Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Wayfaring Strangers, Part 3

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

Interacting With Catholic Haters
I wrote to my friend Jamie with a list of questions about his experiences as a Catholic, and he was kind enough to respond in depth by bringing me several photocopied pages from books on Catholicism that have been helpful to him. I took those pages to work with me the other day, hoping that I'd have a chance to read them if we had some down time.

As it turned out, we had quite a bit of downtime due to an equipment failure. I read the pages Jamie had copied for me and made careful notes in the margins, regarding things I wanted to read about in the Bible. Then I remembered that there was a copy of the Bible in the lab that tests our product next door. I used to be a technician in that lab, until about a year and a half ago, when I had the opportunity to train on and work another job in another department at our mill. That's the job that I still work today.

Anyway, one of the techs in the production lab, a guy that retired a long time ago, left a number of personal reference books and reading materials in the lab. Among those was a Bible and a dictionary. Since we had some downtime, I went next door and asked to borrow the Bible. I got a few strange looks, I guess the only thing odder than there being a Bible in an industrial lab is that an employee from another department would come and ask to borrow it. Nonetheless, the techs, all of whom I knew from the time I spent working in that lab, told me that it was fine for me to borrow it. I got it and went back to my department's break room, where I looked a few things up and jotted a few things down.

A couple of words I was reading were new to me, so I went back to the lab to borrow their dictionary. At this, the lab techs I'd worked with until a year and a half ago got curious about what I was up to. I was reluctant to tell them exactly what I was doing at first… it's rarely a good idea to discuss religion at work unless you're in the clergy. However, they pressed me about it, and I began to get uncomfortable about the idea that maybe I was hiding from them the fact that I was studying to convert to Catholicism. I didn't want to seem like I was ashamed or afraid to admit it, so finally I told them what I was doing.

You have to understand, I suppose, that there is a great deal of anti-Catholic sentiment among the people in this area. I'm not sure why. Maybe just because there aren't a lot of Catholics around here, so it's easy to pick on a minority. I often tend to believe that it's because the prevalent faith in this area is of a Southern Baptist bent, and I often allow myself the prejudice of believing that Southern Baptists simply hate everything. I try not to believe that, and I remind myself that it isn't true when I detect that generalization present in my conscious mind. I don't want to believe or perpetuate stereotypes against Southerners, my own people. Nonetheless, I have to admit that the stereotype of the bitter, closed-minded Southern Baptist is rooted in a nugget of truth, as almost all stereotypes are. I was raised by Southern Baptists, I have lived with them and worked with them all my life, so I feel qualified to make that observation. I try to be patient and decent when I encounter anti-Catholic bias and remind myself that it usually is rooted in a lack of education and in fear of anything different, but I have to admit that, at their worst, Southern Baptists can be arrogant, pushy a--holes.

I should have remembered those things at work the other day before I "outed" myself as a Catholic convert. I should have, but I didn't, so I was taken aback by the anti-Catholic vitriol of one of my co-workers.

"Why do you want to do that?" asked L---, a horse of a woman with a blond mop of hair, a Harley Davidson T-Shirt, and bibbed overalls.

"Well," I said, treading lightly, "my wife and I think it might be the right faith for us."

"I'd worked with L--- long enough for her to know that Wendy and I had each been married before and that we each had kids from our previous marriages. Knowing all that, she said "But I thought the Catholics wouldn't take you if you were divorced."

"Not at all. We will, however, have to have the church annul our previous marriages."

"That will mean your kids are bastards," L--- said.

This pissed me off. Immediately. A LOT. I've learned, however, that I need to carefully watch what I say when I'm angry… especially when my anger is justified.

"God, No!" is all I said.

L--- was on a roll by now, though. "Well, I just don't know about this business of having to go talk to a priest," she said, referring to confession.

"Then you shouldn't convert to Catholicism," I said.

"I just think you should be able to talk to God directly."

"So do I," I said. "Catholics do talk to God directly. L---, do you even KNOW any Catholics?"

"As a matter of fact, I have a niece who's Catholic. But she still believes that Jesus Christ is the savior."

I guess I just blinked my eyes, dumbfounded, for a minute. "Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the savior, L---. Catholics are Christian. It's a Christian religion."

Then L--- asked "Why do you want to do this, anyway? Is it because of all of this pope shit?"

That's exactly what she said: "All of this pope shit."

"Look, L---, Wendy and I have been wrestling with this decision since late last year. We just believe that this is the right way for us to worship. I have to go." With that, I left the lab. I didn't see any point in standing there and arguing.

I guess I should be prepared for more of this. It isn't even the first encounter I've had with it since Wendy and I started going to Mass a few weeks ago. When I told my own mother that Wendy and I were studying to convert, she informed me that Catholics "worship Mary," and that they "believe they can buy their way into heaven." Of course, it's a lot easier to be patient and loving when you're talking to your own mother. It's easy to try to correct her misperceptions in a kind, loving way. You don't have to remind yourself that you love your mom.

I guess that's what I'll have to do over the next year. I'm sure that is what Christ would have me do. I'll have to remind myself that Christ wants me to love those around me, even those who hurt my feelings or frustrate me with the things they say. I'll try to remind myself that they think they're doing what's best for me, that they assume they are presenting me with questions I've not had the common sense to look into for myself, and that they are helping me.

For what it's worth, I have a lot to sort out over the next year. I was raised Southern Baptist, and sola scriptura is engrained deep in me. It might be to the bone. Sola scriptura is, however, an impediment to Catholic worship. To what extent is it a useful doctrine for me and to what extent is it simply slowing me down and preventing me from a richer spiritual life? I don't know. I read a lot, but I just don't know yet. I've also got a lot to sort out about the Catholic beliefs about Mary. Some of what Catholics believe and teach about Mary is comforting and logical to me... some of it is confusing... and, as of now, some of it just doesn't ring true to me. At some point over the next year, I'll come to one conclusion or another about all of this. I'll also need to reconcile the fact that I strongly support the war in Iraq and John Paul strongly condemned it. And there's so much more, so much more.

I don't know for sure yet that Catholicism is right for me. I do know for sure, though, that the Southern Baptist traditions of my childhood are not right for me. It's all too much of a sore spot, and I don't know if it will ever heal.

Alot of people in America use religion not as a matter of personal faith, but as a means to separate people into castes. Your co-worker did not know much about the Catholic faith, and based on what I'm reading, she probably doesn't really know alot about the Baptist faith either, but she was born Baptist and is therefore part of the Baptist caste.

You are taking the right approach by being accepting of this person. It's what Christ would have done.

Pope shit? I guess if it's present it makes people make crazy religious decisions? I don't get it.

Saul from Kansas
very good,- never expected!!
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