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?


  1. Hey, wait a minute, Mr. G, compassion is a universal spiritual facet (if we're talking cataloger-ese). I am neither Catholic nor Lutheran but I truly feel that an environmental scan of what is a 'must have' as opposed to a 'nice to have' is absolutely necessary when seeking a spiritual home. That's why I'm a Unitarian Universalist. There is room to expand one's religious center as one grows. But also as a re-branded subject of the Queen (UK), I also find enormous comfort in the sanctuaries of the old English cathedrals. I just don't buy the dogma; it's the performance factor which I love. And there is no angst on my part about any of this.

    1. Well yes, technically I know that about compassion, but it made for a great closing turn of phrase. In fact, I knew someone would call me on it even as I considered writing it. And it is those people who call me on it tat truly get the point.

  2. I once took an Internet quiz that asked a whole battery of questions (covering a huge span of possible religious thought, belief, practice, attitudes, culture), and I was "catalogued" as a liberal Quaker. I think it was my attitude toward the Immaculate Assumption (negative) and towards pacifism vs just war (prefer pacifism) that skewed the results in my case. I'm a little older than you (though not by much) and my RC Church was embracing Vatican II as I was growing up. So it didn't seem to us that we had to be impatient about change, since change was being thrust upon us whether we wanted it or not. My son resented attempts by "youth ministers" to present Mass as "cool" because he knew it wasn't "cool" and could deal with it as it was, rather than what he "hoped" it might be.