Saturday, August 17, 2013

Celebrtating the Assumption with Small Children

     I have been looking for ways to create Catholic identity in Amani.  It's tough since we don't really attend Mass that often- (see my earlier post about Mass)- so I have been looking for ways to incorporate little Catholic celebrations in our life.  My mom brought me this book recently, Follow the Year and it has some nice stories and ideas for celebrating feast days and major Christian holidays.  I especially like "John The Baptist Day" or "Midsummer's Feast", mostly because I always wondered what the people were celebrating in Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night's Dream, and also, I like the idea of leaving food out for fairies.

     One of my favorite Catholic holidays is the Feast of the Assumption.  Now that I am a mother I really dig Mary, and appreciate reflecting on and honoring the feminine side of God.  I mean- Catholics don't actually recognize Mary as a God, but she without sin, and didn't die so she is pretty much Catholic Church's way of honoring the feminine God-like elements of creation.  I like the idea of finding power and grace in feminine elements.  Too often in our culture they are thought of as weakness.
     Anyway, Follow the Year didn't actually have any suggestions for celebrating The Assumption, but I found a few sites that really helped me come up with something simple and fun to remind the family that we were honoring Mary.  Since The Feast of the Assumption began as the Roman harvest festival of "First Fruits", the Catholics traditionally bless fruits and herbs on this day.  One site suggested making blueberry cobbler since blue is the color associated with Mary in the Church.  This is perfect.  We actually have a blueberry bush in our yard, and they are well ripened by this time of year
It looked better in the photo on the site, but it tasted good!
     For our celebration this year however, I made a brown-butter nectarine cake.  Amani had already eaten a TON of blueberries, and Erik is not a really a baked-fruit kinda guy, so this was a happy compromise.  We also bought a big bouquet of blue irises, and I wore a blue dress with flowers on it.  I told Amani we were celebrating Mary, and showed her a picture.  I mean- she's not even two- the central focus for her was the cake, right?  I didn't think she was going to be able to take in much more that that.  Surprisingly though, as we were nomming down our cake, I asked her who we were celebrating and she shouted, "Celebration for Mary!" as she shoved another piece of cake in her mouth.  That's my girl!

Monday, July 29, 2013

This Just In: Pope Openly Proclaims the Word of Christ

     I had a good feeling about this guy, and I'll tell ya he has not let me down. Now, granted, Pope Francis has not written any Earth shattering encyclicals, or even really an Earth shattering off-the-cuff remarks, but his welcoming approach is just so darn refreshing. I mean, first he is visiting prisoners and washing feet which is lovely and inclusive. Then he talks about Jesus saving atheists in this sweet almost Pooh-bear kind of language "...Do good: We will meet one another there." And now he is "not judging" homosexuals.  I love this guy!
     Now, as I said, nothing he has said or done runs counter to what the Catholic Church has preached all along; everyone knows that Jesus loved prisoners: it's totally in the Bible; Catholics are told on our first Sunday school that God gave his Son to the World, not just Catholics; and John Paul made it very clear that homosexuals are to be treated with sensitivity and welcomed into the Catholic community.  It is just so nice to see a leader of the Church actually practicing the Catholic faith instead of running their mouths about their own personal fears and biases.
     Frankly, the active antipathy among Catholic leaders against homosexuality is ridiculous.  I understand that the Catholic Church sees homosexuality as "disordered" and sinful, but divorce  also sinful, and Catholic leaders are not holding rallies against that.  Archbishop Timothy Dolan, head of the American Conference of Bishops, who stated in a sermon that divorce is the greatest threat to marriage, still forbid a LGBT group into St. Patrick's Cathedral.  He doesn't ban divorced people from entering the Church; why all the focus on homosexuals?  I kind of hope that the Pope's recent statements will expose homophobic rhetoric and action of the leadership for what they actually are: pompous statements made by very old men.
     It's just really too bad that aforementioned old homophobes get so much media exposure.  Catholics do not hate gays; really.  Okay, so the Pope John Paul's "disordered thinking" encyclical does not get us off on the right foot as far as our public image,but the truth is that Catholic doctrine is very nuanced in its approach to homosexuality (No other group of people get a "sensitivity" clause).  Most American Catholics support gay marriage and there are plenty of Catholic leaders who are completely supportive of gay rights, and speak out against the homophobic elements of the Church. 
     My church actually just participated in the Gay Pride Parade.  Amani and I went, but we didn't end up marching; after waiting two and a half hours, our portion of the parade still hadn't moved anywhere near the starting point, so I had to take Amani home.  Still, it was really great knowing that there was a vibrant Catholic community that didn't embrace hate.  (And Amni learned to say "pretty costume" which was awesome.)  I was moved by what my pastor wrote in the bulletin explaining why he marched in the parade.  The whole letter is worth the read if you have the time, but this is my favorite part: 
"...We  are chosen in love and called by love to tell others that they, too, are chosen and loved, not because they can become like us but because they already are like God".
Now that is a message I can get behind.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Higgs Boson particle walks into a church...

      So I have been fighting with people on the internet again.
     I need to stop doing this, but it is just so tempting.  I am always so right, and the people must know.

     What is troubling right now is this article.  Don't get me wrong; I have no problem with Mr. Gresko being atheist, or raising his kid without religion.  That's fine.  What troubles me is that Mr. Gresko is under the impression that people who believe in religion don't believe in science.  (It may be only implied in this article, he certainly states it quite clearly in his other entry on faith, stating:  To be frank, religion comes from an era of ignorance. People didn’t know how the seasons changed, or how weather patterns evolved. They invented the existence of higher powers as the ultimate explainer as to why it got cold in the winter, eclipses made the world disappear, or why volcanoes exploded.)

  Well, hang on.  Mr. Gresko's ignorance is not what is troubling me.  I don't really care that Mr. Gresko thinks a belief in religion and a belief in science are mutually exclusive; what actually troubles me is that a lot of people seem to be under that impression.  What is that about? Where did that come from?  Religious institutions have had a leading role in creating modern scientific thought. Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Darwin, Newton; they were all religious.  I mean, yes, some of them were threatened with death by the Church, but that doesn't mean religion itself is against science, and certainly the scientists themselves were very religious.  And those are just the Christian scientists!  While Europe was in the dark ages (admittedly a tense time for the Christian Church and science), science was going full blast in the East with absolute support from religious/political leaders.  Why are people not thanking us religious for our generous contributions to the science everybody seems to like so much?
    For the record, my religion was not developed as an explanation for "why it got cold in the winter, eclipses made the world disappear, or why volcanoes exploded".  My religion was created to express an awe in the world and to guide people to live within the principals that work in unity with that wonder, beauty and power.  Catholics not only believe in science, many seek it out as a means for communing with the sacred.  There is a Pontifical Academy of Science, a Vatican institution to promote scientific and mathematical inquiry, that has been around since the 1600's.
And our Pope is a chemist.
    We Catholics do not lack in the area of critical scientific thought.  So, why is it that so many people are under the impression that the religious are these ignorant sheep who blindly accept what is spoken to them from the pulpit?  Where did that idea come from?  Was it the whole Galileo thing?  I mean, come on!  People just need to let that go.
     Honestly, I think the misunderstanding about faith and science is two fold. First, I think there is some confusion with regards to the word "faith".  I think that a lot of people believe that if religion relies on something that has no physical evidence, then it must have some kind of disdain for physical evidence.  That's just silly.  Just because you think something is beautiful or awe inspiring, that doesn't mean you think it was created by magic.  You can have a sense of sanctity of human life, and still understand cell division.  There is really no conflict there.
     Then of course, the second element that might suggest there is a conflict between religion and science are the people who go around screaming about the conflict between religion and science: or as I like to call them- stupid people.  They certainly do get lot of news coverage.  After all, the news station that runs a story about how Catholics embrace modern scientific thought are probably going to sink in the ratings that night.  But its not really fair to equate all Christians with people who think science is straight from the bowels of Hell.  I feel like that should be obvious, but maybe not.
     Are there people who think that the Kardashians are just your typical Americans?
     Well, if there are they had better not post anything offensive on Facebook because I can be pretty feisty.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Has Vatican Been Reading My Blog?

     It is kinda funny how excited people became over the installation of the new Pope.  I mean, like non-Catholic people.  There were all these "authorities" interviewed on the news speculating on who the candidates were, special news editions outlining the leadership of the church; live coverage of the smoke coming out of the chimney of the Vatican; so weird.  Then when the Pope was finally chosen my Facebook feed lit up with everyone announcing their thoughts and opinions, most of them not Catholic.  I mean, sure, it's a big deal but it is just so bizarre that anyone cares about it outside the Catholic Church.  Maybe I am just unsure how to handle news coverage of the Church that isn't scandalous.
     I've got my fingers crossed for this new guy; he's got a lot of potential.  Whats more, I am excited by this new direction the leadership of the Church seems to be taking by making this decision.  For starters, I like that the cardinals did not choose anyone who was once a Nazi.  I am firm believer that when faced with a difficult decision, the step that leads away from the Nazis is a probably safest.  Write that down, and put it in your wallet: that advice is golden.
     But this guy has a lot of promising qualities, outside of his not being associated with the Third Reich.  For starters, I am pretty psyched that he is a Jesuit.  Jesuits are kinda the rebel order of the Catholic Church.  They are the academic branch of the Church that while technically vowing submission to the papacy, are definitely willing to go their own way if they don't like what the Vatican is up to.  They are more into good theology and social justice, and not so much about dogma, or maintaining specific traditions.
     And they make the conservatives crazy, which is super fun.
     Now, that is not to say that they are necessarily socially progressive.  This Pope in particular while  demonstrating a liberal attitude towards the traditions of the Church, is supposedly socially conservative.
     But, you know what? I'll take it. God knows the Church has gotten all out of whack focusing on maintaining tradition, all the while completely forgetting about the actual mission of Jesus Christ.
     Then, the new Pope chose the name Francis, for St. Francis of Assisi.  For those of you who don't know, St. Francis is AH-MAY-ZING.  Focusing primarily the brotherhood of all living things, he lived in poverty and emphasized love and charity above all.  Oh, and he could talk to animals.  So, this Pope is interested in emphasizing charity, humility, and may or may not teach us to communicate with animals?    Oh my God, after eight years of a Pope who seemed enamored with the decorated garments and gold crusted trappings of Church, it is nice to see a Pope who emphasizes humility.
      I am really hoping this guy is all his initial impression makes him out to be.  If so, we're in for a very different Church PR: a refocus on Christ's mission rather than entrenching tradition; the embodiment of humility, charity and sympathy.
Plus, learning to talk to animals.
Oh my Gosh!  Everyone will want to be Catholic!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Apparently God hates sleeping-in almost as much as my toddler does

     So, I have been looking through the Bible and Catechism for passages that let me get out of attending Mass.  Funny thing: those are not exactly easy to come by.  It seems that, for Catholics, Mass is a pretty big deal.  You have to go to Mass.  You HAVE to go to Mass.  You have to go.  You have to go.  YOU HAVE TO GO.
     That is pretty much all I am able to come up with doctrine-wise.

     And that is really too bad because I really just hate Mass.  God, it is like nails on a chalk board for me.  I just sit there and feel anxious, and guilty, and like I want to run away as fast as I can.  Okay, well those were my pre-Amani days.  Now I pretty much just hold Amani while she screams and tries to climb up on the altar.  Still, not very spiritually fulfilling.

     I do understand the purpose of Mass.  I know that Communion is supposed to be the greatest sacrament in the Catholic Church.  I know that as Catholics, we only believe that we can experience the full revelation of Christ by coming together.  I learned about the paschal mystery as a child, and have told my students about it as a teacher. Honoring the Paschal Mystery; reaffirming our covenant with God; coming together as a group and reflecting on the mission; spending an hour each week reflecting on your own journey as a follower of Christ: all good, and important and...awesome-

     But God Almighty, Mass is dull.

     And I know there are those out there that say Mass is not supposed to be fun: that mass is my demonstration of my dedication to God, and it is the least I can do to remember Jesus' sacrifice.  And I have really only one thing to say to those people: Oh my God, please don't make me go.
 
     I am not alone in this whole hating Mass thing.  Seventy percent of Catholics don't go to Church regularly.  Doesn't that just seem like something is wrong there?  If seventy percent of your membership does not attend your meetings, shouldn't something be done to engage membership more?   Now, I am fully accept that people are lazy, and are probably not trying hard enough to find the benefits of regular mass attendance.  But should it really be THAT hard?  I mean, it is not like people are against quiet reflection!  Yoga is HUGE in this country, and you have to pay a TON of money for that!  If seventy percent of people who claim to be Catholic- WANT to be Catholic- do not attend Mass regularly, it seems to me that maybe something needs to change in the service.
     I know, I know.  The Catholic Church is not very likely to alter the Mass in any way that changes the fundamental form that has been around for 2,000 years.  There is all kinds of symbolism and meaning in each word and phrase of the Mass that has been perfected over time; it is not going to change just because most people find it dull.  It's a shame though, because I want to be a part of a Catholic community, but I really do not see this Mass thing getting easier.
Plus, you know, if you don't go to Mass you guilty of a mortal sin and are going to hell.  So that's a downer.
If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Prayer: Commercial Interruption brought to you by God

     One of the daily rituals I would like to develop with Amani is prayer.  I don't pray very regularly now, but I used to, and I think I could totally get into it.  For one thing, I am very susceptible to suggestion.  I am definitely one of those people who starts exhibiting symptoms of a disease the very minute I hear about it.  If I see a film wherein a main character is being followed by ghosts or something, I begin to feel like maybe I am being followed by ghosts.  I am pretty sure that if my thriftiness did not override almost every other impulse I have ever had, my entire home would be filled to the brim with Sham Wows and Ginsu knives.
     When I was pregnant with Amani, I tried Hypnobabies, this method of practicing relaxing thought patterns and breathing techniques with the goal of having a more relaxed and confident birth process. The bulk of the training was listening to these recordings of this woman's almost excessively soothing hippie voice repeating affirming mantras.  Man, I loved those things.
    "My pregnant body is strong and beautiful."
    "My baby is growing stronger each day."
      I would listen to them ALL the time: before bed, in the car, while I was grocery shopping; all the time!
     "I am looking forward to a happy, healthy birthing process."
     Then, even when I wasn't listening to the recordings, I would find myself repeating the little mantras to myself.
     "I eat healthy foods to nourish my growing baby." as I drove passed the Dairy Queen.
     "I love my pregnant body." as I skipped right over the scale.
     Then all of a sudden, I  totally got prayer.  You stick with that stuff long enough and eventually are going to influence who you are.  I mean, there is more to prayer than that for a lot of people: it can be a way to reflect on your choices, and foster community.  It can just be a time for peace for a restless mind; I am still kind of working on what it means to me, but the mantras idea is something I can very much get behind.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why I am raising my kids Catholic: Part II

     I have always been generally a big fan of ceremonies and traditions.  This is largely because -regardless of the situation- I never know what I am supposed to be doing.  I really feel like there should be a manual out there for people like me that give hints onto how to behave when running into an acquaintance at the grocery store, or attending a party when you only know the host.  (Protip: Find a deli tray and shove your mouth full of food as fast and grotesquely as possible to ward off any potential social interaction.)


     Now that I have a little one, my whole life is centered around little ceremonies and routines.  Kids- well, actually probably adults too- need the little rituals and celebrations that mark the passage of time and remind us that there are patterns that guide our daily lives.  We sing a song at bedtime; We wave goodbye to the water at the end of the bath; We hug when daddy comes home from work; these are necessary predictabilities in an overwhelming world, and deviation from the pattern can prove pretty perilous for everyone involved.
     While Catholicism does not necessarily address interaction to quite that level of detail, I have found religion to be a comfort in marking both important and trivial life events.  When I decided on a life partner, I really wanted to celebrate the occasion with my family and community, in a way that was both solemn, but joyful.  There is a ceremony for that.  When Amani was born I wanted to present her to the world in a way that both cherished her as a precious entity, and initiated her as a member of the human family.  There's  a ceremony for that too. There's  a ceremony for just about everything.  If you need event planning ideas, the Catholics can definitely get you started.
     Recently, my friend's husband died.  It was sudden, and left my friend to care for her baby girl without a partner.  We were all shocked and frightened.  What do we say?  What do we do?  How can we help?  There were no words true enough to express our feelings.  There were no actions that will bring peace.  So we did the only thing we knew: we had a ceremony.  The ceremony that our ancestors had prescribed and shared for millenniums   We sat together and mourned.  We read words from the wise and listened to songs that might lift our spirits.  We reflected on our own lives, our children, and our spouses.  We were grateful for another day.  We remembered that his was not the first death, nor will it be the last.
     In her book To Dance with God, Gertrud Mueller Nelson points out how ceremony and tradition make an event both special and ordinary.  They create a space that both allows for the sacred and the commonplace. They create point through which we celebrate the individual, but also join with the whole of human experience.
     Now there has been this terrible atrocity in Newtown, right at the time when the Catholic Church reflects on God's presence during a time of darkness, cold and desolation.  What do we do? How do we go on when it seems like everything is pretty much just...terrible...forever?  We light a lot of candles, and sing a lot of songs.  We reflect on what happened and where we are headed.  (The Catholics are really big on reflection.)  We try to be extra nice to people, and eat a lot of chocolate.  We remember that under the barren, cold, joyless surface, there is promise- within the world and within each person.  Somehow, by singing songs, and making cards, and making an effort to bring a smile to loved ones, I reminded that there is a sacredness to life, and I am comforted that I am not alone.
     I want Amani to know that this world is not just meaningless wasteland.  I want her to be able to have markers throughout her life that remind her to reflect on who she is, where she is going, and the role she is playing within the Body of Christ.  I want her to know that she is not alone, and that there is a path that she can follow, both when things are happy and sad.  

I mean- how could anyone possibly navigate on their own.