Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What an Old Lutheran Wants from Young Catholics

I was sitting in the living room playing on my iPad with a new app called Zite that lets you create your own custom digital magazine, when I saw the article from the Washington Post about what young Catholics wanted from the Church. I was too busy fiddling around with the app at the moment to read it, but I cynically and impatiently said to myself that they wanted to be Lutherans and Episcopalians, but just couldn’t bring themselves to admit it.

Cynical? Yes, I admit that my first response was cynical. But that other word in there was even more important…my response was not only cynical, but impatient. For you see, I’ve been hearing young Catholics wanting these things since I was a young Lutheran who hung out with young Catholics. That was over 30 years ago, those once-young Catholics are now 50-something, and I think that listening to this for 30 years gives me the right to be a little impatient.

I understand not wanting to give up on the church you grew up in, and, as one friend of mine said,  wanting to be there to be part of the dialog that helps to affect whatever changes are coming. But after 30 years I think there’s also a point where you have to (excuse my Latin) “sh*t or get off the pot.”

And yet, I’m actually not being cynical when I say that these people just need to admit that they’re really Lutherans or Episcopalians. Rather, I’m being a librarian.

Yes. A librarian. A cataloging librarian, to be specific. For you see, I went through this issue myself those 30 years ago, when I was both dating a Catholic girl and working in a library.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church and had always been interested in religion, reading about Christianity and Judaism voraciously. This Catholic girl gave me reason to start reading more about Catholicism, and as I read more and more about it, and especially the changes that had occurred as a result of Vatican II, I started to wonder if there was really any good reason for Protestants to even exist anymore. I started to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t just be a Catholic and get it over with.

But there were a few problems. While I could accept about 80% of the “official party line” (the most that I believe anyone really accepts in any denomination), there were just some things for me in the Catholic Church that were deal-breakers. So now the big question was, “what was I really?”

Well, I worked in a library, so I treated this as a cataloging problem. If I were looking at a book, I’d carefully consider its contents and then decide what category it best fit under. I wouldn’t try forcing a music book to be a history book by ripping out 75% of the pages. And so it was with myself. I looked at what I really believed, and decided that I really should be shelved under either Episcopalian or Lutheran (the Southern Baptists never had a chance). And so, despite the fact that I had grown up in the Episcopal Church, I ended up “cataloging myself” under “Lutheran.”

So am I asking today's disaffected young Catholics to “switch sides" and change what they are? Not really. As a librarian today, I guess I’m just annoyed that they complain while refusing “to do the proper cataloging,” insisting on shelving themselves where they don’t fit, just because that’s the kind of book they’ve always been told that they are…whether they really are or not.

There’s nothing wrong with being Catholic. Really, there’s not. There is, however, a problem with being a “closeted Episcopalian.” And now that I think about it, maybe that’s where the big issue is for so many of these people…coming out of the closet is hard. So I guess I should stop being so cynical and impatient, and have a little compassion for them.

After all, isn’t that a Catholic virtue?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's Wrong with Cliché?

Last year Redbook Columist Aaron Traister complained that he had a problem with Valentines Day because it just seemed so cliché. He didn’t like dealing with what he thought was yet another Hallmark-created holiday (and by the way, for all of you who regularly get down on “Hallmark Holidays,” Hallmark didn’t create them, it’s just that the folks in Kansas City recognized that a lot of people were looking for cards to help celebrate them, and were very successful in fulfilling that need). He was looking for a way to celebrate Valentines Day with his wife that didn’t involve candy and overpriced flowers and all the other stuff that Big Romance pushes on us.

My response? Get a grip. What’s wrong with a little cliché every now and then? I’m willing to bet that he’s one of millions of guys who sits in front of the TV every year with his beer and large assortment of “guy snacks” as he watches the Super Bowl. And don’t try to tell me that Big Beverage, Big Food, and Big Sports aren’t trying to push all of that consumption on them. It’s the same thing every year – lots of food while sitting and watching a football game – so why isn’t that considered cliché?

Or is it not cliché if it’s something that’s near and dear to your heart?

But let’s talk about another cliché: birthdays and birthday parties. I wonder if he passes on them because they’re so cliché, or whether he gets into all the food, and cake…and presents. I know that I sure enjoy celebrating my birthday…especially since the tradition with me, my mother, and my sister is that you get a check for your age in the birthday card. What’s not to like about that? If that’s a tired old cliché, then I say should have more clichés!

Heck…Valentines Day is like a birthday party…with sex! And who’s gonna complain about that? (OK…you in the back row…sit down and shut up.)

Really though, so the tradition is that it’s supposed to be about chocolate and flowers and romance. Is that a big problem? I figure that there are lots of ways to deal with those that aren’t all that cliché at all.

Let’s start with the chocolates. There’s no rule that says it has to be a box of Whitmans. It could be a gift bag full of Hershey’s Kisses and Hugs (and wouldn’t it be really cool if they made…oh, never mind). That’s what I gave Cheryl last year…and then found out that she really doesn’t like the Hugs. That was fine with me, because I love them and ate them for her.

But I know what you’re saying, you’re saying “Those little red and pink-wrapped candies are still just soooo cliché. Do I really have to do that?” You’re hopeless, aren’t you? OK, how’s this for original…find out what kind of candy she likes…you know, like what kind of candy bar she likes…and get her a bagful of them. Imagine the look on her face you present her with a huge gift bag full of Snickers or Caramelos or Nestlés Crunch bars. That’s chocolate…and it’s different. And make sure that you keep your mitts off of what’s supposed to be her candy.

What about the flowers? Sorry, I can’t help you there. That’s because, quite frankly, I’d love to send Cheryl flowers but I can’t. I can’t send them to her at work (which I’d love to do, in order to show all her colleagues how wonderful I am) because she works the night shift, when no one’s delivering. I can’t send them to her during the day because she’s sleeping, and she’d have my head if she was from her bed untimely ripped, to answer the door from the flower delivery guy.

Oh wait…bring some home myself…in my hands? Wow. I never thought of that. I could just stop by the supermarket on the way home and bring her some flowers. What a concept.

Now I have to admit that I’m sort of lucky when it comes to things like Valentines Day and anniversaries. That’s because while I’ve been planning for weeks in advance, Cheryl usually forgets until she sees the present from me sitting on the bed. Then she decides to take me out to dinner at our favorite restaurant.

And that’s almost as good as two checks for my age.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Explaining Shame to a 26-Year-Old

In so many ways it’s a different world out there than it was 30 or more years ago. And that’s a good thing.

Why do I say this? Because my wife was telling one of her colleagues about the conversation I had with my daughter about the social pressures that might lead a girl to feel that she had to have an abortion, and 26-year-old “Emma” looked at her like she had three heads.

You see, Emma doesn’t remember the dark ages when it would have been a major league SHAME to be pregnant and unmarried. She was born just as those days were winding to a close. She neither remembers nor can conceive of a time when getting pregnant without being married was something that brought such shame on yourself and your family that it’s why we have the term “shotgun wedding,” as the parents of the girl rushed to make sure that she was properly married when the baby was born. She doesn’t remember when children born outside of marriage were called "illegitimate" (and that’s the nice word). She has no concept of an unmarried girl being so ashamed to face her family and bring that shame upon them, that she felt that her only choices were an illegal, and often dangerous, “back alley” abortion or suicide.

You see, mercifully, our world isn’t like that anymore. We no longer have the official pretense that people are waiting until they’re married to have sex, and that anyone who doesn’t is a Bad Person™. It used to be that the unmarried pregnancy was a sign that you had been one of those Bad People. While it’s still not a good idea for 16-year-old girls to have sex, and an even worse idea for them to get pregnant, we pretty much assume that a 26-year-old woman is sleeping with her boyfriend. And while it may be a little embarrassing to explain, we no longer pin a scarlet “P” on these women if they get pregnant. In a world where sex before marriage is assumed, most of us see an unplanned pregnancy as just a little “oops.”

At least most of us don’t. There are still some quarters where the unwed pregnant girl is sent off or “hidden away” so that she doesn’t set a “bad example” for the others.

And that’s one of the big differences between then and now: SHAME vs embarrassment. One would think that the with the SHAME gone from being pregnant and unmarried, more women would be willing to carry the baby to term and then place it with an adoptive family.

Let me make myself clear, I’m pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean that I believe that you should be able to have an abortion just because it’s Tuesday, or just because it’ll ruin your vacation plans. I’m pro-choice because I remember the days of SHAME and coat hangers. I would prefer that women make the “tragic choice” to have an abortion because of “tragic circumstances” such as a threat to her own life or rape…or facing the SHAME that some of the very people who are fighting abortion would subject her and her family to. I have a problem with it being used because the pregnancy in “inconvenient.”

And what of me and my family? What have I said to my two daughters? I’ve said very simply that if they should ever find themselves unmarried and pregnant, while it may be a little embarrassing, I’d like to get to know my grandchildren, no matter when they arrive.