somewhat reasonable. I began to wonder if Dr. Dobson was actually more of a jerk than I originally suspected (and Rush, too). Still, I found it hard to reconcile the kind earnestness (and in some cases Christianity) of the gays and lesbians I met with what I understood the Bible to say about the only proper sexual activity being that of a married man and woman. And guess what? I still find it hard, the whole thing. I also think that Jesus doesn't much care how hard we find some of His teachings.
Also in college I met another dangerous breed: Catholics. Oh yes, I'd heard about THEM. There was an ad that played every so often on the local Christian station back in St. Louis which warned me that Catholics were not really saved, mostly because they prayed to Mary and prayed for the dead and obeyed somebody called the Pope unquestioningly. But I had actually known a Catholic or two growing up. My best friend when we first moved to St. Louis was Catholic and one time she gave me a glow-in-the-dark rosary (which I of course assumed was a necklace). It hung up in my closet for a long time. In high school we once had an assembly speaker who was a Catholic priest and he took questions. I think I asked about why Catholics pray to Mary (having been well educated by that ad). His answer was a bit slick: he said that it was the same way that we often went to one parent over the other because we knew which parent was the "softer touch." Mary, apparently, was able to convince grumpy old God to grant our requests better than just praying to Grumpy Old God Himself. "Mary kind of softens God up for us!" the priest quipped. His answer merely confirmed in my mind my already low opinion of Catholic belief. But in college, we actually had to read selections from St. Anselm, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas. I remember being baffled by Anselm, entranced and enamored of Augustine (thus leading me to give his name as a middle name to my second son), and initially outraged by Thomas but later coming around to agreeing with him. Also, one of the ladies who had been part of our Christian Fellowship group went from being a sensible Protestant type to becoming a Catholic. I went to her nuptial Mass and was quite interested by all the proceedings. It was the second Mass I'd ever been to (the first being a funeral Mass for my piano teacher some years before). When I got home on Christmas break that year I went to a Christmas Eve Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica to see more of these Catholics in action.
There was a guy that I quite liked who told me that he was becoming Catholic. I was very disappointed, because I felt that this would prevent us from being married (actually, I'm pretty sure that the fact that we lived across the country from each other and he had never expressed any romantic interest in me were really what killed that hope). I tried to show him the error of his ways ("they worship Mary!" was my main argument, as I recall) but he politely refused to listen to me. In order to show him just how wrong he was, I did a bit of research online and was startled to learn that maybe Catholics don't actually worship Mary. I tried incorporating the rosary into my prayer times but felt worried that the ghost of my main man Martin Luther was shaking his head and possibly his fist in my direction.
Last fall, a new couple joined our small group at church. They had both been cradle Catholics who didn't seem to know much about Christianity. "Typical," I thought, smugly. I decided to do some research to be ready to show how wrong their upbringing had been. I read lots of web articles on CARM and a tract from Harvest House that my mother-in-law had given us for our wedding. "Yup, Nutty McNuttersons, those Catholics," I thought. Last Christmas, we went to St. Louis for Christmas. I took Allen to the Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral Basilica, because it is an absolutely gorgeous building. While we sat in the crowded sanctuary, waiting for the service to begin, I read a little tract in the pew about the Top 8 Questions about the Catholic Church (or something like that). The answers in it intrigued me; they sounded a bit different than what the websites had claimed that Catholics believed. "I really should give the Church a chance to speak for itself," I thought later that evening. "It's not great research only to study from the perspective of one side of the story." So began my research.
"Catch your Hail Marys here at 88.3 FM," read a billboard in Oregon City. As we moved into a new house, I tuned my radio to 88.3 to see what it was all about. I felt like I was listening in to a broadcast from another country; there were unfamiliar words and concepts mixed in with the ones I knew. What was a chaplet? What was consecration? Vocations? I ordered some books from the library and started doing research on different websites, like this one and this one. Then I found the blogs. Oh, the many, many Catholic mom blogs. You can check the sidebar to the left to see some that I follow. As I read, studied, and emailed (thanks Rhonda and Kendra!), I no longer could agree with my long-held (but not terribly well-founded) belief that Catholicism was crazy heresy. In fact, it seemed shockingly possible that it was just as valid as the Reformed/Evangelical tradition I'd grown up in, if not more so. Right now we're continuing our study, reading books and asking questions of both practicing cradle Catholics and converts too; and if we find that the evidence is there to support the move, we plan to take the next logical step of going through RCIA classes to become members of the Catholic church near our house. It's a bit nerve-wracking to admit that, since both sides of our families have looked with great skepticism on Catholicism (which is obviously where we first learned to do so, too). But where God leads, we feel compelled to follow. If you pray, pray for us! To wrap up: today as I drove home from getting Ruby from preschool, amongst the continual chatter, I heard her say the following: "Okay, hold my hand, Max. Hold my hand, Ben. Dear God, thank you for today. Thank you for the good ones. Thank you for the bad ones who disobey. Help them be good and repentful to their friends. The end." That about covers it, I'd say, whether Catholic or Protestant.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

9 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Actually, we ask Mary to pray FOR us. We call it intercessory prayer. We ask her to pray for us the same way I might ask you to pray for me.

      Delete
  2. Jenny! You have a blog! It's awfully nice to put a face to the emails. :0)

    This is a lovely post, and believe me, even cradle Catholics like me are on a similar journey. We all have to keep searching for Truth.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Have you studied Martin Luther? No one denomination has a corner on heaven, Jesus died for the lost, that includes EVERYONE. Salvation is througb faith, not of works lest we boast. It is by Jesus grace...we dont deserve it, but God gave his son Jesus, for anyone, any denomination who will accept Him for the foregiveness of their sins.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I read "The Freedom of a Christian" in college. He does have good things to say, I will not deny that. And I agree that Jesus came to seek and save the lost of any persuasion…and from what I can tell, I don't think Catholics would disagree with that. When all is said and done, it is all about God's grace and our response to that grace: do we accept it or reject it?

      Delete
  4. Seeing that billboard ad, I had a vision of a stadium vendor with a thick New York accent calling out, "Hail Marys! Get ya Hail Marys right heeere!"

    You're in my prayers. By the way, you have a GREAT writing voice.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I remember thinking, as a cradle-Catholic, that NOone in their right mind would convert to Catholicism. So many rules and so much sordid history. But then I started to read conversion stories and they blew.me.away. I realized then how lucky I was to be born into my faith. Just like everyone out there, I'm always searching for Truth, and the journey's not over until it's over. But now I see why people convert and I think it is an awesome thing.

    I'll be praying for you, Jenny! (Bonnie linked to this page and I just had to check it out.)

    Oh, and for your Lutheran family/friends, they might be interested to know what Martin Luther himself had to say about Mary:

    "The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart." (Sermon, September 1, 1522).
    "[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. ..She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures." (Sermon, Christmas, 1531)

    I got the quotes above from http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=788 Fascinating stuff!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I found your blog via Kendra's . . . I came from a (lapsed, really almost atheist) Protestant home, but at pushing 40, I am happily doing RCIA and loving every second of it. And frankly, it was a love for Mary that drew me to the Church. Only the Catholic Church has such a wonderful female presence like Mary. I will keep you in my (intercessory) prayers to the BVM!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I don't know where you are on your RCIA/Catholic journey. My father is a Calvinist pastor, and I'm now a Catholic. It's the best decision I ever made. When I investigated what the Catholic Church ACTUALLY taught, as opposed to what I was TOLD it was taught, I was blown away by the truth.

    ReplyDelete