Monday, April 18, 2005

 

Wayfaring Strangers, Part 1



(Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

Our Journey Begins
Wendy and I are at the beginning of the year-long process of converting to Catholicism. I wasn't sure if I was going to blog about this or not. I worried that doing so might, in some way, deprive the process of some of the reverence I feel it warrants. I decided to go ahead for several reasons. One, this process will inform my opinions and ideas, so it would be silly to try to hide it. Two, along this spiritual journey, the input of others will be important. Anyone who wants to post a comment or send an e-mail, be they Catholic, Protestant, or Other, is welcome and encouraged to do so. Feel free to offer encouragement or to test our resolve. It's all in God's hands at this point.

Initially, I'm only going to write a little bit of background about our decision. Our family began attending a Nondenominational Christian church in late 2001. We wanted to pick a family church, and since we'd both been raised protestant, it seemed natural.

Wendy was raised Lutheran, and her formative church experiences were very positive for her. I was raised Southern Baptist, and my early church experiences weren't positive at all. They were negative. At this point in my life, I'm not trying to cast blame or point any fingers. There was a time when I was, though. In my teens and twenties I considered myself an agnostic and pointed to what I (in my infinite wisdom) judged to be the hypocrisy of the Baptists as the main reason. I was very bitter and looked for reasons to blame the Baptists for just about every spiritual failing in my life. Thankfully, after a divorce, a year of AA meetings, and 9/11, I somehow grew out of that. I began to hold myself accountable for my own spiritual wellbeing, and realized that blaming the Baptists for my own religious missteps wasn't the answer. The Baptist faith, I now realize, is a fine faith for those who find it rewarding and draw closer to God because of it. It is, however, not the faith for me.

Anyway, Wendy and I started attending that nondenominational Christian church I mentioned, and it was there that I discovered C.S. Lewis, Richard Foster, and a wealth of writers and theologians who conspired to draw me back to faith. I credit Lewis's Mere Christianity as the book that finally made Christianity resonate for me. It was more than that, though. Mere Christianity made me want faith. It made me want what Lewis had. I became the prodigal son of the parable, and I'd no sooner turned to return to the Father than I saw him running to greet me. My faith is the strongest and most rewarding it's ever been at this point in my life. I know for certain that there is a God, and that my avenue to him is through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the thing in my life that I am most certain of.

However, even as my faith was growing (and Wendy and I were growing in faith as a couple) we found ourselves growing apart from the church we'd been attending. The Bible study classes we'd once enjoyed had switched from what we thought of as serious, demanding theology to what we think of as Wal-Mart theology: Max Lucado, Bruce Wilkinson, etc. There's nothing wrong with those books for those who enjoy them. And if you get something out of those writers, I'm happy for you. They don't do it for us, though. They leave us cold. Reading Lucado is, for me, like watching a Hallmark commercial. I pursue theology with something of a vengeance, having missed out on so much of it during my younger years due to my own stubborness. I don't want to read books that simply make me feel good. I want to read books that challenge me, that inspire me to action, and that help me find new ways to make my faith practical. It's not that I'm trying to earn late-game points... it's that I now realize what I'd been craving all along.

Also, our church began changing the way the worship services themselves were conducted. New kinds of "new-agey" Christian music became part of the service. Non-traditional elements were introduced. A number of people in our church enjoyed these new components of worship, but Wendy and I did not. We're both very traditional. We like the old hymns, the old styles. Call us sticks-in-the-mud if you want, but we're happy being sticks in the mud. The bottom line was this: our church was no longer the right place for us to worship.

Last year, Wendy and I started spending a lot more time with a Catholic family who are dear friends of ours. To their credit, they never tried to force their style of faith on us. Instead, they were simply kind and forthcoming and open with us when we'd ask them questions about their church, their faith, their way of worship. We began to grow jealous of them. We began to want what they had. We came to think that the demanding, tangible, reverent, awe-inspiring type of worship we were craving was available to us through the Catholic church. When we asked our friends if we could begin attending mass with them, they were delighted.

For the past few weeks, our family has been attending mass with our friends, and Wendy and I are working with a great priest who is helping us figure out where we fit, spiritually, and if the Catholic church is the right fit for us. As of now, we believe that it is.

Over the course of the next year, I'll use this blog as a sort of journal to document this experience for Wendy and myself. I think it would be useful to me to throw my ideas out there and read any feedback that I might get… and it would also be useful to have a journal available to read back over and try to monitor my own growth.

Thank you if you've taken the time to read this entry, and if you take the time to share your ideas with us.

I hope that by sharing these experiences, we are doing the right thing and that we might, in some way, play a role in helping others find their own path.

Comments:
I hope the Catholic Church fulfills you spiritually. I'm a Catholic, and though I don't agree with all of its theology, it's still a good faith with good people.
 
I wish both of you well on your journey. As a past convert and then a sponsor for someone who was becoming a Catholic, ask questions of your sponsors. The Catholic Church is wonderful for its social justice. To me, of all the Christian faiths, it was the one that seemed to exempilfy what Jesus taught. I am on a spiritual journey as well. I am studying my father's faith. He was Jewish.
 
Hello Darrell - I sent you a note yesterday, but it never got through (blogger--sheesh). I'm wishing you well on your spiritual journey. My own has some similarities with yours, so you've elicited my sympathy. I stopped going to church for about 20 years,then returned when my wife and I began taking in foster children. Though my faith is not as strong as I'd like, I'm discovering new things about the Christianity I thought I knew. You'll be pleased to hear that last summer I bought "Mere Christianity" on audio tape and listened to it on a long road trip. Likewise, on the same trip I stumbled across a Christian-rock station and thought the music was really good!

Best Wishes and God Bless
 
Thanks to everyone who's been stopping by to comment. Salt Lick, I'm glad you checked out Mere Christianity. It's my favorite book and I find that it elicits a thoughtful reaction from everyone who reads it, whether they agree with it or not. I honestly believe that many of us who spend time "wandering in the wilderness" have the potential to be some of the most dedicated Christians when we return to the faith.
 
Darrell,

I converted to Roman Catholicism during my ten-year marriage to the mother of my daughter. I, too, was taken with the majesty, formality, and tradition of the Roman Catholic faith.

After her mother left, I finally opened the Bible and got serious about trying to find what I truly believed.

I respectfully and sincerely encourage you and Wendy to study the Bible and compare what God said with the traditions of the Roman Catholic church, which are held to be just as authoritative as the word of God.

Specifically: Mary as co-redemptrix with Jesus; infallibility of the pope; prayers to the dead (saints). I have grave concerns about those issues--and that is why I am no longer a Roman Catholic.
 
I just wanted to say that I am behind you in your journey
 
Your journey will be in my prayers
 
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