An aside: The young people. Revisited.

“So why do you stay?”

On Saturday, that question was posed to me–and to the other three members of our panel–by a gathering of women religious near Boston. We had been invited, as previously advertised, to talk to them about our experiences as young adult Catholics.

It wasn’t a surprising question. We are all contributors to the book Hungering and Thirsting for Justice. We spoke from our narratives in that book. Those narratives are the spiritual memoirs of justice-seekers who have renegotiated our relationships with a church that, as often as not, is a stumbling block for justice-seekers.

One of my fellow panelists said she stayed because birth control, sexuality, and women are not the whole story. There is still Jesus, the sacraments, the saints, our rich tradition of social thought, and the prophetic witness of vowed religious communities like the one that invited us.

Another fellow panelist said she didn’t necessarily think of herself as “staying” in any conventional sense of “staying.” My third fellow panelist said that after a lifetime of formation, she had a Catholic soul whether anybody else liked it or not.

I found elements of myself in all these answers. But I framed mine up a little differently.  Continue reading

The Fireside Chats: Conclusion to “The Making of a Writer.” (Or, “State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III.”)

0808-0710-1617-3417(Final installment in a lamentable, long-forgotten three-part series. For those of you who were asking for it…well, you were asking for it. Alternate post title is stolen from a Bob Woodward book of the same name. Thanks, Bob.)

I did not, as it happened, go into teaching or ministry. It all dissolved.

Perhaps the problem was my living situation. My University Ministry involvement hadn’t been enough to create the friendships I sought. So I intensified my efforts by moving into an intentional community at Loyola called Agape House.

After I got in, I discovered they were all rebellious peace-and-justice hippies. After a year of living there, I had become one of the rebellious peace-and-justice hippies. (You can read about it here.) I could no longer bring myself to teach high school students about the all-consuming importance of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

My feelings were confirmed the summer after we disbanded. I worked at the Joliet diocese’s annual youth leadership conference. I tried fruitlessly to interest a group of incoming high school juniors in the Nicene Creed, which is what the diocese wanted the juniors to focus on. My effort was not helped by my drastic shift in priorities. Nor was it helped by our group leaders’ valiant yet misguided attempt to convey the Creed to spacey sixteen-year-olds through skits and stage props. I recall cardboard rocks and palm trees. Continue reading

Quotable Quotes: “Chicago was Oz”

And now he’s out here, living in Oakland for now. After graduating he tried Chicago first, but tired of constantly running into people from Champaign. They were all there, the whole school–so few make it out of the state. To most, Chicago was Oz, anything beyond it was China, the moon.

From A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

The Confessions

A confessional. Via Wikimedia Commons.

A confessional. Via Wikimedia Commons.

On a spring evening at dusk, sitting next to the fire pit with a glass of wine, my mother told me what it was like to go to confession before the Second Vatican Council.

First of all, that is what it was. There was no “Reconciliation.” There was no “Reconciliation Room.” You went to confession. You went in the confessional.

You went once a month, every month. Mom’s impression was that this was church law. But it wasn’t, not really.

The minimum rate of going to confession was pegged to the minimum rate of receiving Eucharist. In other words, once a year around Easter. But in those days, things that seemed to be law had as much force as things that actually were law.

You went on Saturdays. Mom dreaded it. She hid in her bedroom, hoping her mother would forget. It was fruitless. Sometime in the afternoon, the shout came up the stairs from the kitchen.

“Krysia!” (For the uninitiated, “Krysia” is Polish for “Chrissy.”) Continue reading

Quotable Quotes: “Negative people”

What would it mean in practice to eliminate all the “negative people” from one’s life? It might be a good move to separate from a chronically carping spouse, but it is not so easy to abandon the whiny toddler, the colicky infant, or the sullen teenager. And at the workplace, while it’s probably advisable to detect and terminate those who show signs of becoming mass killers, there are other annoying people who might actually have something useful to say: the financial officer who keeps worrying about the bank’s subprime mortgage exposure or the auto executive who questions the company’s overinvestment in SUVs and trucks. Purge everyone who “brings you down,” and you risk being very lonely or, what is worse, cut off from reality. The challenge of family life, or group life of any kind, is to keep gauging the moods of others, accommodating to their insights, and offering comfort when needed.

But in the world of positive thinking other people are not there to be nurtured or to provide unwelcome reality checks. They are there only to nourish, praise, and affirm. Harsh as this dictum sounds, many ordinary people adopt it as their creed, displaying wall plaques or bumper stickers showing the word “Whining” with a cancel sign through it. There seems to be a massive empathy deficit, which people respond to by withdrawing their own. No one has the time or patience for anyone else’s problems.

From Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Vatican explains

The Vatican’s International Theological Commission recently published a document entitled: “‘Sensus Fidei’ in the Life of the Church.” Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service, in an article reprinted at NCR, summarized its argument: “the document emphasized the importance of assuming church leaders are correct, trying to understand the basis for their teaching and, in particular, for praying, regularly receiving the sacraments, studying and being an active member of the Catholic community before claiming to be able to discern that a church teaching needs adjustment.”

Kelly Stewart, an NCR Today blogger, had a different way of summarizing the argument. Her June 30 post about “Sensus Fidei” is entitled: “Church leaders’ condescension an affront to Catholic laity’s intelligence.”

Stewart wrote that the document “prompted me to revisit Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Men Explain Things to Me.’ Solnit’s 2008 essay is something of an Internet classic, famous largely for the feminist portmanteau, ‘mansplaining,’ that it inspired: ‘Men explain things to me, and other women,’ she writes, ‘whether or not they know what they’re talking about.'”

Continue reading

An aside: The young people

Next month, I will be flying out east. I will be making a presentation to a gathering of women religious. I will be one among several presenters. All of us can be found in this book you should totally read.

The nuns are interested in what it is like to be a young adult Catholic today. They have asked us to talk about our individual faith journeys. They have asked us to talk about how our personal relationships with the church sustain us.

Wisely, they have asked us to speak for ourselves only. We cannot know All The Things about an entire cohort. Like Lena Dunham, we are at best “a” voice of “a” generation.

But right now, I will share a generational-think-piece-y insight I think is important. I’ve decided I want it out in the world somewhere.

Let me use my grandfather as a lens. My dad’s father was Lutheran. He belonged to the church in his town.  Continue reading

The birthday of the church

pentec10Jerry Kellman is a plain, soft-spoken man in his sixties. He has been, and done, many things. Born in New York, he retains some of the accent, but he moved to Chicago many moons ago. Born Jewish, he converted to Catholicism, also many moons ago.

Kellman is a professional community organizer. He learned his trade at a school run by Saul Alinsky. He then mentored other community organizers, including Barack Obama. Kellman is also a professional lay minister. He earned his M.Div. from my alma mater, Loyola University Chicago.

On Pentecost weekend, Kellman talked at my parish. He said Pentecost is one of those days you know is important, but you don’t necessarily feel is important. It’s not Christmas or Easter.

One reason we’re told it’s important is because it’s “the birthday of the church.” But why give Pentecost the credit for that? From the scriptures and the historical record, we know that “Jesus communities” were in place during Jesus’ lifetime. Continue reading