Sunday, September 21, 2014

Conversion Story III: The Weirdos in the Church

*This post sounds very complaining, but I didn't mean it that way. 

Riverdance Church (yes, I realize that isn't the most polite renaming I could have done, but it's pretty close to the real name- literally- and I'm sure that if the administrators had thought of a service involving traditional Irish dance, they would've been totally in favour) was a megachurch attended by a great number of people from our new public school (when I say 'public' I mean that we went to a non-private Christian school). My parents that it wouldn't be healthy for their children to miss any more fellowship with other Christians, even though they, personally, strongly disliked Riverdance. My mother, raised strict-and-straight-laced-high-brow-tightly-wound Baptist thought it was too liberal, and so worked most Sundays rather than going, so it was my father that took us most weeks.
It was apparent from the first that this was a completely different proposition from what we were used to. For one, this church was enormous, and completely lacking in stained glass, vestments, or incense (we also never had Communion in all the years we attended- which were few, but still. Was it a once-a-decade thing? Maybe only at weddings and funerals?). 
The children also appeared to have been raised differently, much like my new elementary classmates, which was soon made apparent to myself and my older brother, Petrovich. We belonged to a family of six kids, were low-income, and did things like paint walls with dandelions and drink from the garden hose. It also transpired that my appetite was rather larger than the other girls'- or the boys', for that matter. In the third grade, it became something of a carnival attraction to scoot your little plastic chair over and watch Grace eat her lunch, followed by, "Wow, she eats so fast". Naturally, I thought there must be something terribly wrong with me because I ate more and faster than the others, so I stopped bringing my lunch to school, and merely ate more food when I got home, which wasn't the most brilliant idea I ever had. It was then that it really began to sink in that we did not fit into the cookie-cutter family mold of Riverdance and the school (which will henceforth be referred to as CMS for brevity and protection's sake- I sure hope that isn't the abbreviation of a rare disease; if it is, my sincere apologies). From my speed-eating trauma onward, it became more and more obvious to me that we were weirding everybody out. What I had thought was normal behavior wasn't actually acceptable behavior, and what I had believed happened in every home was actually what people called 'unstable' and 'neglectful' and 'abusive'. Thankfully, I had very close friends whom I loved, so getting through school was easier than getting through church.
Church was confusing. Where was the reverence? Where was the tradition? Some of the things we were taught in Sunday school didn't make much sense at all to me. Would God really have a computer? If we were supposed to read our Bibles everyday, wouldn't it make sense to actually hear the Bible at church? I wasn't convinced. 
On top of this, we were expected to be extroverts. We had to participate in numerous group discussions in Sunday school- meaning we all had to talk about our private lives- and were made to feel guilty or abnormal for not sharing; actually going into deep subjects, or pursuing a further knowledge of any given spiritual topic, was not encouraged; we were also not told about advancing in holiness, the focus being more on hopefully avoiding breaking the Ten Commandments while swaying meaningfully to catchy music. Emotion was the guiding factor, and how unfeeling it was to not cry or be in ecstasies! Having a few close friends as opposed to myriads of less-close ones, or studying on one's own, was practically unheard of. At CMS, quiet-time was actually a punishment, as was having individual desks in rows rather than pods of desks facing each other. 
It was this feeling of nonacceptance, of being the weird one, because I was quiet and didn't swallow everything the Sunday school director fed me, that I felt like a bad Christian. I wasn't comfortable crying- I didn't see much to cry about, frankly. Did that mean I wasn't as good a Christian as the next person? I liked having my own desk, so obviously I was a bad student, antisocial, and too shy for life, which would greatly impair my future (or so I was told). I went out of my way to participate in class discussion, raising my hand for almost every non-mathematical question asked, and talking incessantly to escape being branded as shy and weak. As the years went by, I not only became more introverted, but my conviction that I could not be a good Christian while being me deepened. Pretending to be emotional when I wasn't was terribly exhausting, but even more was the less-intense version of the Prosperity Gospel taught in school and church. I wasn't happy all the time. I was depressed. My family members were depressed. Therefore, we were failing as Christians, but it was all good at the most basic level because we were 'saved'; not by virtue of Baptism, striving for holiness, or even Faith, but because I signed a small slip of paper saying that Jesus was in my heart. 
Yup, I was in a fine state of theological confusion. So I did what I did best: ignored my nagging terror of going to Hell, the things going on at my home that weren't acceptable, and my call to something deeper, because I was sure that I was a bad Christian and beyond rescue from the Slough of Despond. 

So, we stopped going to Riverdance, beginning our second period of churchlessness. At which point will theological stability finally be found? And was this a commercial for Susan Cain? Stay tuned for when it gets really complicated ("Perfect, yeah, thank you, 'cause I'm weirded out already") ...

In Christ,

Grace


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Love Moves Slow

You've drawn so close
that it's hard to see You.
And You speak so softly
that it's hard to hear You. 

And I guess that's what I get
for inviting You in, because
You took me at my word...
and now I know:

Faith is not a fire,
as much as it's a glow.
A quiet, lovely burning
underneath the snow.
And it's not too much;
it's just enough to get me home,
'cause Love moves slow.
Love moves slow. 

You run so deep 
that it's hard to miss You,

and You come so near

that it's hard to feel You.


Oh, and I guess that's how it is

when I let you move,

because you take me at my word...

Oh, and now I know:



That Faith is not a fire,
as much as it's a glow.
A steady, humble lamplight
in the window;
and it's not too much,
it's just enough to get me home,
'cause Love moves slow.
Love moves slow.



I heard that Faith moves mountains;
I know it moves my feet
to follow You.
And maybe I'm a mountain,
because it's moving me
to follow You.



My Faith is not a fire,
as much as it's a glow.
A little burning ember
in my weary soul.
And it's not too much;
It's just enough to get me home,
because Your Love moves slow-
yeah, Your Love moves slow


So I move slow,
because You move slow;
Love moves slow...

Let's move slow.

-Audrey Assad-


                               

I've been loving this song lately, and I hope that you like it, as well. A beautiful night of Adoration and ice-cream this has been. Now, how are you?

Cheers,

Grace

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lord, I Need You {of porch-step conversion and celestial penguins}

In many Christian circles, there is talk of the 'genuine conversion experience'- that moment, that day, that slice of time that changed your life, and made you decide to convert to Christianity. Never heard of one? Just attend any kind of retreat, conference, or event where testimonies will be shared. In fact, just ask around, because there are 'genuine conversion experiences' in almost every religious family and circle of friends.
I think we all pay attention to, even if we don't necessarily enjoy, drama. Not pre-teen, gloppy-makeup drama, or even how-on-earth-did-this-soap-opera-even-air-the-acting-is-so-bad-I-just-don't-even drama; but a little panache to make life a tad more interesting. One likes finding ice-cream in the back of the freezer that nobody else knows is there. One likes receiving flowers from one's significant others for no particular reason. One likes the answer to, "How did you two meet? What was your relationship like?" to be at least a little exciting ("Confetti-spouting penguins from Heaven did a tap-dance 'round our dinner table on the first date!").
Or something like that (okay, okay, it was a bit much. But, you know, something with at least a module of style.).
In much the same way, conversion stories are much more fascinating if they include the whole nine yards of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that make one's story seem more intense (and by intense, I mean 'credible'). Not that Charismatic Gifts or visions are bad, and a lot of really holy, beautiful people have been gifted with them, which is just fine. But they aren't necessary, or even helpful, to others. God gives us things according to what we need, not what He's already given to other people.
I thought about all of this for the first time on the front porch of my house. I felt the water pooling on the wooden steps, slowly soaking into my slacks and biting my thighs with slippery coldness. Raindrops softly thudded on the thick material of my hoodie, splatting across skin, turning the sand on my rubbers into grimy streaks of mud. In this position, verging on drenched and turning over the events of the day, I tried to block out the world. I closed my eyes, letting raindrops tickle my eyelids, and thought back, trying to pinpoint my 'genuine conversion experience'.
So I started humming, then quietly singing, 'Lord, I Need You' by Matt Maher. And it struck me like a runaway rhinocerous:
This is my genuine conversion experience.
No speaking in tongues. No writhing in ecstasy. Not that those things aren't beautiful ways some people have of meeting with Our Lord, but for me, it was just sitting on the steps in the rain, singing a song, honestly assessing my priorities, the lyrics bringing all of my pride and selfishness into the light. Turning over my life into the hands of Love all over again, with the words, "I need You."
Conversion ain't a one-time thing. Conversion is a daily decision. Conversion is every Examination of Conscience, every Mass, every prayer, every choice. I can't give exact dates for my conversion, I can't describe one exact moment when I decided, because I still have to decide- we all do, every moment of our lives. So, now that I think about it, I have a lot of conversion experiences, one of the most memorable being having to wipe Chrism out of my nostril after it dribbled through my eyebrows and slyly migrated down the bridge of my nose, in that balsam-scented film of oil imparting the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (be honest with me: who else really didn't want to wash their face after Confirmation?)
We don't need one certain experience to validate our beliefs. I'm happy for those who have been given such things, of course, but we, all of us, must be converted each day in our hearts. It could take just a moment, or a routine of prayer, but we can have our 'genuine conversion experiences' every day. We must.
And our Love Story, of Bride and Bridegroom, certainly isn't boring. It's anything but. Even if shockingly devoid of penguins.

Lots of love and prayers,

Grace





Saturday, September 13, 2014

All Hands on Deck, Granger {Butterbeer}

Good day, my dears! Hope life is going well for you!
As a fan of Harry Potter ("You should have said something, we had no idea." "Hang on, I think I remember him saying something about it once-" "Or twice-" "A minute-" "All summer-"), I thought I'd celebrate the coming of delicious autumn by making butterbeer.
Sounds gross, right? Like someone poured some melted margarine into a glass of Guinness, or something equally horrifying. No, no, no; butterbeer is a nonalcoholic drink for kids, presumably somewhat fizzy and butterscotchy-for-the-Scotch (JK Rowling, upon being asked what it ought to taste like, said, "I imagine it to taste a little bit like less sickly butterscotch"). Not to say that there is any scotch in it (on a side note, there should be an alcoholic drink called welsh so that one could use butterwelsh for the same little wordplay... where were we?).
Anyway, almost every recipe I found on the interweb looked entirely disgusting, and on the same level of sickliness as actual butterscotch. I was just about to throw in the Quidditch robe and write Ms Rowling an infuriated letter to ask just why she hadn't included a recipe manual in the back pages of Goblet of Fire, when lo and behold! I found a recipe that actually looked palatable.
This recipe is from Working Class Foodies, and requires more work than the average recipe one can find online ('mix cream-soda with butterscotch syrup'? I hardly think Madame Rosmerta would approve.). The bonus is that it's pretty easy, not very expensive, and is homemade, much like I imagine Madame Rosmerta to favour. Just to warn you, it's extremely rich. As in, the richest thing I've ever drunk. As in, this is like a heart-attack in a cup. However, once a year, a little richness is worth it.



The Three Broomsticks' Butterbeer

Ingredients

3/4 cup of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of water

5 tablespoons of slightly-softened butter
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup of heavy cream
1 liter of seltzer water

You Will Need
a saucepan
a candy thermometer
a spatula
a seltzer-water machine (optional, should you want to go all home-made)

Place the brown sugar and water in your saucepan and melt together over medium-high heat, stirring as it melts (between stirs, put your spatula or spoon into a cup of water so that the sugar doesn't become a sticky crust). When it comes to a boil, stop stirring, and put in your candy thermometer; the desired temperature is 240 degrees Fahrenheit (keep an eye on it- it heats fast, man).
Meanwhile, mix together the butter, lemon juice, salt, and vanilla, breaking up the butter so that it will melt faster. When your brown sugar and water gets to 240 degrees, remove from the heat, and stir in the butter mixture. Then pour in the heavy cream. Stir it all together, and let it cool just a little bit.
Pour two to three tablespoons of the warm syrup into your mug (five points to your House if it happens to be an impressive-looking medievalish pint), and top up with a cup of seltzer water, and give it a little stir (now, the lady from Working Class Foodies adds a shot of bourbon, but I'm not really into alcohol/making it for a bunch of minors/this is supposed to a be a drink that only house-elves can get drunk on).
If you try, you can even get Hermione's foam-moustache from the Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince film.


Which is, at least, classier than Harry's pumpkin-juice faux pas...


Or Ron's awkward tank-top modesty.

Yeah, Ron, your hand-knitted nightshirt custom made by your mother is so revealing.  Get a life.

How have you been celebrating autumn?

Lots of love,
Grace


Friday, September 12, 2014

Catholic Feminism 101: We Don't Ordain Women... and That's Okay




In the words of Professor Moriarty a la Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, "Hidden deep within the unconscious is an insatiable desire for conflict."
So that was pretty macabre, but that is really the only reason I can think of for all the fuss made over the fact that we don't allow women-priests in the Catholic Church. Considering that we consistently promote devotion to a woman (Mary), have women as Doctors of the Church, and have people like Pope Saint John Paul II writing letters to womankind just about how awesome females are, and Pope Francis calling women the most beautiful creatures on earth, and a host of other titles given to us by other Catholics I could name, such as 'Crown of Creation' and 'walking Tabernacle', women writing books on doctrine and founding religious communities, devoting their lives to good works, and bringing forth life and raising families, I don't really think we're as repressed as poor Dennis in his commune.  I can't name a single Catholic woman I know who considers herself oppressed. So why does everybody assume that we are? 
Because we don't normally go to Mass and see a woman celebrating it. 
And personally, I'm just fine with that reality.
There are two kinds of priesthood, actually, so even if we're not vestment-clad, women still belong to the Priesthood of the Faithful. Apparently, that's not enough for some, so I will point out why it is that women are not Ordained Priests:
Christ is the High Priest, and ordained priesthood models Him. Celibacy? That can be done. Preaching and teaching? Sure. Administering the Sacraments? You bet. Male? WHAT!
As Jesus was a Man, it makes sense that His 'successors' would be men. As much as it would anger the Tumblr Feminists to hear it, men and women, while equal in dignity, are hardly equal in nature. There are some things that, by and large, men are more suited to, and some things that women are more suited to. It just so happens that men are generally more apt to take on dangerous and consuming jobs, as well as more bursts of pure heroism, while women are more likely to have less potentially harmful employment that does not take up their lives in the same way, and are more likely to act heroically on an oftener, but smaller, scale (i.e, the man runs into the burning building to save a screaming child, while the woman is connecting family members and trying to find water. The man is more likely to die and/or be featured in the morning papers as a hero, but the woman was also heroic and self-giving, just in a smaller way, and that is fine.). And the priesthood is both consuming and dangerous. Priests are sent overseas as chaplains during wars. Priests celebrate Mass usually at least five days a week. Priests can be on-call for hospitals and counselling centers. They might be late because they were administering Anointing of the Sick or praying with a suicidal man or answering the countless complaints of crabby parishioners who don't approve of the new Mass schedule. They hear people air their sins, which not only range from venial to downright horrific, but for which they, too, do penance. Their holidays are minimal, their clothes and (depending on Order) bedtimes and eating is predetermined and strict, and on top of all this, they also teach pimply-faced youths about Confirmation, write homilies, and are spiritual directors. The priesthood, in its beauty and many sacrifices, certainly is consuming, and, indeed, dangerous. Priests are the ones who voluntarily stay behind on sinking ships, dive into pits of dying men to absolve them, and volunteer to starve to death in the place of others. It is naturally more suited to the sudden heroism and aptitude to the encompassing of men., and never was this more important than in the early days of the priesthood, when the Apostles (the first Bishops) were being crucified upside-down, slaughtered in the Gladiatorial Arena, boiled in oil, and decapitated, after leaving their families and livelihoods. Now all you have to do is read the news to hear of Christians being persecuted, both Ordained Priests and the Priesthood of the Faithful. Yes, priesthood is very dangerous and all-encompassing, like marriage/parenthood or the missionary life.
On top of this, as Jesus was a Man, His brain processed things in the male manner. Men and women process things differently; no better, no worse, just differently. Men can imitate Christ better, in this respect, than women can.



And on top of all this, the Ordained Priesthood is a Fatherhood. It is stamped onto the anatomy of males that they initiate, and the Ordained Priesthood is all about initiation, about giving. The priest serves the people by giving the Sacraments. He is a spiritual Father. He initiates, the congregation receives, and God is glorified. 
Some may say, "But what if a woman feels called to the Ordained Priesthood?"
Well, what does she feel called to do, exactly? 
If she feels called to be in a closer relationship with the Eucharist, she can do that without blessing it at the altar, because we are all called to a close relationship with the Eucharist. She could even become a Eucharistic minister, if she were Novus Ordo. 
If she feels called to preach, there are many Catholic women who preach while not wearing clerical collars. Jackie Francois Angel. Leah Darrow. Sarah Swafford. Megan Mastroianni. Mary Bielski. Joia Farmer. Sister Miriam Heidland. Seek and ye shall find a host of female preachers (seriously, YouTube 'Steubenville' and scroll down).
If she feels called to chastity, poverty, and/or obedience, she might want to start looking into religious orders. Just saying.

So, I hope that cleared it up a little bit. Happy priesthood (of the faithful)!

Love,
Grace


Monday, September 08, 2014

Fall/Winter Reading List: Return of the Novel Studies

The Bronze Bow. Everyone's been telling me how dreadful it is, but I don't think it looks too bad.

The Hobbit, by Tolkien. This will be my second time reading it; it's such an autumnal book, perfect for cozy reading as the leaves turn red, which makes me think that it just might have to become an obscure reading tradition and be picked up each October.

Great Expectations, by Dickens. Maybe this needs to be read every November? Wot larks! Pip grows so much, from an angsty teen blacksmith with snobbery problems to a mature ol' bachelor. Classic. Also, HERBERT POCKET. That's all I gotta say.

Tobit. This book isn't in the Protestant Bible, but I've skimmed through it in the Catholic Bible that I was given in May, and it. Looks. Epic.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK. I have two words for you: Yule Ball.

Dracula
a la Bram Stoker. I'm not familiar with the literary vampire craze, but... life is short, and some windy nights, one just needs a tad of tasteful spookiness.

This list is probably going to be added to, seeing as winter is long (it snowed this morning, people).
Of course, I wouldn't be true to myself if I denied that I'd like a TOB book to read for this year (big surprise there, I know). I've already read How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul by the  Everts and liked it (naturally, it'll be on The Bookshelf soon). Any of my fellow TOBsessives have recommendations (please don't say Gregory Popcak. I'm not married, and therefore will not read Gregory Popcak.)? Also, I would like some non-TOB material, too; particularly novels. What have you been reading lately, dears?

Fondly,
Grace

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

I cannot believe that September begins tomorrow. It's autumn. School is impending. What!
It seems only yesterday that I said goodbye to my best friend on the last day of school; I've been spending all of August thinking of how it should be July, and I reckon that the first few weeks of September will see me still in August-mode.
The Summer of Cake has come to an end, with cake, appropriately. Today was the celebration of the life of one of my great aunts, who passed away several years ago. Early in the morning, my aunt, two cousins, grandparents, and I piled into a truck and drove down to a town that was, in our immortal terminology, "dusty", and went to the Lutheran church for a service that included commemoration to my aunt.
Nothing makes me feel my German heritage more than a Lutheran church; it was beautiful, with a huge bouquet of gladiolas in front of the altar, a high, beamed ceiling, and candle-brackets in between the windows. There was wood-lace over the bulky organ (or rather, over the top half of it- we Deutschlanders apparently slice the pepper in no time, but leave the seeds in. Cut straight to the chase, eh?), and a long banner of green cloth to symbolize Ordinary Time (or, to say it the Lutheran way, 'the 12th Sunday after Pentecost')- I was pleasantly surprised to see various similarities between the arrangement of the Lutheran church and my Roman Catholic chapel. The celebrant happened to be a woman. Not my fave. But she seemed to very kind and gave an excellent sermon, that was, if not theologically accurate in some places, eloquent and passionate. The order of the service did confuse me; there were different words to the 'Holy, Holy, Holy', the 'Kyrie' was in English and to a different tune; the Lord's Prayer was another translation, and the Sign of the Cross was made only once; but even that seemed a bit of stretch for some of my relatives who belong to super-contemporary Evangelical Protestant groups. Oh, and the hymn 'Just a Closer Walk With Thee'? How could we not resist a little jiving in the pews? It was so upbeat, it sounded like it could be played in some spiritual-hipster dance-hall. I digress.
After this, of course, we went to my uncle's house for copious amounts of food, where we found that he had invited a visitor to the church that morning, a man from the southern States. He was very nice, but the differences between southern gent etiquette and northern gent etiquette did cause just a smidgen of awkwardness- just a smidgen, that I don't think anyone else minded. Apparently in the Deep South, when a girl is sitting on the grass, it's chivalrous to go inside and bring her out a lawn chair. But here, if a girl is sitting on the grass, it's because she doesn't mind sitting on the grass. Only he didn't get that, and brought out five chairs. We stayed on the grass. And in the Deep South, listening attentively to a stranger talk about their job while staring at them may be some kind of flirting, but the popular opinion around here is that it is creepy. Ah, culture clash. It's very fun.
And after much walking and ping-pong, we had to restock on calories by drinking juice and finishing up the kuchen, while the elderly relatives and the minister discussed theology and the Roughriders game. By the time we got back here, I was ready to sleep for about ten years. But why sleep when you have some lazy and scatterbrained writing to do?
I've been spending most of the summer at my grandparents' house in the country. Really, it's been one long smear of taking the bus into the city to go to Mass, helping my Oma and Opa process vegetables from my Opa's garden, and watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with my cousin. The sounds of the highway turnoff roaring past at night have been replaced with the bellows of cows in the early morning. The bustling complex across the street is now an acreage, where horses prance through the front yard. Where there are buildings in town, there are towering pines that rain sifts through in the night, and squirrels race from branch to swaying branch.
I haven't the foggiest what I'm going to do in the coming year. I don't know where I'll live, what I'll study, or anything of the sort. Yet Our Heavenly Father feeds us. With kuchen and potatoes. Thanks, Uncle E.

So, what have you been doing this past month? And also, I'd like to know, just for fun, what chivalry looks like in your part of the world! Is it closer to the I'll-get-a-chair-for-you-m'lady view of the chivalrous southern gentleman, or the let-the-poor-girl-sit-on-the-grass-if-she-wants-to-you-weirdo view of Up Here?

Lots of love,

Grace

Previous Rambles