I Couldn’t Stay

“After I had put on the robes and a stole,” she said,  “I just sat there and cried. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy…”  I had been casually listening-in on a conversation between two fellow Divinity School students for some time before I heard the young woman describe this moment.  From what I gathered, she is preparing for ordination in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) tradition, and currently working as an intern at a local UU church where she had, for the first time, tried on the pastor’s robes she would wear while preaching during some upcoming Sunday service.

For the first time in my life I am surrounded by women who talk openly, almost unthinkingly, about their calls to ordained ministry. Continue reading

In What I Have Failed to Do

“…I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…”

My gaze lowers every time the Penitential Rite begins at Mass. I wish this was a gesture of reverence. It’s actually an act of embarrassment:  Despite growing up in the Church, I don’t know the words to this prayer—this prayer that many recite every Sunday at Mass!  I’ve simply never belonged to a community that regularly recites it in the Mass, so I never learned it.  I’m an employed Catholic minister, though, and a theology student, so naturally I’m a little humbled, even embarrassed, by my lack of the fundamentals here.

One blessing of the Rite’s unfamiliarity is that I am compelled to actually pay attention to its words rather than unthinkingly delivering them like many habitual prayers at Mass. Every time I hear it I listen closely, trying to memorize it as I stare at the floor and pretend to lip synch the words (watermelon, watermelon, watermelon…). There is one early line I never miss.  I actually say the words out loud because I never forget them: “I have sinned…in what I have failed to do.” Continue reading

Religion and a Rock Band

Seattle is a legendary music city, so my upbringing in this town has many soundtracks. The one I’ve found particularly intriguing lately is the album “Fly by Night” by the classic rock band Rush.  The band is not a Seattle band in the traditional sense—they’re from Canada actually—but the radio DJs here seem to love them as their own because the group’s crazy lyrics and high-pitched vocals so frequently fill the local radio airwaves.  What’s more, my father is a long-time fan who frequently blares “Fly by Night” from his stereo when the radio is not on. It’s the music of my city’s airwaves and my family’s stereo; thus, Rush is the sound of home to me.

Even as I find great sentimental delight in humming along to the band’s songs and dancing around to its synthesizer riffs, my enthusiasm for the band also perplexes me. If you’re actually familiar with the band’s music you may understand why.  The lead singer’s voice is interesting—but also downright weird.  The group’s 70s and 80s sound is clearly from another era—one could conceivably find their stylings a little outdated, or cheesy, to the contemporary listener’s ear.  Their intense lyrics are definitely unique—perhaps even random or silly or laughable at times.  Rush is the sound of home to me, yet there are moments when I listen to their music and think to myself, “There is no way I would love this stuff so much had I not grown up with it.”

I am always fascinated when people tell me they are Catholic because the Church is home to them.   Continue reading

The Journey (part 1)

A priest once made the suggestion in his Ash Wednesday homily: as a preparation for Lent, he suggested, “try praying that God open your heart and your mind especially to those Truths that you really don’t want to hear.”

It was only recently that I had found my way back to active Catholicism, and I was eager to do it right this time. It was a time of turmoil — my marriage was falling apart, and what I’d hoped would be a good and promising career in broadcasting was becoming a dry, dead-end chore with little to no opportunity for advancement. I needed my faith, I needed the absolutes and the structure of Catholicism to keep me grounded.

So I prayed, exactly as the priest suggested. Then I sat back and waited for the overwhelming flood of painful revelation that would have me clutching at my head, screaming in agony (yes, I know I watch too much science fiction). But it never came — not like that, anyway. Not in any way I could have expected.

For regular Sunday mass I had ended up at the church nearest my apartment, and found it a wonderful fit. The parishioners welcomed me immediately and brought me into the social justice committee. My lifelong social liberalism had been ingrained within my Catholic upbringing, so I was perfectly at home here. For the first time since my return to the faith, I felt like a useful member of the Mystical Body of Christ, and not just the appendix hanging uselessly from the Mystical Lower Intestine. There was only one thing that irked me — at this parish, everyone remained standing during the Consecration.

Nobody really seemed to mind that I was the only one kneeling — nobody, that is, but myself. It troubled me that proper respect was not being paid to Christ in our midst. Now that I had found a true spiritual home — a community that actively honored and served Christ in the poor of the community and the world — why couldn’t they honor Him in this way as well? Why couldn’t they all make this one little change for me?

I took to rehearsing in my mind how the discussion would go, when at last the matter might be brought up. I would begin by explaining how important this small gesture of reverence is to sacred worship. But, the anonymous responder would reply, there are other masses you could go to. Every other mass in town includes that gesture. Yes, I say, but this is where I feel God most present; this is where I see God’s people coming together in a true spirit of community. The still, small voice then asks, where do you suppose that spirit of community comes from? And that I could not answer.

Some time later, the pastor offers a homily about the communal nature of the liturgy. The reason we gather is to worship, to unite ourselves as one. This is what makes a disparate gathering into a cohesive Church, into that living Body of Christ. We honor Christ’s presence in the Sacrament by honoring Christ’s presence within the assembly. And finally, I got the message.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but it was the beginning of a deeper spiritual relationship. At some point the rules, regulations, dogma, and traditions designed to help us in the journey can start to get in the way. God wants a relationship with us — a real relationship, not dictated by third parties but conducted one-on-one. Talk, listen, grow, adjust, always look to the needs and desires of the other … these are the marks of a good relationship. It’s what God wants from us, and it’s the least we can offer.

Communication is the Key

I’m a communication nerd, tried and true, through and through.  Interpersonal communication (which I call “practical psychology”) was really my salvation in a lot of ways.  In undergrad, I took intro classes in theology and communication “just for fun” and fell in love instead.  Subconsciously, I saw both areas as ways I, the peacekeeper and communication ‘director’ in my family, could help them get along better. 

However, better communication, such as asking clarifying questions or not interrupting (especially because we assume we know what someone is going to say), can really help us all.  We each come to a conversation with varied experiences.  What the word ‘dog’ conjures up for one person can be very different for another, and it can change day to day as new experiences come into our lives and change our perspectives.  This is probably why I have a hard time with the concept of ‘universal truths’.  That, and being a P on the Myers Briggs. 

Everything we say is interpreted by our receiver; you could even call hearing an interpretation because the listener deciphers the message you give by taking in all of the ways you said it.  We all have different ‘lenses’ from which we see situations so unfortunately no one will be able to understand exactly what you are trying to say but we do give others a lot to work with–80% of what we say is nonverbal; i.e. voice inflection, facial expressions, body movements, sarcasm, etc.  To be a good listener (or reader!) we have to listen without thinking of what we are going to say next and give nonverbal (nodding one’s head) and verbal (“I see” or “wow”) feedback. 

Dr. Phil, whether you think him a guru or an idiot, has some good stats.  The other day I heard him say that 80% of the questions we ask are statements in disguise (a.k.a. leading or passive aggressive questions).  These can often be hard to identify.  The Quakers have a tradition called the ‘clearness committee’ in which a person gathers about 4 people to help him or her make an important decision.  The job of the committee is to ask clarifying and bias free (as much as possible!) questions.  So, for instance, they may ask, “How do you see this new job changing your family life?” rather than “Don’t you think this will be bad for your family?”.  

One of my favorite quotes is, “Never take for malice what may have only been said in stupidity”.  Now, I’m not saying what someone else says is stupid, but it reminds ME not to be the stupid one and avoid jumping to conclusions about what someone meant.  Furthermore, when someone offers a perspective on something that really makes sense to them, makes them feel whole, etc., it does not always follow that it would do the same for others.  So, I try to remember that this is what makes sense to me. I imagine it seems odd that someone could come to such a different conclusion when reading the same thing you did or not be interested in what excites you but it happens.  Is the other person wrong?  Are you wrong?  Well, why does anyone need to be wrong?  (I’m not talking about moral relativism though; that’s a whole different topic I’m hoping someone else would like to tackle in another post!)  

I have had a few conversations on this blog about the difference between dialogue and debate.  I won’t bias you with my personal definitions of them, but I would love to hear how others define them and what you think the difference between the two are.  There’s always more to learn, right?