Friday, December 30, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol.14)

Things I’m looking forward to in 2012 edition:

1. Going back to school! I’m such a nerd. But a 13-month hiatus is really enough to make me miss being a student.

2. And if school goes well, I should be moving into my own place either this summer or fall.

3. I’m planning on visiting my aunt in Texas over spring break. She always comes up here to see us, so it’s way past time to return the favor.

4. In May, my mom and I are going to Scotland! Ever since I spent just a day in Edinburgh, I’ve always wanted to go back to Scotland, and now we’re going for 10 whole days!

5. I’m really hoping I can repair and heal some relationships I damaged in 2011. But if I try and am not able to, I hope that I can at least learn to let go and move on.

6. And obviously, I’m looking forward to joining the Church at Easter!

7. I can only think of six, but all of those should be in the first half of the year, so #7 shall be a good thing that unexpectedly comes about in the second half.

Check out others' Quick Takes here!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In the Flesh

The Christmas Eve candlelight service continues to be one of my favorite services of the year. I don’t know if it’s the carols, or the darkness outside, or the candles inside, but I always get something out of it. A few years ago, the pastor had set out a manger. When it came time for communion, he unbundled the loaf of bread that had been sitting in the manger and broke it. It was perfectly beautiful symbolism. This little baby whom we’re all adoring, he’s going to die for you.

It was also a Christmas Eve communion that opened my heart to transubstantiation, which looking back, I believe was the first push to the Church.

During the service this year, it occurred to me, that the birth of Christ isn’t just the big conclusion of the story of prophecy that we’ve followed through Advent. And it’s not just the beginning of the story that we’ll get to at Easter. It’s a whole story in itself, a grand moment in time that makes everything else seem to fall away. God became human. And He did so in the most human of ways; a tiny baby growing in his mother’s womb. He knew what it was to be helpless and hungry and scared. God loved humanity so much that He came down to save us, yes, but first to experience the human condition.

For one night, the saga of sin and covenants and salvation are overshadowed by the tangible and weak form Christ took to come into the world and live among us.

Of course, Christmas Eve communion was a bit different this year because I’m in communion no-man’s land. I’m not yet ready to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic church, but I can’t in good conscious take communion at a Protestant church either. I tried earlier this fall and it just felt out of place. So as the plates of bread and little juice cups went around, I realized I was probably the only person over the age of six not partaking. I knew it was the right thing for me to do, but I felt alone. By definition, communion unifies the community, and I had just placed myself outside of that.

But then suddenly, I wasn’t alone. Someone from beyond the physical world was there, just over my left shoulder, trying to comfort me. It didn’t feel the same as those spiritual sensations that I recognize as the Father, the Christ or the Spirit. I didn’t know who this was, saint or angel or God in some form I didn’t recognize. In my head, I was crying, “Who are you?” but I knew it didn’t particularly matter at that moment. I was comforted, and that’s all whomever seemed to care about.

Thinking about it at a distance, I’m inclined to think it was a guardian angel. But I’ve never given much thought as to whether I even believe in angels or not. Then again, a few Christmas Eves ago, I would have said the same about transubstantiation.

I don’t know what it is about that Christmas Eve service. I try not to overanalyze or push away these experiences when they happen. I try to experience them to the fullest and worry about analyzing and making sense later. I want to have more of those rich, spiritual moments, to be able to touch that intangible world. And maybe that’s what is so different about Christmas Eve. The tangible and intangible, the visible and invisible, seem to blur lines. God became human. A little baby was also fully divine. Something as abstract as a Word became flesh. Gloria, indeed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol.13)

1. I’m writing later than normal today because I’m house-sitting for some friends this week. It’s odd to have so much alone time just before Christmas, but it’s also nice to be staying away from the internet.

2. I got a new car last weekend! I wasn’t expecting such a big gift from my parents, but I’m so grateful. It’s a 2011 Subaru Impreza. I’m glad to have four-wheel drive since I start commuting to school in January.

3. I also bought a black cardigan this week! I have wanted a black cardigan for months, but it has actually been really difficult to find. Now I can wear my short sleeve dresses to church. Although, it was 67 degrees yesterday, so the cardigan isn’t even needed.

4. Since it’s the week before Christmas, mom and I made her delicious peanut butter balls dipped in dark chocolate. It’s my favorite sweet!

5. My aunt is staying with us for a few nights over Christmas. It will fun having another person on the big day. She and granddad are joining us for church on Christmas Day. Dad will get to go too since he found someone else to work (he has had to work on Christmas for as long as I can remember).

6. Almost there!

7. Because family will be in, I’ll be going to the Christmas Eve service at the Cumberland Presbyterian church, then the early service on Christmas Day at the Catholic church, then the 10 a.m. service at the Cumberland Presbyterian church. The C.P. church is combining its two services since it figured a lot of people wouldn’t come on Christmas Day, and I’ve heard other churches have cancelled because of Christmas falling on a Sunday. It seems to me, that should be one of the days the church is overflowing. Seriously, canceling church because it’s Christmas? That screams of messed-up priorities.

Read others' Quick Takes here!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is It OK to be a Hypocrite?

A hypocrite is an awful thing to be. Jesus certainly doesn’t like them. To some extent, we all are hypocrites. We like to hold people to higher standards than we actually live, yet most of us realize we shouldn’t do that. And that leaves us with two options: Live by those high standards or change the standards.

I think most people today have changed the standards. “I’m sinful, so I can’t tell other people what to do or not do.” Soon, there are no standards or rules at all. People have to figure out “what works” for them. We’re a society that has no cohesion, no united morality, because things like morals, values, truth, and virtues have been stripped of the community and left to the individual.

The only rule is that no one can judge another’s choices because “no one is perfect.” We’re allowed to individually set the standard as low as we need it to be to reach it. And we get warm, happy feelings of being a “good person” as defined by our own standards. That’s the easy choice. Not holding your neighbor accountable for his actions means you can act however you want with no accountability as well.

I am a hypocrite. I have many weaknesses that I don’t tolerate in others. But I want hold myself to that higher standard too; I just suck at living up to it. That’s not true hypocrisy, but it is critical. It takes virtue and self-evaluation and big doses of humility and guilt. It takes work. I’d rather aim for the high standard, knowing I’m going to fall short, than sink into a world where goodness and truth are subjective at best (non-existent at worst). I know that without the grace of God, I damned. But that just means I should work harder, not throw a tantrum about “the system” and renounce it all.

That’s part of what being a Christian is: we struggle to live a high standard, to be like Christ, but we know we won’t. That doesn’t mean the standard is wrong. We are. We’re weak, and foolish, and lazy. But we should always strive to do better, and to hold one another accountable, all working together to be better and closer to God.

Friday, December 16, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 12)

1. Rejoice! We're over halfway to Christmas!

2. Last Friday night, I went to the Madrigal dinner at church. I loved the wassail and costumes and music. I got to history geek out and get in the Christmas mood! And the priest’s magic show was great!

3. I watched the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street last night. I had forgotten how good that movie is. Except it had been colorized. What's the point of colorizing movies? I'd much prefer my old movies be untampered with. Black and white doesn't bother me. However, it was a pretty good color job, and I still enjoyed it. Now I've seen all the Christmas movies I traditionally watch except A Christmas Story, and I save that for Christmas Day when it's on for 24 hours.

4. I bought Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn and read through it in one day. Everyone kept telling me I'd enjoy it, and I did. I particularly enjoyed how each of them prayed the rosary the first time, making a prayer beforehand that it was alright to do so. I totally did that too. I think the Hail Mary prayer is big stumbling block for Protestants becoming Catholic. Our Protestant friends can't figure out why we want to do it, and our Catholic friends can't figure out why it's a challenge. But it was good to learn that it's not just me.

5. I'm also trying to read through the Old Testament while I'm at work. So far, I'm halfway through Leviticus, and I'm actually enjoying it. I'm not making myself do it. I'm just reading for pleasure. I've never been able to read the Old Testament for pleasure before. I guess I'm just at the right place to really get something out of it this time.

6. My parents are selling my car tomorrow. I'll be getting my mom's old car. I'm grateful to have cars I don't have to pay for, and I'm happy to have 4-wheel drive before winter sets in, but I'm still said to see my car go. I didn't know about this until a few days ago, and I didn't realize how attached I was to having my own car.

7. We finally got the tree up!

Friday, December 9, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 11)

Christmas decoration edition! Almost all the decorations are up at the house (except the tree, which we never put up until after the 10th. And it's finally getting cold and starting to feel like December!

1. Second week of Advent. It was pretty lonely doing the Advent wreath by myself for a few days while my parents were in New Orleans. I made up for it by trying to take "artsy" photos of the flames.

2. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care!

3. I set up the Dickensville houses on the mantle and side table this year. Here is the church with its own Nativity set.

4. We have a collection of Santa ornaments, depicting Santa from years 1813-1938 (we have most but not all of them). My favorite has always been the 1889 Santa, because he came with a Mrs. Claus!

5. The Nativity set. Some years we have the wise men in a different part of the house until January, but I put them all together this year. I don't know if I've just gotten used to seeing Jesus on the cross more, but the manger looks extra-empty this year. In a good way. I like waiting for Him.

6. This is a picture I painted in 6th grade art class, but we always put it out with my mom's snowman collection. It really is the peak of my fine arts skills.

7. Not a decoration, but my mom brought this back for me from New Orleans this week! It's a Lady of Prompt Succor chaplet from the Ursuline convent.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I have to say, the biggest struggles I’ve had with the Catholic faith are doctrines about Mary, especially the Immaculate Conception. I couldn’t see how the phrase “full of grace” accounted for the theory of her being conceived without Original Sin, of being ever-virgin, and of being assumed into heaven. (Though I did understand that if I believed the first part, the other two would reasonably follow.) I liked the idea of Mary being a new Eve, but I just didn’t believe it, or see the importance of it. But that still left me with a problem, because the Immaculate Conception seemed to be a really big deal, as in, the only two times the Pope has spoken infallibly has been about Mary’s conception and assumption. Everything else I was learning seemed to make so much sense, but this whole Mary thing wasn’t jiving. I knew Mary was always supposed to point to Christ, so I figured, if worrying about her just got me all frustrated, it was better to just ignore her and pray to Christ on my own. I wasn’t going to let Marian doctrine get in the way of everything else I loved about the Church.

As a Protestant, I never gave much thought about Mary. She only came up during Advent each year; the virgin birth, the journey to Bethlehem, wrapping Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. But Catholics focus on Mary before all that: her Immaculate Conception and her “fiat.” She had the free will to say no to God, but she said yes, even though that meant a serious burden and probably lots of rumors about her. Her yes meant everything for humanity. But, if she was already free of Original Sin, wasn’t it easier for her to say yes? Or if God had freed her from Original Sin knowing she would say yes in the future, what free will was there?

Eve was free of Original Sin. She had the free will to stay that way and obey God or not. She chose not. Mary chose to say yes with all the free will Eve used to say no. God freed Mary of Original Sin to give her that choice. And we should all be grateful that she made the right decision.

One day at work not too long ago (I wasn’t even thinking on it), it just clicked. I believed in the Immaculate Conception, which for me also meant belief in her sinlessness, her perpetual virginity, and her assumption into heaven. An idea that seemed so out there to me suddenly felt familiar. I still feel uncomfortable with the amount of focus on it, and I still don’t like saying strings of Hail Marys when I could just be praying to Jesus directly. But now, it is part of my faith. And it’s probably good that there is part of my faith I know I need to work on. If I’m comfortable, I’m not doing it right.

[The top is a picture of Eve and Mary reconciling. I had saved it on my computer awhile back and now can’t remember where I got it. But I really, really like it. The bottom picture is a picture that is hung in the classroom where I have RCIA. I always get distracted and just stare at it during class. I know it’s a romanticized, northern European version of Mary and Jesus (that is not a Jewish nose or Middle Eastern skin tone), but I think it’s beautiful.]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Worshipping Statues

Catholics are sometimes accused of "worshiping statues." They have statues of saints, and they talk to those saints, so certainly they are worshiping statues, the highest form of idolatry. Except for that it is clearly untrue. Even as a Presbyterian, I knew Catholics didn’t worship the statues in their church. I didn’t really get the whole saints deal, but I thought it was obvious that the Catholics’ statues were just statues, the same as family photos hanging in someone’s home.

But thinking about this more, I’ve decided that nobody has ever worshiped statues. It’s a meaningless straw man of a phrase. Protestants that don't have icons or statues like to accuse churches that do as idol worshipers, implying of course that they don't worship idols because they don't have those objects. But idolatry is much more insidious than that.

The pagans had statues of their gods. They would go to the temple and pray before the statue. But the statue was a representation of the god they couldn’t see. At most, there might be a belief that the god would come down and inhabit the statue in order to communicate to the worshipers. The statue was a reminder, a vessel, but never something worthy of worship on its own. People simply don’t worship inanimate objects. (Nature worshipers worship nature purely because they believe nature to be animate.)

Yet, people do mistakenly worship inanimate, intangible constructs. Name brands, jobs, TV shows, foods, electronics. In the fall in the South, the clearest idol is football. An idol is simply what we focus our devotion on instead of God. We build unhealthy attachments to things that on their own are harmless, but become idols as we attach our self-worth, our happiness, our identity to them. Idols are narcissistic. They are us trying to make God whatever we want Him to be and trying to make salvation whatever makes us comfortable or happy.

When the Hebrews built the golden calf, God was not angry that they made a statue. He was angry about what the statue represented: rejection of Him, creating new gods. He had just delivered them from slavery, but instead of being grateful, they turned away from Him. The gods of the idol were not able to deliver them, or lead them to the Promised Land, or make them feel complete. The Hebrews wanted to create a custom-made god. All they got was a false idol and an angry Lord.

At most, an idol offers us a moment of gratification. We feel good and don’t have to worry about sin or charity or salvation and all that other tricky stuff. But like any dangerous drug, we begin needing more and more to keep that good feeling going, and we get depressed and feel empty without it, because it’s not healing anything, just masking the problem. The problem is that our priorities are all messed up. We’re looking for easy, feel-good solutions instead of the Truth.

Friday, December 2, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol.10)

1. I completed NaNoWriMo! It totally helped that I FINALLY found my jumpdrive. I feel such a sense of accomplishment for reaching my goal, and it’s motivated me to keep working on my fiction just for me.

2. Advent started this week, and I’m reminded how much I love Advent wreaths. This is the only time of the year I really use candles, but I love watching fire. It hypnotizes me in the most delightful way. I’m hoping it will be cold enough to use the fireplace soon.

3. I have the house to myself again this weekend, and I’m looking forward to some solo vegging time, introvert-style. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Muppets Christmas Carol, and Love Actually are all on the agenda.

4. Speaking of the Muppets, if you haven’t seen the new Muppets movie, do it. Do it now. It is adorable and funny! I think I grinned out of pure delight through the whole thing.

5. I’m going to try to decorate a lot of the house this weekend to surprise my parents when they get home Wednesday. We never put up the tree until after the 10th, and I wouldn’t want to tackle it on my own anyway, but I want to get the Nativity set and some smaller decorations out.

6. I reread The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at work yesterday. If you don’t know, it’s the story about a church Christmas pageant (duh) that gets overtaken by the six meanest kids in town. These kids don’t know the Christmas story, and they see the story of Jesus’ birth in a more genuine, reactive way than those of us familiar with it do.

7. I help watch and tutor the kids at the Cumberland Presbyterian church on Wednesdays. Their pageant is in two weeks. They are singing those pre-packaged kids-bop-type songs, and I’d much prefer they just do the Nativity and sing “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.” They would know the words, and the congregation would be just as happy. All anyone really wants is to see little kids dressed as angels and sheep, right?