Friday, November 18, 2005

Wishing Jesus happy birthday

I've mentioned before that I still don't really "feel" God's presence. I've never felt like I have any sort of relationship with any higher power so I'm not even sure what that's supposed to feel like. I have a hard time keeping my inner skeptic at bay when I'm trying to pray or contemplate God. That voice that says, "You're talking to yourself" when I try to pray and "Are you really this easily brainwashed?!" when I agree with what I read in a C.S. Lewis book tends to be very mouthy.

In order to put that voice on mute and keep myself focused I often find myself clinging to a little bit of information that came from the most unlikely of places. When I was around 11 years old my dad, who is a hard-line atheist and vocally anti-religion, was playing with some astronomy software on his computer and thought that he might have figured out Jesus' actual birthday (he does believe that Jesus the person existed). I recently asked him to summarize his logic for this in an email:

It's unlikely that it was in December for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it's winter in the middle east and was probably cold as hell.

The three wise men were almost certainly familiar with astronomy (or, really, astrology). They would have been attracted by some sort of sign that was an astronomical phenomenon. It was not a supernova. None of the advanced societies of the day recorded one. Not a comet. Comets were harbingers of evil and doom. On April 6, 06 BC, just before the sunrise, Venus, Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter all rose in a single file slanted line over the horizon. This would have attracted the notice of astronomers, and was in the Spring when it was more likely that shepherds were in the fields. I think this would also work with when historians believe the Census of Quirinius took place.

When my dad first proposed this all those years ago I didn't know exactly who Jesus was, I thought of him as sort of a Tooth Fairy kind of guardian figure, but I did know that he played some big part in many people's lives. I was still young enough that I didn't realize that my parents could be wrong about anything, so after hearing this I decided that I knew Jesus' real birthday, and that I was possibly the only person in the whole world who knew it.

When I would go to church with my friends or hear them talking about "knowing" Jesus I would think to myself that I knew him too. In my child's world, where birthdays are some of the most exciting days of your life, I felt like it might make Jesus happy that someone down here knows his real birthday. I thought that maybe I was even special to him because I would think of him on April 6 and wish him a happy birthday.

As an adult I've never bothered to research the accuracy of this theory. I don't really care if it's true or not. It provided me with a vague feeling of closeness to Jesus that I still reference today, a feeling that is the closest I've ever come to feeling God's presence. It's a long, long way from where I need to be, but it's a start.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Faith in humans

I recently emailed my husband some of the comments here talking about discovering God through the Church as opposed to Sola Scriptura. I've mentioned before that he was raised Baptist. The comments I emailed him touched on one of the bigger stumbling blocks we're both facing when considering becoming Catholics. Here's an excerpt from his email:

[Referring to the second comment here.]
Great stuff. Thoughts:

1 - He says the Catholic Church is authoritative. I have trouble elevating humans over the written rules. To me that would be like saying "The Supreme Court is a higher authority than the Constitution." The Supreme Court's job is to interpret the Constitution. But the Constitution is the highest law of the land. Anything else would be dangerous and would render the Constitution void and pointless.

2 - I'd like to hear what this commenter has to say about the checkered parts of the history of the Catholic church. If a person is to follow the church, should it matter that there have been bad popes and bishops? My own feeling is that what keeps things on an even keel is that there are written rules which sooner or later you have to come back to and adhere to. And that militates for the idea that the written rules is the ultimate authority and source of wisdom.
To quote him:

*Each Generation of bishops was succeeded by another generation of bishops, and this continues until today.
*These successor bishops, with the successor of Peter at their head, are guided by the HS (as promised by Jesus) and responsible for ensuring, and protecting the truth of the faith from generation to generation. This includes guiding the faithful in the meaning, mode, and understanding of the words of scripture.
*The Church as lead by the Bishops, with the successor of Peter at the head is AUTHORITATIVE in the life of the believer

To me this idea of tracing the lineage is dangerous because if one evil person got into the mix (and surely that has happened - aren't all humans evil to some degree?) then are all appointments thereafter invalidated? What makes you think the lineage will ever get back on track? And how can you tell when/if it does?

These are good points, and they're issues that I'm also struggling with. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Friday, November 11, 2005

"I think we're orthodox": My Sunday at church

Whew! I've managed to get a couple of free minutes for the first time this week. Here are some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts about going to church last Sunday:

- I did go with my family. In fact, my mother's (Catholic) brothers and sisters were in town so I went with a ton of family, and they were a big help with my one-year-old son.

- This was also the first time my husband had been to a Catholic service. He believes in God but hasn't been to church in years, and he was raised Baptist so the Catholic church is very new and different to him.

- It was hard to relax, but I managed. On the few other occasions that I've been to church I always feel like I have a neon sign floating above my head that says, "I NEVER GO TO CHURCH AND I DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD." I stick out like a sore thumb because I don't know when to sit and stand, whether to sing from the lyrics in the book on the pew or in the daily program, and I don't know that "Our father who art in Heaven" line that everyone else has memorized. I'm always waiting for someone to spot me, to run up to me and forcibly remove me from this house of God (which actually almost happened one time when I was a kid at my friend's Baptist church -- but that's another post).

- So I sat down in a pew toward the front with my family. I got all settled in, prepared for incense and Latin and maybe some chanting (for whatever reason I always pictured chanting being part of a Catholic service.) We all stood to sing and the music began. Over some canned beatbox and synthesizer the choir led the congregation in a song that had lyrics like, "God is so awesome, His glory makes me soar on eagle's wings." I noticed that they were copyright 2002. I felt like I was at a John Tesh concert. I leaned over to my husband and whispered, "I think we're orthodox."

- I looked around at the other people in the pews. I was struck by how nice and, umm, intelligent they seemed. I know this is a horrible thing to say, but my whole life I've been brainwashed (or perhaps brainwashed myself) to believe that atheism was for the intelligentsia and religion was the easy answer for people who weren't very intellectual. (Awful admissions like that are why this is an anonymous blog).

- Another thing I noticed about the other people was how casually they dressed. Even my aunts and uncles wore jeans. Sometimes I think I am misunderstanding the concept of God, because I can't imagine believing in God and wearing jeans to his house of worship. If I were going to the Queen's house I wouldn't do that, and God is certainly more worthy of respect than the Queen. I don't mean to insult anyone who dresses casually at church, I just don't understand it. Clearly I'm just missing something.

- As I scanned the program I saw a notice at the top of one of the pages. It was from a nun who has been part of this church and is now leaving. Her tone was, frankly, pissy as she explained that had she been born "Ray" instead of "Rhea" she could be a Catholic priest but, since she cannot, she is leaving the Church to join the Celtic Church where she will be a priest. I found the one-sided nature of this note to be unnecessary and divisive and was surprised that this church's leaders agreed to include it in their program. As a non-Catholic it gave me the impression that there is not unity within the church and that there are large, unresolved issues. I worried for the Church that there may have been other non-Catholics there who were left with the same impression.

- The music wasn't for me, but the note was the final factor in alienating me from this church. I want a church where the tone is one of quiet reverence and reflection upon God. The modern music strikes me as borderline disrespectful. And I might find a discussion about the church's male-only priest policy interesting, but the one-sided, passive-aggressive note included in the program was just intolerable.

So next Sunday I am going to the other big Catholic church in town. This one has a wonderful reputation and I've heard nothing but good things about it. I'm optimistic but think that this one probably won't be it either -- my husband and I drove by it one time and I saw many, many people wearing jeans and shorts. I had no idea that people dress like that to go to church! I fear that jeans and shorts might indicate another "modern" church with Muzak and disgruntled nuns, but we'll see. I'll give it a try. And even if this one doesn't work out my plan for now is to stick with the Catholic church. I like what I see in the Catholic church more and more as I do my homework on Christianity.


UPDATE: I actually emailed the Bishop to tell him of my concern about the nun's note in the Sunday program and just now received his reply. I love it. Here's an excerpt:

"I have become familiar with the article that was in the bulletin of [the church] and Sister Rhea's desire to leave the Catholic Church. I am gravely disappointed and shocked by this news and the way in which it was communicated to the parishioners. There is no way in the world that I would ever justify her actions, nor can I justify the way in which it was communicated to the parishioners. I am sorry that you and others have been the object of her disobedience to God and to the Church. Please pray for her and please pray for all those who have been harmed by this scandal."

It is so refreshing to see a church that is willing to lead and make clear calls on things. So many modern churches have fallen into the "I'm-OK-you're-OK" good-vibe-fest mentality and are no longer willing to boldly say what they believe is right and wrong.

More and more, I think this is the church for me.