Thursday, 25 February 2010

"Well, he became Caaath'lic..."

Sorry for the posting delay. Life took a turn for the hectic lately. Hopefully I'll get some new art up by Easter. If I can get my spare room cleaned up, I can get to my easel again and start work on the commissions that I've been, well, commissioned to do. Oh, and Kane and Anonnunimust B., I haven't forgotten you guys. Kane, I've been too busy to really ponder your question adequately, and Anon., I'm coming up empty on a clear definitive statement on St. Thomas' understanding of Allah's identity, other than what I had given you initially in the Q&A combox. I'm still looking, though.

After I "swam the Tiber", so to speak, six years ago this Easter (Wow! Already?!) I "lost touch" with a number of my friends from my old Pentecostal church and Bible College. Some of them simply drifted out of my life the way people do, but for many, I'd always suspected that my "poping" was a key (if not the key) factor in many of my friendships evaporating almost overnight.

Now, of course, only one or two of the gutsier of them actually came right out and admitted that my conversion was a detriment to our friendship (and, ironically, they're the ones that I do still communicate with, at least from time to time). But for the rest of those former friends and colleagues and classmates who've committed themselves to "radio silence", I'd always suspected that their reason for doing so was that I was now a Catholic. Suspected, but could never really prove. Occasionally, I chastised myself for having a "martyr's complex" about it, because people will ask me about my conversion, my reasons and my story, and what the fallout was. And they'll look at me incredulously when I say that I suspect that a good number of my friends don't talk to me anymore because of my conversion. "That's crazy!" they'll say. "I can't believe they would do that." Truth is, neither could I.

Then, dear friends of mine got married. On their return from their honeymoon, they decided to try a new church. This church happened to be attended by an old Bible College classmate of mine (and of the bride's, for we went to school at the same time). So after the service, she took a few minutes to catch up with this mutual friend of ours, and later on, called me to tell me about it.

'Cause, you know, I happened to come up. My friend asked this fellow if he ever talked to me at all, and, she told me, his response was, "Well, he became Caaath'lic. At first, I tried to say my piece, and he didn't receive it all that well, so, y'know..."

At this, my wonderful friend went to bat for my wife and me, saying, "Oh, well, his wife is my best friend!" In other words, what the hell does denominational affiliation have to do with friendship? I mean, okay, sure, the differences of opinion that come from different beliefs can obviously strain a relationship. But to utterly cut a friend out of your life because he disagrees with you about religion? And the ironic thing is, this person and I were never in agreement when we were both Protestants! But I guess at least then, our one thing in common was our protest against Rome--and that protest trumps all other issues of faith and morals for some people.

I've written all this, not because I'm bitter at this person, or, again, not because I want to play the martyr card ("O woe is me! All my friends hate me, I might as well go eat worms!"). Quite honestly, if my Catholicism is so offensive to you that you have to choke it out like it's a lamentable deformity or contagious plague, then by all means, please beware! Unclean! Unclean!

I suppose there are two points I want to make in writing this: The first is, I'm not sick. Hanging out with me won't infect you with incurable papism--well, unless you're the sort of open-minded person who actually wants to engage in rational dialogue. Then I make no guarantees. In all, I'm still by and large the same person I used to be. The differences that have come about, I hope, are for the better. If not, then who better to let me know than my friends. 'Course, you'd actually have to talk to me to find out.

The second point I want to make is that we've entered the season of Lent. For the majority of my readers, that means, I suppose, meditating on Christ's passion, making sacrifices to more closely identify with Him, and eating fish and chips on Fridays. It's also that time of year when adults considering conversion make that final lap in RCIA, heading to the home stretch before the Easter Vigil finish line (or starting line?). As much as I love you all and encourage you in your journeys to the Catholic Church, I want to make sure that the blinders are off--that you've counted the cost. For many, it's a simple transition, with friends and family on the other side waiting to welcome them home. For many others, it means leaving friends and family behind, feeling wounded and abandoned.

The Catholic Church shows its wisdom in the RCIA process--a nine month journey of investigation and instruction before full reception into the sacramental life of the Church. Not only does it help to prepare the new convert, it gives a gestational period in which, hopefully, those affected by the convert's decision can grow to understand and maybe accept this decision, and even, hoping against hope, join the convert on his journey. Nevertheless, the joy of new birth into the Catholic Church is often tainted by a post-partum depression for the new convert and for those on the far bank of the Tiber River.

For many people on the outside, Richard Dawkins's assessment of the Catholic Church as the greatest force for evil in the world rings absolutely true (though I can't fathom how one purports to back up that assertion--especially in a scientifically empirical manner as Dawkins should be held to as a scientist--but that's an article for another time). Many times, the convert's friends and family can't conceive of them actually wanting to become Catholic. The issue, however, is often such a sensitive one, that they won't actually want to debate you or hear your reasons and justifications for the Church you've grown to love, and your decision to join it. They seem to prefer to speculate on your behalf--reasons ranging from outright psychosis to secret evangelical missions of espionage and sabotage from inside the belly of the Beast. At least, that's the only meaning I can glean from statements such as "Wow, you'll really be able to do some good and effect some real change from the inside!" which I've heard over and over again from friends who couldn't fathom that I actually wanted to leave the Catholic Church just as I've found it, and yet join it wholeheartedly, anyway.

Sadly, it seems, our only response is one of forbearance. We can only nod and smile, and try not to take offense at the implications that we've lost our minds or don't read our Bibles. We can only hope and pray that, even if they never join us in our journey, they can at least be open to hearing about it, understanding our perspective, and prayerfully cheer us on, anyway. And, most of all, be sensitive to where they're at. You may not view your conversion as unfaithful consorting with the Whore of Babylon, but it might feel that way to your closest family members. For those who convert from Evangelicalism, as I did, the temptation to preach at your friends and family is overwhelming--but unless they're actually open to listening, you'll do more harm than good. The truth lived in loving silence is more powerful than truth spoken in pithy arguments. Or, as St. Francis of Assisi put it, "Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary, use words."

I'm praying for you all.
Please pray for me.
Gregory

3 comments:

Kane Augustus said...

Gregory,

You are a man of faith. And by that measure alone, you promote a meaning in this world that goes beyond the common trappings of pop-culture sentiments like, "it's all good" and "as long as I'm a good person, then I'm okay." Those kinds of sentiments are, at best, meaningless; at worst, completely self-absorbed.

However, you have outward eyes. That is, your faith leads you to look outside yourself; your Church encourages you to look outside yourself in the same sacrificial manner that Christ looked outside himself to the world at large.

That is the kind of quality that transcends denominational boundaries. It is the common quality in almost all religions: compassion. The Catholic church, however much anyone may disagree with it's doctrinal stances on an academic level, would be hard-pressed to defend the proposition that it is not at all compassionate, and that its adherents are a pastiche of sociopaths in need of 'saving', or moral reform. Such perspectives expressed in the witless words of Dawkins and his troupe of semi-intellectual brigands are formed from purposeful ignorance and, interestingly, a lack of compassion.

You and I know what our respective differences are (and I'd like to keep them confidential), but at the same time, I think you understand that my harshness towards Catholicism is purely academic, and not personal. I know as well as any other misfit scholar out there, that Catholicism is not going to go away because I find myself at odds with some of its teachings. At the same time, expressing those differences, from my place in this world, is a matter of enjoyment, reflection, and truth-questing; it is not meant as a personal attack on you as a human being. You view your piety within, and to Catholicism as the centre of your life from which all else takes meaning, I understand. So, from your perspective any criticism levelled against your faith-community is necessarily personal. However, since it is simply a subject/topic for me, we have to meet each other on the same terms that Catholicism attempts to teach: compassion. You can view my academic interests in critiquing Catholicism with a compassionate eye, and I can view you with a compassionate eye when I critique Catholicism.

I suspect I know who it is that despaired of your friendship when you became Catholic, and I think that's pitiful. I will not offer you the same despondency on a personal level. You are a friend, no matter what religious beliefs you hold, or even if you come to a place where you hold no religious beliefs. We'll dialogue from whatever position you take on this mixed-up, muddled-world.

Warmly,
Kane

Kane Augustus said...

Gregory,

Are you still planning on interacting with people on your blogsite?

Gregory said...

Absolutely. I've just been busy lately. Hopefully I'll have more time now that Easter is here.