Grasping at Moderation Part I: Honest Thoughts on a Religious Journey

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

In May, my husband Ethan was confirmed into the Catholic church (the rough equivalent of denominational membership).  To get to know what it is that the Catholic church officially believes, I am taking an RCIA class (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults into the Catholic church).  Throughout this class, I am constantly reminded of how Catholics aren’t well informed as to Protestant theology and vice-versa. I grew up indoctrinated with misinformation like, “Poor Catholics.  They’re good people who’ve missed the point.  They think that you can get to Heaven through works alone. It’s too bad we won’t be seeing most of them there.”

Our dentist was a Catholic and my parents really loved him. “He’s got to be a Christian Catholic,” they reasoned, “you can see the love of God in his life in the way he treats people.”  For much of my life, I thought I would make an excellent nun…if only they were Christians…

Catholic theology places great emphasis on works stemming from faith.  They take James 2:18 very seriously: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”

I am still Protestant, partly because I have not read the church fathers and can’t swallow the emphasis placed on Marion theology, and partly because I have not felt the leading of God that way.  However, I’m very thankful for my husband’s journey as he seeks God’s will. Perhaps I will join him somewhere down the road, and perhaps I will not.  I am trying to keep an open mind and heart.

When Ethan made this decision, we were dumb-founded at the blatant prejudice that is still so pervasive between the two factions (for lack of a better word).  We have both been treated with great hostility for his move.  People seem baffled by this dichotomy of my being in full support of Ethan’s decision while choosing not to follow him.  One well-meaning woman even rebuked me for allowing my husband to make that decision.  Hmm, right. I’m going to MAKE my husband think one way or the other…yeah, not so much.

“What is this? The middle ages?” I mused to Ethan one night while brushing my teeth. “It might give people more satisfaction if we revert to burning at the stake. I just don’t understand how two groups of people who love God can be so hateful to one another.  And honestly, I see it much more from the Protestants than the Catholics.”

“Being strong and in the middle,” a very wise older friend told me, “confuses people and makes them uncomfortable.  You are doing something uncommon by being together in your separateness. People like black and white because it’s easy to see what is right and wrong and thus, comfortable.  This is one more way that you two are pushing the boundaries.”

It’s so refreshing when friends approach me directly and straight up ask what they want to know.  The questions always start with “How is this affecting your marriage?”  When I answer that this has actually drawn us closer, a majority of people cock an eyebrow and say “really” because they assume I’m either lying or insincere.  Let me assure you I am not.

The next question is, “What about when you have children?  Then what will you do?”

Most people assume that we’re just busy people that are waiting until we get all of the fun out of the way, but the truth is, I can’t have children.  So choosing a church in which to raise our children is not a problem that will have to be solved in the near future.  All of the sudden, people get sympathetic looks on their faces and begin apologizing about prying.  I always think this is funny, because I wouldn’t have told them if I didn’t want them to know.  I have nothing to hide–it’s just the way things are.  I always had an intuition growing up that I would not be able to have kids, and well, I was right.  I’ve already raised a bunch of kids, so I know what it’s like.  I’ve had the sleepless nights when a baby is colicky or a kid is throwing up or the sheets need to be changed and the kid bathed in the middle of the night because he/she wet the bed.  I’ve had the joy of changing diapers, giving baths, tucking in at night.  I don’t feel the need to do it again any time soon.

That being said, if God wanted to do a miracle he can make anything happen and Ethan and I are happy either way. This statement  leaves people with a look of aww,-you’re-just-making-lemonade look on their faces.

Lastly, people want to know about communion.  “Won’t you miss taking it together?” In some ways, it is a little odd that we are not allowed to take communion together, but I subscribe to the fact that God is bigger than church tradition.  He’s present at both and we’re partaking in the body and blood of Christ, just perhaps not in the same place and time.  As for the transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation argument, I’ve always sided with the Catholics since I was 14 and read Foxe’s Book of Christian Martyrs of the World  (the opposite position of the book).

This is all to say, the middle is not a popular place to be, but being comfortable is not all its cracked up to be either.  Whether or not you agree with my thoughts, I challenge you to look at your own journey.  Are you in the uncomfortableness of seeking God’s will?  Is God calling you to follow him in the undefined middle?  Where has your journey led you up to this point?

Comments

  1. Emily Reitnauer says:

    Anna, I had no idea Ethan has become Catholic! I am so interested in why… I read a book called “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic” a year or so ago, and it really rocked my world. I’ve been struggling with the division in Christianity. I have lots of questions right now about how we can know correct doctrine and how much correct doctrine even matters. My biggest question about Catholic teaching is what is their view of non-Catholic Christians? Thanks for this post. I can relate to much of what you’ve said.

  2. Anna Downer Youngs says:

    Hey Anna! Wow, I REALLY appreciated this post. I remember seeing Ethan’s ordination pictures a few months ago and being very interested in y’all’s journey to this point. I totally know what you mean about people not understanding (or just plain not liking) the fact that other people can hold different viewpoints in a healthy tension, but I think that is SUCH a vital skill and aspect of one’s character to learn as we grow and mature in our faith. I really respect and applaud you fully supporting Ethan’s journey to the Catholic church and being open to that happening or not happening to you. Unity in marriage is so vital, but that doesn’t always mean having the same exact opinion on everything! (Wouldn’t that get boring sometimes?) Sam and I recently joined an Anglican fellowship in Chattanooga and I have been so challenged and refreshed by the community and traditions there. I have found a lot of my assumptions about Catholicism and Orthodoxy and even Anglicism challenged and debunked the past few years. I think it is SO important to be open to that! Being raised in a more fundamental/evangelical culture has had its benefits, but also can breed some blind spots for sure. So thanks for sharing!

    I didn’t know that about your inability to have children. I think its amazing the peace that God has given you about it–He calls each of us to different things and I admire your contentment with where God has you and even the possibility of that changing in the future. Thanks again for your post!

    ~Anna

  3. Aunt Kathy says:

    Welcome to my world!!! I left the Catholic church, but the older I get the more comfortable I get with the idea of going back…..I do love the Mass….I enjoy taking my mom and worshiping with her and here’s a little hint….it’s very easy to take communion at the Catholic church with your hub, (unless your catechism teacher is serving) there’s that anonymous element at Catholic churches which the old carney, ex-addict, rebel in me really enjoys! But, not as much as I enjoy YOU! All LOVE, AK

  4. I’m so proud of you both for following God into the uncomfortable. I am amazed (all over again) at the human tendency to insist that you must be feeling the way that I am feeling, even when you express otherwise. My take home from reading this piece is to continue to listen to others with intentionality. And simply believe them. And to ask those direct questions. Sometimes opening the door is all it takes to have an elucidating conversation.

    Yesterday I was blessed to take my lunch break walk with my co-worker at Life Path Hospice who is a practicing, conservative muslim. We shared with each other from the depths of our hearts. I learned from her and I believe she learned from me. Do I agree with her stance that Jesus was one of the prophets and the three big monotheistic religions are all the same? No. Do I have to communicate that disrespectfully? Not if I want a relationship with her.

  5. Donna Llanes says:

    There have been religious differences of opinion since the Middle Ages. Read up on the Dark Ages; it’s quite interesting. There has been this struggle between religious views since the fall of the Roman Empire. The Dark Ages were also the years of vast Muslim conquests. This age old conflict between Christianity and Islam remains until this day. The irony of it all is that our 21st century world is no different, no less dark. It’s an individual darkness, which multiplies and grows as those who reject God walk together and dominate politics, education, and society. Our age is characterized by every intellectual and technological advance but our morals have turned backwards. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). These are the characteristics of true darkness.

  6. Republican Democrat, Christian Catholic, Single Married, Boy Girl, Dry Drunk, I’m looking for “a little less talk and a lot more action…” And running

    Great article, Anna!

  7. Just came back to revisit this, since I’m suddenly surrounded by Catholic converts (my friends seem to be crossing the Tiber en masse) and new cradle-Catholic friends and have been doing some hard thinking about Christian unity. In my circles, most Protestants kind of have crushes on Catholicism and are quick to appreciate parts of RC teaching, while the Catholics tend to be a little condescending to those who haven’t “seen the light,” to turn a very evangelical phrase on its head. In response, I’ve had to really fight the bitterness and irritation I find creeping into my heart. Thanks for offering a refreshingly balanced perspective!

    I’d love to hear more from you on this, though I see from your most recent post that you’re embarking on another consuming adventure. I’ll be praying for you.

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