shine like the sun

i'm taking a break from the bathroom updating. don't worry, pictures have been taken and i'll post day 5 and 6 later today most likely. there's some stuff that's been mulling around in my head for a few months now and i had an epiphany of sorts on sunday. purging onto paper is always a nice way to help sort out my thoughts/path forward, so that's what i'm going to do. let's start with a disclaimer, though, shall we? i mean no offense to any one currently practicing an organized religion of any sort. i am of the belief that it's all good, and just because your church does not meet my needs does not mean that i think it's "wrong" (or a waste of your time, or whatever). if that one statement offends you because you do believe that your church is right and the rest of us are going to burn in hell (or not attain enlightenment or whathaveyou) you'd best move on. you're not going to care for what happens next, and i'm not going to apologize for having an open mind. next i suppose we need some history, so that if you read this, you know where i'm coming from, and why i might think the way i do about certain things. i'll try to be brief, but if you know me, you know that's not possible. ...sigh... i just wrote a 5 page essay and i hadn't even gotten to the point... let's try this again. i was a late-comer to catholicsm (about 6th grade) so learned it from a slightly different perspective than most of my peers. i attended a catholic high school and a jesuit university. i went from being so devout at 14 that i seriously considered a life of service (i.e. becoming a nun) to so angry at the church/god i couldn't see straight at 18. eventually i mellowed into agnosticism. i still found the idea of religion fascinating though, and took pretty much every opportunity to research and talk to people from all sorts of faiths (not just christianty). when i figured out (for myself) that there was value in the journey in this life regardless of what happened in any next life, i turned to paganism. why paganism? because it was a build-it-yourself sort of religion where i could explore ritual on my own without centuries of other people's ideas to really get in my way. looking ahead, i knew that i would eventually get back into organized religion. it's the natural progression that we go through culturally and individually. i assumed it would be christian-based. you stick with what you know, and even though i craved the intense, ancient ritual of juadism or islam, it's too different from what i wanted. i also knew i'd be steering very clear of the evangelical, born-again, charismatic christian churches. i still have not lost the belief that every faith is just a valid as another, so a religion in direct, active opposition to that belief was not for me. i was on the fence about it resolving back to catholicism, because that's the one i've picked apart for it's flaws more than any other. i figured the first foray would be to universal unitarianism, but it turns out, my next step was to UCC (united church of christ). i didn't even realize it until yesterday, how does this happen? my husband's parents are UCC and we'd been going to the big celebrations (christmas and easter with a few random sundays throughout the year) there for a few years. we were married there. while i kept myself at arms distance, i still felt welcomed and that my personal journey/philosophy was not in conflict with the church's views. i actually took communion when it was offered. to me, coming from and rejecting catholicism, this was a big thing. two years ago ryan and i joined the choir because i need to sing and it was a great way to spend time with his parents. i know what you're thinking. you take communion, you attend regularly, and you sing in the choir. how do you not feel like a member of the church? i don't have a good answer for you, other than it just snuck up on me. the music is what gets me. singing along with music in my car, even when it's choral/sacred stuff just doesn't cut it. it helps, and not being able to do that compounds the stress it's supposed to relieve. there is something about singing within a congregation or a choir/chorus that fills a void inside me. i am happier when i'm in a choir. i just am. i would hate getting up on a sunday and go to mass, but once i was there, and the music started, i'd feel better. it kept me going to mass long after i started distancing myself from catholicism. so we sang with the UCC church. it wasn't the same as the music in a catholic church, but it worked. there was very little in the service that i actively objected to. it only happened during baptism. i forget the actual wordings, but the stuff about original sin i cannot agree with. it's a beautiful baby who hasn't done a thing to hurt anyone. how can you say it's evil/impure? anyway, let's not get too tangent-y. we're approaching that 5 page essay again, and just now getting to the point. this summer i attended 2 catholic weddings (one was full-mass) and a memorial mass. that's more mass in 3 months than i'd experienced in the 5 years before that. and the music. oh god the music. i'd forgotten how much i loved the music. the glory to god, the alleluias, the hosanna. not to mention all the songs interspersed in the mass. it brought tears to my eyes (it's doing so right now, actually). its amazing how the same music can sound so joyful, and yet can be such a release for sadness as well. after the memorial mass, which was itself an intense reminder of how much faith can bring to a person's life, i started thinking about checking out the catholic churches around my house. i went so far as to figure out which one was "mine" as well as get some advice from a friend who happened to be catholic, in the same general area, and shares my feelings about the music. i sort of let the idea die since then. i'm shy and socially awkward, and actually going into an unfamiliar church where they might descend upon me with enthusiasm i could not match freaks me out. then sunday happened. for all sorts of reasons, we hadn't gone back to the choir at the UCC church for the fall session (there's no choir over the summer). ryan's parents invited us to brunch and the late service to sing with the choir anyway. the music is simple enough, and we're both decent enough singers that sight-reading puts us on par with the choir as a whole, that this was not a daunting idea. the church had changed over the summer. perhaps things might have gone differently if i had been introduced to these changes one at a time, but they didn't just move my cheese, they served me hummus instead. i'm a fan of hummus, but not when i'm expecting cheese. to start with, the church's population was aging rapidly, without a real influx of youth, so they were (and have been) trying to get more young people involved. the last service of every sunday was now a "celebration" service with more (and trendier) music and a slightly different format. they had been doing this on the 5th sunday of every month with the old pastor, but either i'd never attended one, or the format got juiced while i was away. there was an excessive amount of 80's pop-esque music about how much we love god, and it's great to worship and the like. it's the sort of music that turns my stomach because of the schmatlz factor. it's not a choice i'd make, and if the whole thing changed to this format, i would be unhappy, but it didn't bother me that much on sunday. none of the bits of music that are always sung were sung, though, and i missed that. adding just a bit to freak-factor of sunday was the first song we sang at the service. short of christmas music, the odd spiritual that snuck its way into the choir, an arrangement of beethoven’s 9th (or 5th?) symphony, and this one hippy pop song from the 70’s (morning has broken) we have never, ever sung a song at this church that i’ve sung in a catholic church. nothing that i associate with my love of catholic music anyway. until yesterday when we stared with “on eagles wings.” was it a coincidence or was it providence messing with the music director’s mind so that the first time i’m back at my church after entertaining the idea of going back to a catholic church i sing my favorite catholic song? what was the point? to say “you don’t belong here?” or “make this your home?” i will never know. i’m glad i was there to sing it, though :) it was also "world communion" day, one of the 6ish days in the church calendar that they give communion, and for this service they did things a little different than the others. instead of passing around a plate of bread and a tower of little cups of wine, there was a plate at the front and a single glass of wine and the patrons were welcome to help themselves. do what? coming from a catholic tradition the sigle cup wasn't too too off-putting except that there was nobody policing it. it was just sitting there. i don't think anyone touched it. one of the things that i like about communion at this church is that everyone takes it at the same time. the cups/bread are passed out (one then the other) and once everyone's got a piece we eat. because it's something we do together, as an expression of our community. apparently a very long time ago (30+ years?) they used to do it "the catholic way" (their words, not mine) and everyone progressed to the front. they tried that last holy(maundy) thursday because some members thought it might be a nice change, but it was not well received. what made this service a little irritating was that instead of the standard white-bread, you also had your choice of matzo crackers, pita, or flat german rye-bread to eat. because it's world communion day, you see, and other religions (including the ones that UCC evolved from) have different ways of breaking bread. there was no host. there was no mention of catholicism as an origin. nothing. unconsecrated hosts are not hard to come by, just head to your local catholic supply store and pick some up. i think they're pretty cheap, too. i don't think anyone there (besides me maybe) would have touched it, but if you're going to play both the "whole world" and the "our origins" card, you need to make the effort. it's rude, disrespectful, and feeds old anti-catholic sentiments not to make mention of it. and then there was the new interim pastor. (here's were i'm going to try not to get offensive, but i probably will) the old pastor retired earlier in the year, and this was the first service i'd attended with "the new guy." in a nutshell, he is everything that comes to mind when i think of a protestant minister. his voice was weak and high-pitched. he was constantly drawing attention to his mic as he turned it off and on. he was already acting like every one's best friend, even if he didn't know you from adam. his sermon was about finding salvation and all the things we can do now to secure ourselves a place in heaven. he reminded me of a car salesman who's primary method of selling you the car is to talk to you as if you've already decided on it. i was not there because i was worried about eternal life. i do not do good things because it earns me points in some great book. he made reference to giving money several times, and not in a "please help your church" way, but in the "giving us money makes god happy" way. his entire attitude felt false and superficial to me, but i can see how in another church, with another congregation he would be very well received. some religions are based on redemption, and with them, he'd fit right in. it's just not what i'm about, and not the message this particular UCC church had ever sent me. you do good because doing good feels good, and makes everyone's life easier. jesus was a very good example of this. it always amazed me that some protestants weren't "loyal" to their sect of choice. but sitting there, next to ryan's sister who kept saying over and over "this is not my church" i understood how important the pastor/lead minister was to a church community. in an hour, this man had destroyed the comfort level i had developed over the past few years. this wouldn't have happened in a catholic church. sure, the pastors come and go and certainly their personalities have an effect on the church community, but not mass. mass is mass is mass and for all the cheese moving and the song changing that might take place, it's still mass. and that's when the epiphany hit me. i'm catholic. i need to sing in a choir (or with a congregation if there's enough general singing going on). the UCC church, under the previous leadership was doing okay, but only because i had really forgotten about the power of the music of the mass. if i'm going to "sit through" all that other stuff so i can sing, why not do it in a place where you maximize the power of the music, where the ritual itself resonates on some level and won't get all shaken up when someone new shows up. i'd be happiest singing in a catholic church, but some serious issues still remain. i stopped taking catholic communion long before my self-excommunication because i felt it would be disrespectful to their tradition. i wasn't playing by all the rules, after all. so, i can't just walk up there next time like nothing happened. i have to go to confession first. except that one of the things i dislike most about catholicism is the concept of the sacrament of reconciliation. ironically, my reaction to "not wanting to confess my sins to a priest" is to think "i need to find a good priest and talk about this stuff." i still don't know if i can bring myself to attend a mass, though. the shy factor is still there, and there's another one: pride. it infuriated me in high school when teachers found out about my not-real atheism and agnosticism and nodded wisely saying "you'll be back" and negated pretty much my entire exploration. i really, really don't want them to be "right." yes, even though they're the narrow minded jerks and i'll never see them again, and my pride/stubbornness shouldn't affect me in that way, it still irritates me. my husband, while being very supportive and a good listener, and is willing to attend mass with me (some/most of the time) has a completely selfish reason to be excited. turning catholic and living in st. louis pretty much means we have our pick of communities to live in, regardless of the public schools, which will make affording our next house possible...it also negates the main not-money reason we can't buy a loft. it should be noted that is not to say we’re going shopping any time soon, if ever, no matter what ryan tells you.


At 10/03/2005 01:55:00 PM, Anonymous hans said...


At 10/03/2005 03:08:00 PM, Blogger kelly said...


At 10/05/2005 09:26:00 AM, Anonymous gina said...

I am catholic, too.

I am catholic because I believe that there is a divine unity that transcends humanity. I am catholic because I believe in universal inclusion and in the existence of universal truths about the world. I am catholic because I believe in social justice and equality across nations.

I am also Catholic.

I am Catholic because, as you so aptly put it, mass is mass is mass. And even though different priests sometimes insert their own ridiculous rules into their work (I’m sure I don’t need to quote the shoe incident), they can’t change mass. No matter where I go, no matter what country I’m in, I know what people are saying. I have stumbled into buildings, depressed and lonely and lost, and found myself in the middle of masses in languages unknown. And I have found in those masses greater comfort and solace than I can ever hope to explain. I am Catholic because when I sing in mass, my heart and soul are lifted to a plane I can’t reach any other way.

There are problems with Catholicism that we all acknowledge. But when I went on my search, I realized there are problems with all religions, and that until I founded the Church of Gina, if I wanted to have my voice exalted by joining it with others in worship, I needed to pick a religion. I also realized that the Church of Gina would be a lot like the Catholic church, with married female priests.

So once I had a religion, I needed a parish. I spent a year fumbling around St Louis before finding the right one for me. The parish is made up of people, and that’s another reason why I like to be a part of one. Some of the best friends I’ll ever have are people I went to church with. Not everyone there shares my views on public policy or even church policy, but they all believe in the good of mankind and that there is a divine truth.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to pick a church where things seem to fit. I picked Presentation in Overland, at first because it was close to our (then) new house. But then I realized that it was very much the type of parish I needed. I could sneak in and out before and after mass without speaking to anyone, which I often wanted. I could disappear in the pews and be left alone. I could participate in parish events, or just keep to myself. This was a broad departure from my typically-active participation in my childhood parish, but it was exactly what I wanted.

Most importantly, I could sing some amazing music with a few decent voices, and listen to sermons that were incredibly straightforward and easy to understand. A 90-second sermon is, in fact, hard to misinterpret. One of my favorites went something like this:

Every day, we’re forced to make decisions about how we’re going to act. How do we speak to someone on the phone? Will we be snappy with the checkout person at the grocery store? When someone offends us, what will we say? We make decisions like this every day, and sometimes we decide to do what we consider to be the “nice” thing. But what we need to remember is why we’re doing it. We don’t do it because it’ll get us into heaven, or because we want to look good in the eyes of god. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s just neat that doing the right thing makes god so happy.

[coincidence? I don’t think so.]

I’m paraphrasing. Say it to yourself, though – how long does it take? Seriously, they’re short sermons. But they always have a couple of key components. First, they have a point. It’s pretty hard to miss, and it’s just about always a good one. Second, they have everyday applications. He doesn’t talk about social justice in abstract terms – he talks about treating people well in the supermarket.

He also doesn’t judge. When I was mad at Catholicism, I was often mad at the people I saw in church – they didn’t seem reverent, they didn’t seem to think about the prayers as they recited them, they didn’t even know what half the rituals meant. Then I realized that those people’s relationships with god and their church, their journeys, are none of my business. In fact, my own is complicated enough, without worrying about theirs. And with that, I kissed off all the people in my life that had offended me by suggesting that my explorations would end up bringing me back home, or that there was no need for explorations in the first place. I stopped paying attention to how/when/why they showed up at certain places, or what decisions they were making about their faiths. And I never really cared who took communion and who didn’t – I believe that people that want to take part in the body of christ should do it, because jesus gave it to a table full of craziness, and that was the point. The naysayers, the doubters, the people watching me, those people have enough to worry about in their own lives and relationships. Let them think/say/feel whatever they want. They do not have to resolve my issues within themselves, just like I don’t have to resolve their issues within me. And besides, as long as I am home, what do I care?

A priest who loves crawfish boils is a good guy. He holds three masses each weekend, and he is open to different styles in each. At the 9 o’clock, there is clapping and tambourines and really poorly-executed liturgical dancing and I HATE it, but he just smiles. At 11, there are a couple of old-timers who sometimes complain about liturgical dancing even though it never happens at 11, and he just smiles. He’s tolerant, accepting, and very far from judgmental. I know that he’d be willing to talk to anyone who called him, with no pressure, and only saying what’s needed. His number’s in my cell phone: 314/427-0486. No need to call it now, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep it filed away on some sort of internet-based site-thingy.

And I happen to know that the 11 o’clock choir needs a soprano.

At 10/05/2005 11:22:00 AM, Blogger kelly said...

if you were here, i'd give you a hug. those were good words that make me feel better and make me less anxious about how/where/when to make the next step.

thanks :)

and you really shouldn't have moved away on me :(

At 10/05/2005 01:40:00 PM, Anonymous gina said...

if I were there, all that would have been in a hug. i'm sorry we left -- it's hard to miss you and my old parish and all that comfort. the comfort may not be at Presentation for you, but it will be somewhere, and you just have to take a deep breath and start looking. it doesn't matter if you start walking into masses without knowing or speaking to anyone; in fact, sometimes that's nice. it doesn't matter if you hop around to different churches here and there. and it doesn't matter if you go this week but not next week. just do what feels right. the important thing is that after many years of thinking and searching and questioning and wondering, you have reached a resolution that, I am guessing, brought a lot of peace along with it. that is something to be proud of, and i am proud of you, not because you are revisiting catholicism, but because you are taking a monumental step in allowing yourself to accept something new (although the religion is largely the same, the way you are approaching it is completely different). i know it's scary, but in the end, it will help you continue to grow. and in some ways, that's all the journey is about.

At 10/08/2005 05:11:00 PM, Blogger David said...

I'm a UCC minister, but I don't think "UCC" is inherently "right" (or wrong for that matter). Nor is catholocism right or wrong. It is the Church of Jesus Christ, the body of Christ, in which we are made right. I do think traditions and practices are important, but when they become more about what we want, than about our giving up our prerogative to die in Christ, so that we might rise in Christ, then we find ourselves falling into cultural and traditional idology. Kelly, I am gld that you are finding a home again in the Body so that you can grow as a disciple and servant of Christ in the world around us.


Post a Comment

<< Home