Thursday, January 26, 2006

Homeschooling -- I think I'm missing something here

I spent some time this morning reading through blogs by Catholic moms and was struck once again at how similar I am to these women. Over the past few years, even before becoming Catholic was a remote consideration, I always noticed that the people I clicked with were very often Catholic. And this morning I was thinking yet again of all the things I have in common with most orthodox Catholic mothers…except for one big one:

It seems that many strict Catholic families homeschool their children. This one I don't understand at all. Homeschooling isn't appealing to me at all for a variety of reasons (I'm not saying I think it's bad that others do it, it's just not for me). Yet I can't help but feel like I must be missing something since so many women that I am intellectually and theologically aligned with on so many issues are adamant about their beliefs that homeschooling is the way to go.

So, if I have any readers out there who are pro-homeschooling I'd love to hear from you. My main reason for not being interested in this route is just the socialization of my children. I want my kids to get used to how society works, for better and for worse, at an early age, and being in school around other kids every day is a great way to do that. (I know that there are homeschool groups where all the kids in an area get together, but from what I understand they're not every day). I also worry about how stressed I'd be with that much responsibility every day and the fact that I'm pretty disorganized and impatient, but I could get past those objections.

The commenters on this blog have managed to greatly influence the direction of my life on much bigger subjects than this, so let's give this one a shot as well: why should I homeschool my kids?


UPDATE: I just found this great post on Selkie which, along with the accompanying comments, answers a lot of my questions.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

An early mid-life crisis

A recent comment asked where my husband is on all this. I actually had already started on this post, which I think answers the question. The short story is that he's as excited about all of this as I am, and he's probably farther ahead than I am since he already believed in God to begin with (in fact, I don't think he's never doubted).

I think my husband and I are going through an early mid-life crisis. Luckily it's not the sort of crisis that involves man-ponytails and red sports cars. Quite the opposite, actually.

Ever since we started really getting into Catholicism in early December a strange thing has been happening with us. We've been re-evaluating everything. Everything. What we wanted to do with our life used to be so clear, and suddenly it's not at all. It's such an overwhelming, nebulous feeling that I'm not sure if I'll be able to clearly explain it, but here's a try. First, a bit of history.

- When we were first married we were focused on getting rich. We didn't think of it or talk about it that way, but that was the intention. My husband got his MBA from a top school during the economic boom and practically all his friends had huge salaries, so we just sort of assumed we'd end up there too. The industry track he was on would have meant tons of travel for him and very long hours at the office, but being able to have enough money to retire early made the path appealing.

- That grew old really quickly. We realized that we didn't want to be part of the corporate machine anymore and wanted to do something more fulfilling. We started our own business about a year and a half ago. It seemed perfect because it's the sort of business where we'd be able to help people with their problems yet probably make good money in the long-run. We were sure that this is what we'd do for the rest of our lives.

But now that we're actually in the trenches we see that a) we're not helping people as much as we thought we would, b) the ability to bring in a stable income that will reliably cover just our basic bills is farther in the future than we thought, probably two more years or so and, most importantly, c) it's very difficult to combine making a difference in the world with your career, especially when you have a family -- no matter how low your monthly expenses, you have to be focused on bringing home X amount each month in order to avoid ending up on the street.

- That brings us to now. We both feel a very strong pull to something...more important. I'm not sure how to articulate it other than to say we feel drawn to do God's work, or to follow his plan for our lives, or something like that. Meanwhile, we're tired of being obsessed with money. We used to be obsessed with money for the sake of having a lot of it, now we're obsessed with money because sometimes we have trouble paying our basic bills if the business is having a slow month. (Also, as small business owners we don't have insurance that covers pregnancy so we're hit with a ton of new expenses there as well.)

So what now? I think it's safe to say that we're literally considering everything. Should my husband go get a regular job? Should he go get a 9 - 5 government job so that we can use our newfound free time (he currently works 6am - 8pm) to work on things that matter? Should we push forward with our business and stick it out until we have a steady income, meanwhile making an effort to truly help people more?

So here are my questions: How are you supposed to balance paying the bills with making a difference in the world? Also, how do you figure out what God wants you to do with your life? I have the Purpose Driven Life and have scanned it, but it didn't really grab me. I suppose I should give it another try though.

We both feel that we're a) being strongly pulled to do something and b) are currently on the wrong path, and we don't know where to go from here.

I'm sure that if any one commenter out there had all the answers to this age-old dilemma he or she would be an internationally famous life coach/guru, but give it a shot. If anyone has any thoughts, even if they're incomplete, on what we should do from here, where we should turn for guidance, etc. I'd love to hear them.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why there's no turning back - Part II

Another quick thing I meant to mention in my previous post:

I am so surprised at how strongly I am drawn to the Church. I feel like going to Mass almost every day; I anxiously wait for the day that I have more time to volunteer and get involved, mainly because I just want to hang out at my new church and be around Catholics more; my Amazon wish list is overrun with books about Catholicism; the only blogs I read anymore are by Catholics (any suggestions for good Catholic blogs, BTW?); my husband and I are planning our next vacation at the local Catholic retreat and we're more excited about that than when we went to Europe; every time a problem comes up I feel like running down to my priest's office and talking to him about it (I suppose I should actually introduce myself one of these days...); etc.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. The cynic in me says that I'm just attracted to it because the concept of God gives me emotional comfort. But that's not it. I've stepped back and analyzed it as objectively as I possibly can, and it's something more than that. Yes, of course it's a great comfort if God exists -- but I openly admit that I'm pretty uncertain about whether or not that's true. But one thing I'm not uncertain about is how happy it makes me any time the thought of the Church comes up throughout my day (e.g. calling to check on some material they're supposed to send me, reading Catholic sites, even updating this blog). It's like Prozac in terms of its effect on my mood.

And that's another reason that there's no turning back. (How's this for irony?:) Regardless of what I end up believing about God, I don't want to lose this new, astoundingly fulfilling part of my life. I may be the most involved agnostic in the history of the Catholic church. :)

But can I still be smart?

An interesting thing happened earlier this week that made me realize how susceptible to peer pressure I am in this religious quest of mine. I was at a playgroup, chatting with the mother next to me about politics and world events, and she casually threw out the statement, "obviously we all know that the Bible is a bunch of made up stories, not to be taken seriously."

My first reaction was almost a sense of guilt that I'd been gullible enough to believe these silly fairy tales -- I KNEW these Christians were full of it! This reaction was totally ridiculous on a couple of levels:

1) I have now done enough reading and research into the historical accuracy of the Bible (in particular the New Testament) that I feel pretty confident that I could take almost anyone to the mat who says it's not a reliable resource. 2) This is a woman who I've known for a while now and who I do not think of as being very intelligent. I've heard her ramble on enough occasions that I'd formed an opinion of her as an illogical thinker with a limited intellect. It's amazing that someone who I had such little respect for intellectually could make me feel insecure with a flippant, poorly-though-out comment (I am 100% sure that she's never put any critical thought into that statement and could not defend her position for a minute if questioned.)

On the way home I thought about why I'd reacted the way I did. Had she touched a nerve? Did I secretly think that all this Jesus/God stuff was totally baseless? It wasn't exactly that. I do have major doubts that still linger but I honestly find Christianity to be very compelling. I thought some more and realized that what bothered me is that I had no interest in standing up for my opinions and arguing with her for fear of seeming stupid.

In our culture (at least in certain non-religious circles), atheism is shorthand for being smart. Rolling your eyes at God and people who go to church is a great way to show everyone how scientific (i.e. smart) you are; and using God's name in vain and making profane jokes about Jesus gets you the extra bonus points of showing that you're *such* a logical thinker that you don't harbor secret superstitions about divine retribution. "No irrational fears here! I base my beliefs on science and logic only because I'm educated and intelligent."

And in this materialist environment it's easy to appear to intellectually one-up any Christian who you might be arguing with since atheism has the crutch of "proof" to fall back on -- because they limit their beliefs to that which can be measured by human-created instruments, atheists have the impressive-sounding credentials of being able to prove many of their beliefs on paper. Though Christians can make compelling, fact-based arguments of their own, at some point it does come down to the fact that their lives revolve around an entity that cannot be seen or measured.

I think this is one of the bigger intellectual blocks I face. Many Christian writers have posited that atheists have mental blocks against Christianity because they don't want to change their lifestyle or they're afraid of God's judgment or something. I don't think that's the real problem, at least it wasn't for me. The big problem is letting go of the "atheism = intelligence; Christianity = superstitious, weak intellect" mindset.

Those of you who run in mostly Christian circles may find this hard to believe, but anyone who knows many atheists will most likely agree that the emotional attachment atheists have to their beliefs is the feeling it gives them of being smart.

I think this is the big fight Christians have to face in the mass media: to break down the stereotype that atheists are just so logical and intelligent and emotionally strong that they don't need silly crutches like God to make them feel better.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why there's no turning back

Despite my despair at not seeming to be able to believe in God on a gut level, I've known for a while now that there's no turning back. I couldn't put my finger on why, but I knew that I'll either end up truly believing in God or keep searching my whole life, but going back to atheism isn't an option. Today I realized why.

While doing a bit of morning web surfing I read the story of that little girl in New York who was tortured and killed by her stepfather while her mother looked the other way. I thought about how much I hope the personal, caring God of the Bible exists, not so much for my sake but for hers.

And I was reminded of my old atheist days when I would read about stories like this and wonder why we all don't kill ourselves right now. I didn't mean it as a flippant, passing comment. I really thought about it and tried to come up with one good reason why I or anyone else shouldn't just kill myself this afternoon. If I'm going to die anyway and there's no afterlife or God or anything then why not just speed up the process? Sure, there may be some good times to be had in the future, but if there's no soul or sort of eternal "memory" then they don't matter. And, yes, my family would be devastated, but they'll eventually die too and all their emotions and feelings will disappear into nothingness as well, so that certainly doesn't matter. I never really came up with a good answer.

Christians are often asked to answer the question of the problem of pain: "What about pain? Why would your God let people suffer?" (to which they respond that it's an inherent part of free will). But atheists have to answer it too: "What about pain? It sucks, there's more of it in your future, so why not just kill yourself now?"

So today as I read that horrible story and thought of my life pre-religion I realized how silly it would be to reaffirm my old beliefs. As a true, we-are-just-chemical-reactions atheist just living your life is absurd. You're mocking your own "life is meaningless, there is no afterlife" beliefs when you try to find a more fulfilling job, get excited about a pregnancy, host a fun party, or do anything else for that matter.

If you're going to attempt to enjoy your life and live it to the fullest, which I fully intend to do, it only makes sense if you believe in God. And that's why there's no turning back.

Monday, January 16, 2006

An update

I have 10 minutes before I need to take my babysitter home so I thought I'd check in here and read the comments to my last post. As usual, fantastic.

I also thought I'd give those of you who are wondering a quick update on where I am spiritually since it's been a while since I've talked about the big picture. A few thoughts:

- I am liking church a lot more than I thought I would. When I first started considering the whole religion thing I kept trying to think of a way to get out of having to go to church. It's now one of my favorite parts of the week. One odd thing is that I usually end up teary-eyed at some point in the Mass, though not about anything in particular.

- Oddly, I still don't feel any closer to God. I pretty much totally accept the idea of God and Jesus intellectually, but don't feel it in my heart. I don't feel ready at all to make a statement like "I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior." I could say it with the caveat "...if he really exists," but not by itself. Also, I still don't totally understand the whole Savior thing (i.e. why God couldn't just decide to forgive us for our sins without sacrificing his Son) but that's the subject of another post.

- I worry about the above. I feel like if I were going to "get it" I would have already by now. Throughout December I hardly even put much thought into it (hence the lack of updates on the blog). Hopefully I'll eventually get it. Maybe I'm just a slow learner.

OK, I am now late taking my babysitter home so that's it for this post. Just wanted to give an update.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I'm back!...With a question

I'm finally able to steal a moment to update here after all the craziness of the holidays. Hopefully I can get back to weekly updates now.

Anyway, the good news is that I've gone to church every Sunday (except for one) since I found my new church. I love the place and can't wait to get more involved. Anyway, as I was looking around at the congregation this past Sunday I thought of some verse I'd read as part of a World History class in college that said something about women covering their heads in church. I couldn't remember if that was true or not so I found a searchable Bible online and came up with 1 Corinthians Chapter 11, which pretty clearly states that women are to cover their heads in church. Verses 4 - 6 say:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

So what's the deal with this? Why do no women cover their heads in church these days? I have no idea who wrote Corinthians (maybe Peter?) or what the larger context is, so I might be totally missing something.

Thanks and happy new year!