Journeying Further
July 6, 2005

This part two in a six part series. You can find part one here.
NEW: Read the whole series on one page (if you're so inclined).
This is a post about . . . well, it touches on religion. It's not about conversion - either mine or anyone else's. It's just a post about experiences and personal conclusions. (Sorry for the disclaimer, but I believe in truth in advertising.) Every year at my church, instead of a sermon one day, a couple of people stand up and talk about their faith journey and how they got to Southside (our church). After listening to the stories this year, I thought I would write a part of my own.

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I should explain a little more. To Catholics, or at least as it was explained to me way back when, you had God - all perfect, all knowing, all good. Then you had Jesus, who it seemed to me had to be slightly tainted because he was human and therefore by definition not perfect and all knowing. These were the two highest ideals that no one could ever hope to fully be like. You might have your moments of goodness, but you couldn't really be like God or Jesus -- the positions were already filled, so to speak. So my insistence that I was a good kid only meant that for a human kid I might be kinda good.

But saints . . . well, anyone could be a saint. They were normal people who either lived exceedingly good lives or had some dramatic conversion.
I wanted to be a good person, like I was supposed to. Therefore, I would try to be a saint.

So, I had a bit of a problem with the rote prayers of Catholicism just assuming that I was a bad person, a sinner. No, I was working very hard to be a saint. I read a kids' book about St. Therese - the little flower - and spent a summer trying very hard to be kind and loving and beatific. When Dad tore down our swingset to use it for a little romantic swing-chair on our back deck and forbid us to use it anymore, I practiced giving compliments instead of getting mad. With all the tact of a seven year old, I said, "Wow Dad, that looks really great. Like a professional did it, not like you did it at all."

For some reason, this compliment did not go over as I had anticipated. This being a saint thing was beginning to look more difficult than I thought it would be.

I was still trying to attain sainthood when it came time to move yet again. I don't think I have ever - before or since - cried as hard or as often as when we moved away from Austin. We'd lived there for four or five years - the longest I'd lived anywhere up to that point and it was the community that I'd found there - people who loved me and cared about me - that I would miss most of all. From the Tapia "tribe" a few doors down, to my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Gillespie, to my allergist Dr. Exline, to the community at St. Therese's on the Hill, to my whole Balcones Woods neighborhood.

The problem was, I had more adult friends than kids. And those communities were starting to notice our family. My allergist told my mom to quit being so hard on me, to let me cut loose and sit in a chair backwards from time to time if I wanted to. And my third grade teacher, Miss Burciaga, called mom in for a conference that mom now insists she asked for - ostensibly about a mixup in my PE grade. But I can remember waiting in the hallway and listening to Miss Burciaga tell my mom how concerned she was that I hadn't made any friends. And then Miss Burciaga knowing me well enough to open the classroom door I'd been listening at. And chasing me outside to go play on the playground while the grown-ups talked about me.

Over the years, I've become convinced that my being noticed by the community is why we had to move. I think there was some concern that things were not perfectly fine at home.

We had no community in Arlington. My new school was "open concept" which meant 184 third graders (the number of students per grade hung from the ceiling above our area) were in one room which was only partially subdivided into classrooms and even other grade levels by five foot rolling bookcases and wardrobes. I was one among many. Despite being a full book ahead of the "high" language arts class and at the same spot as the "high" math group, I was placed in lower groups. Depressed, I did little schoolwork at all for a few weeks. I manged to get lost in the crowd.

Church was no better. St. Maria Goretti's was, in retrospect, a very conservative and traditional Catholic church, particularly in comparison to the progressive and liberal St. Therese's in Austin. Stained glass, balcony, elaborate murals, oppulence abounding. High mass on Sunday mornings meant incense -- which promptly triggered my asthma and a sneezing attack and sent me outside for a while, muttering something about "you're not supposed to be allergic to God!"

The church was huge and we regularly sat in the upper balcony away from the yuppy fashion show on the main floor below. Had my sister stage-whispered in that very not-quiet way she had, "Is that God?" as the priest made the procession down the center aisle, no one would have laughed, least of all the priest. At St. Therese's in Austin, the priest practically couldn't stop giggling through the whole Mass and was looking for us when we left that day -- he had to meet the three year old who thought he was God.

We were noticed there.

We were lost in the crowd here at church in Arlington. In fact, the church shortly grew so large that a new parish was formed. There was no community at all. No church carnivals, no conversations with other parishioners before and after Mass. The kids in our CCD class (kinda like Sunday school)rarely banded together in school - we were rather lost in the sea of Southern Baptists and it was easier on us that way. Make it clear that you went to CCD on Wednesday night instead of Church and you were immediately targeting for "saving" and "real baptism."

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Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six
More on community and the like in the next post.
I just want to take a quick moment to say again that these were my experiences -- I'm in no way condemning all Catholics or even Catholicism in general. I've been to wonderful, faithful Catholic churches and I've been to piss-poor ones where you'd be hard-pressed to find any hint of God at all. I'm not generalizing about any one religion or faith. Just talking about my journeys.

Posted by Red Monkey at July 6, 2005 10:41 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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