Friday, 31 May 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vo. 9): The Troubles of Converting

 
I recently read an interesting article on 10 Reasons why it's Hard to Become Catholic. It really got me thinking about my own conversion and the difficulties that I faced both then and now. As it turns out, I only really identified with 7/10 of original points, so I thought I might as well send this out as my Friday Quick Takes.
 
--- 1. Theological Submission ---
 
This really is a big one. I initially thought I could never become Catholic because there was no way that I could say in all truth that 'I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God' (the statement of faith that one makes at their confirmation). It was going through RCIA, and understanding what the Church really taught on things that I struggled with, that brought me to the place that I could make that profession with a clear conscience. Now when I have a question about something I've heard or read I know that I should just ask someone who knows. I always have questions -- it was my questioning of things that led me away from Protestantism, but I find that the answers are better now (usually a bit meatier than someone's opinion backed up with a bit of scripture).

--- 2. Priests ---
 
This was sure a big one. I've found myself both lamenting the lack of social relationships with priests yet being put into a position of having to defend this supposed negligence to other critics. When I consider how busy the parish is I can totally understand why it is so difficult to connect with my priest on the personal level I would've enjoyed with pastors in years past. But if I get too glum about this I just remember what my Gramma always says: if you find yourself complaining that people aren't coming up to you & being friendly, then you need to consider that they could be just as shy as you are. So you need to make the first step towards having a friendship and being welcoming. So David & I try to be friendly and welcoming to our priests, rather than expecting them to make the first move. As we're both fairly shy and naturally anti-social it is an effort for both of us, but we think it is worth the effort. We want our children to grow up respecting and being comfortable around the clergy.

--- 3. Liturgy ---
 
There are some really bad liturgies out there. I try hold back my criticism, because I realise that the appalling music is usually because there are only a handful of people in the parish willing to commit to providing music on a weekly basis (and thus we're at their mercy, and if you don't like it you should try & change it), but the problem does sometimes go deeper than just badly played organ and horrible song choices. Sometimes we're lucky, and can choose a church that suits us. Other times there is only one church in the area, so we have to make the best of the situation. Fortunately I grew up being subjected to really bad (dead!) Protestant services whenever my family went on vacation so I'm used to making-do. My gut instinct when I hear people complain is usually to think, 'what are you doing to fix the situation'. I think we have a responsibility to be involved in our parishes, and if the liturgical problem is something fixable then it's a good opportunity for new people to get involved.

--- 4. Dealing with Controversial Catholic Stuff (abortion, divorce, contraception etc) ---
 
This was the easiest thing for me to come to terms with when I converted as I found my conscience already in line with Catholic teaching. Abortion was a no-brainer, contraception has always struck me as creepily unnatural when used to prevent pregnancy, and Jesus' thoughts on divorce are so explicit that it still boggles my mind that more fundamentalist churches don't speak out about it. I would say that digging deeper into Catholic teaching, like reading Humanae Vitae, was incredibly fruitful for helping my thoughts on the matters to go deeper than just a gut-moral-reaction.

--- 5. Financial Discomforts ---
 

Not a big one, but one that used to crop up every now and then as an idea, usually when I'm looking for work and realise that I can't apply for any church positions that aren't Catholic (as most churches actually want you to attend them when you work for them). It also comes up now & then when David is looking for work, because we have to carefully read the 'faith/mission' statements of any Christian universities he applies to in order to ensure that we can fit in with them to some extent. Becoming Catholic really is a commitment to one church in a way that joining many Protestant churches isn't. With the passage of time the theological points that once separated many Protestant churches have become blurred or forgotten by many of their members, so I think it is easier to move around 'career-wise' within that structure.

--- 6. Non-Catholic Ridicule & Estrangement ---
 
I can deal with the ridicule, because I figure that the 'friends' who post offensive, anti-Catholic articles on Facebook aren't making a cerebral connection between their posts and their friend(s). If it really bothers me, and it's not someone I regularly interact with, I just hide them or remove them. But the estrangement can be hard. It's really difficult being the odd one out in the family, and it's sometimes difficult (or at least frustrating), being the odd one out in groups of friends. Having Walter baptised is just one example of many -- I come from a family of Anabaptists and of course being Catholic I had my son baptised at only three weeks old. Although I was grateful that I didn't have to fight any battles over this, I can't help but notice that for Catholic friends and family it was a really noteworthy event (with special religious-themed presents and cards, and people being excited for its whole significance, not just because it was something that one does with babies). When our beliefs differ, we can't really share the experience on the same level, and this pains me.

--- 7. Catholic Ridicule & Estrangement ---
 
I've not really experienced ridicule, and perhaps estrangement is too strong a word to use now that I've gotten over my initial neophyte-awkwardness, but it is sometimes irksome being the convert in a room of cradle Catholics. I'm conscious of the Protestant things that I do (like quoting scripture or, *gasp shock horror* making up my own prayers, or not knowing the traditional prayers that everyone else can easily say). It bothers me a bit when I'm lovingly teased about these things. But most of all, I get offended by the superiority complex certain Catholics have. The condescending attitude that they take towards various groups of Protestants (groups which they know almost nothing about) drives me up the wall, and I always finds it puts up a barrier in the relationship. If you talk trash about evangelicals, for example, you're talking trash about half my family (and chances are you don't know your arse from your elbow, so I end up just thinking that you're ignorant). My conversion didn't eradicate the Christian I was before, it just took that Christian and made her faith grow a lot deeper and better.
 
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, 24 May 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 8)

--- 1 ---
I'm impressed with how David is becoming more & more vocal in his opinions of what to do with Walter, especially since his ideas are usually the ones that work. Our biggest challenge right now is working on Walter's sleep, which is quite draining. David was the one to bite the bullet and begin the 'crying to sleep' method, which is hopefully working (and at least spares me some sanity come evening). Sir has a tooth coming through, and I'm hoping that once it's fully out he will stop waking up so frequently at night. I miss the brief period of time when he'd sleep from 8pm-5am, drink a bottle of milk, and then sleep until 7:30.
--- 2 ---
Love is in the air and recently a few close friends of mine have gotten engaged, which has improved my otherwise grumpy mood (the baby now weighs two pounds and apparently that excess weight is having an impact on my levels of cheer). Weddings usually make me happy, but when I can see just how solid the relationship of the to-wed couple is I kind of go over the moon in ecstasy. This world needs more solid, happy families in it.
--- 3 ---
I think that the UK forgot that it's mid-spring, if the downpour outside my window is anything to base it on. I'd originally requested today off work in the hopes of going to Cambridge and having a fun afternoon picnic at the CAMRA Beer Festival. Instead, I think that I'll be spending most of the day indoors and ending off the evening with some chocolat chaud.

Enjoying the Beer Festival last year. I had to stick to cola, but the other two usual suspects got rather merry on mead...

--- 4 ---
The internet provider we signed up with when we moved gave us £100 of Marks & Spencer gift cards for our service. It kind of sweetens the blow in which the quote they gave me is dreadfully off what they're trying to bill me (LeAnna takes on the Internet Company) and it came at a perfect time, since there's household stuff I wanted but didn't quite need, and Walter was needing some new clothing. When David was in his end-of-year meeting yesterday, Walter & I hit up M&S and went 'wild'. My favourite part was buying new baby clothing and only having to be mildly frugal. Normally if I buy anything new for Walter it's off the sale rack or comes from the 'basics' section (thankfully he gets a lot of lovely clothing gifts from his aunts, uncle, and grandparents) so it was fun to only watch price tags a bit to ensure that we got some value for our money. Walter helped pick out his clothing, by shouting at certain outfits and hugging others, and then went wild over a 5-pair set of monkey socks.
--- 5 ---

Pregnancy has been kicking my butt lately, and David & Walter have also been a little under the weather, so I'm trying to figure out if our diet can be adjusted at all. It leaves me with the following puzzle: how do we eat more fresh, homecooked food when from Mon-Fri we are mostly too busy to cook and one of us has weird pregnancy aversions. It's lunches that seem to be the problem -- we used to eat leftovers but now those are being saved for weekday dinners. Trying to find a lunch solution that isn't heavily processed (or soup, which I can't easily eat right now) but manages to be quick & affordable is a bit of a headache. Maybe we'll just start living on bread & cheese.
--- 6 ---
An afternoon in downtown Cambridge made me quickly realise how much more relaxed I'm feeling in Ely. Right now I'm sitting at David's desk, looking over rooftops and towards the trees (and bird nests) in the Cathedral park. What I most notice about Ely is the lack of traffic -- as the UK's 7th smallest city I can actually walk down the street without constantly dodging cars, pedestrians, tourists, and cyclists. Just trying to walk from Marks & Spencer to Starbucks yesterday in Cambridge was a nightmare that took way longer than it should've (the Cambridge traffic problem is so bad that my BUS arrived at the train station 10 minutes later than David did, and he was walking and we left the same place at the same time). So at least for the moment I'm somewhat more relaxed than usual.
--- 7 ---
I'm super behind on blogging, for two reasons. The first, is that David had to block off my computer in his ever changing strategic defense against the forces of Walter (Walter needs access to David's office during the day, but once inside the office he likes to see what he can destroy, so David has to constantly change his line of defense. At the moment there is a huge barricade of heavy cardboard boxes protecting the books and laptops from Walter's explorations, but in the organising of this my stuff got blocked off for a bit). The second is that for some reason I can't figure out, my picture uploader isn't working and travel posts without pictures are a little dull. So eventually they will come... thanks for bearing with all the theology/faith posts until then (they are a little less picture-requiring).

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

a growing family

The relatively short space of time between Baby #1 & Baby #2 has made me particularly sensitive to all the negativity surrounding large families, NFP, and generally anything to do with the subject of kids/pregnancy. It got to the point that I had to tell my mum that I was tired of telling people I was pregnant, because I just couldn't deal with the comments ('that was fast'; 'are you crazy?'; 'NFP fail?'; 'it'll be almost as bad as having twins'). As Anne Shirley so wisely points out in Anne of the Island, 'it's all the worse when it is people one likes who manage to say the things that 'seemed to take the color right out of life and leave it as gray and dismal and cheerless as a November morning'.

Talking about baby Hope, as we're calling 'her' (hoping for a girl, this time) is something I'm most comfortable doing with close friends or with women who have large families. In the case of the former, our close friends have been supportive and excited. In the case of the latter, although they will honestly tell me that it can be difficult with two little babies, they can also tell me that it's worth it.

I am annoyed that having a second baby on the way has launched me into the 'women with large families' club, simply by virtue of the babies being close in age. If David and I continue to have children in this devil-may-care fashion we could end up as contestants for a reality TV show! We are serving to over populate the earth, and being negligent/irresponsible, and we clearly need a basics lesson in contraception.

Suffice to say, it's been nice to read the blogs and articles and opinions by other families who have chosen to go the route of NFP. It's encouraging to read how it becomes more and more of a complete and total lifestyle & mindset adjustment. With both pregnancies I've had, at least one person has said, or strongly implied, that this was the result of not using a more reliable method of contraception. With Walter, as I've written in the past, NFP left no surprises. When we needed to avoid pregnancy, we did, and when we felt it was time to start trying, we got lucky right away. With Hope I can honestly say that this was not planned, but the important second part of the statement is that this was also not prevented. Restarting NFP after childbirth is always difficult, but we chose to be less rigid in adjusting to it than we could have been if we really needed to avoid pregnancy. To be honest, by the time Walter was 2.5 months I was already thinking about having another one, and wondering how long we'd wait. It was hard, when I found out, to be gracious about this gift because life was in such turmoil, but we have had to trust this baby's life to God, and our own lives, and in the past few months we have really seen how our little Hope has given us cause to hope for the future. God knew best, as He always does.

The thing is, fertility (or lack thereof), is almost always a surprise. Time after time I come across stories of women who have waited to have children, or who have done the norm by going on the pill only to come off it and try to conceive and get the incredibly negative surprise that things aren't working as they should -- and I also know personally couples who have been told that they would never be able to have children yet have ended up with large families (an incredibly wonderful surprise). I grew up very conscious, always conscious, of my own parents' struggle to have children. It is a long, hard, and sad road for people to walk. So yeah, life may be crazy for the next few years with these little kids, but I cannot overlook the immense blessing here and treat this pregnancy like a catastrophic accident. This baby is an actual human being, with her (or his!) whole future still to unfold, with a little personality that is going to begin growing and developing from birth onwards, and with his (or her!) own way of adding something good to humanity. If you have kids, especially if they're driving you nuts, just take a moment to pause and think about how absolutely freaking lucky you are. I know too many people who would give almost anything to be driven bat-shit crazy by some kids of their own.


Friday, 3 May 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 7)

--- 1 ---
I had a mid-week day off this week, so that David could get into the University Library and look at some books. The weather co-operated and Walter & I had a perfectly lovely 'Walter & Mummy Day' which made up for Saturday (when it hailed and my 2.5 hours of weekend overtime turned into 5.5). We shared lunch, ran errands, and then 'played swings' in the park for half an hour, where we met another mum & young baby on the same tasks. It was great, and one of those days that one dreams about when pregnant.
--- 2 ---
I've been noticing how much encouragement I've been getting just from reading other Catholic blogs (especially, but not limited to, Catholic blogs also written by mothers). With all the moving around & parish changing it's nice to feel connected to the Church via the online community, since putting down roots in a new parish takes time. Sometimes it's just to connect with people who speak the same 'language'... in The Real World I'm finding more and more that my thoughts are just far off from what seems to be accepted as the norm. This is probably a good sign...
--- 3 ---
Speaking of not being the norm/encouragement, a lot of stuff regarding 'large families' has come my way lately (either via friends or articles that others post that look interesting). Considering we only have one child on the outside world at the moment, I find myself shaking my head in half-humerous sadness that our soon to be family with two kids is verging on the 'large' side, mostly because there isn't much space between the two babies. I have a longer post coming on attitudes towards pregnancy/children/large families, but really, isn't it a bit sad that having two babies is requiring a lot of defence/build-me-up material in the face of society's expectations (and comments!)?
--- 4 ---
In other news, the NHL Playoffs have begun back in North America and this year we will sadly not be following along via an NHL subscription. In the past, especially when the Canucks were doing well, we've gotten up at all hours of the night to watch the games via a subscription to stream them live. Yet in the confusion and shuffling of the strike this past year, the company that the NHL employs, or permits, to stream the games has dealt in some very shoddy business practices (like updating their T&Cs without advising their customers, renewing subscriptions with no warning or receipt, and taking money without consent). We can't really trust them with credit card information, so no games for us.
--- 5 ---

My favourite Friday 'at work' lunch in the UK is a cheese & onion sandwich (onions diced so small you can't see them, and just enough zing to elevate it above an overly cheesy mayonaissey mess) with a packet of salt & vinegar crisps on the side. The Co-Op makes the best ones, although there's no Co-Op in Ely so we've been getting deli filler mixes from the supermarkets instead. Alas, this week I accidently purchased cheese & tomato instead of cheese & onion. So my meatless lunch this week really is on the penitential side!
--- 6 ---
Tomorrow is Eel Day in Ely, a celebration of the town's namesake (thank you, Vita of St Aethelwold) and a chance for David to finally partake of the delicacy he's been after since moving to the UK -- eel. We have some friends coming up from Cambridge to join us for the celebrations and we plan to form a team for the 'eel tossing' competition. Does this sound hopelessly geeky? Not so! Some of the best fun we've had has been participating in various local festivals in the places we've lived. It's always fun to see how the locals do it :)
--- 7 ---
And finally, Walter is 9 month's old today! Time has flown. I shall do a longer post about all his amazing baby achievements at some point.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!