Full-immersion infant baptism

One winter afternoon, fourteen years ago, I got a call from the religious education director at our Catholic parish (Father C's church).  She, and some people at the church, had been talking about starting full-immersion infant Baptism.  We were a very helpful and always agreeable family so she probably thought we'd be good ones to start with.  



Now, I'd never seen a full-immersion infant Baptism, but, from her description, I didn't like it.  First, the baby is naked - in front of a congregation of strangers (some familiar to us, all unfamiliar to the baby).  I'm pretty much a modest person so I wasn't doing that with my baby.  Second, it sounded miserable for the baby.  I'd already had two kids with colic (soon to be three).  Having spent many hours with screaming babies, deliberately making my child unhappy for anything beside health reasons was not something I was going to do.  Third, as much as I liked Father C, I don't have enough trust in other adults, no matter how much practice they've had, to have any of them dunking my baby underwater.  

The fourth reason, and the one I emphasized to her, was the peeing factor.  Having had one baby boy already, I knew that, if exposing a baby boy's chest and tummy to the cold didn't make him pee, putting him in water certainly would!  From the ultrasound, we knew very definitely that the third child was going to be a boy.  I told the religious ed director that I was not going to be the first mother at church to have her baby pee on Father C - a lovely arc landing in the center of his priestly robes - and not just at any Mass, but at the Easter, 11 am Mass!  I really played up the "I would be SOOOOOOO embarrassed" bit and, after a few volleys, she gave up.  

If the Catholic Church had required it, I suppose I would have done full-immersion, but I wouldn't have done it happily.  Fortunately, they didn't.   

I can understand that full-immersion Baptism is more Biblical, but infant Baptism isn't Biblical anyway, and I don't see that a baby is more Baptised if they're immersed than if they're sprinkled or poured.  If only full-immersion Baptism is valid, than nobody in our family has been Baptised (so I can sleep in on Sundays). 

I don't know what I would have done if I'd had another baby at our current, Episcopalian church, where full-immersion infant baptism is the way it's done.  Everyone, except, of course, the baby, gets very excited.  

I've actually never seen an infant Baptism at our church.  Most people crowd around the Baptismal font, and I'm only 5' 2" so there's no way I could see.  I don't crowd anymore; I just stand in the choir section.  However, last weekend, there were Baptisms at the Sunday, All Saints Day celebration (I couldn't go because of the incense and my current asthma trouble).  Someone posted a photo of a previous infant Baptism on the church Facebook page.  They took the photo in mid-dunk, and it looks like the priest is holding the baby underwater.  

That's what prompted this post - remember, it's the first I've ever seen of that.  I know that the baby is lifted right out, generally crying, but the mid-dunk photo really weirds me out.  

Now, I'm not judging those who do practice infant, full-immersion baptism.  I'm just explaining why it weirds me out.  I know the baby isn't going to remember it later.  I enjoy seeing the baby after the Baptism is over, when the priest wraps the baby in a large towel and carries him/her around the Nave.  

That being said, however, the one thing that does anger me is when someone says to me, "What a good baby!" when the rare baby doesn't cry much after immersion.  Babies aren't "good" or "bad," they're just babies doing the natural things that babies do.  When people say that a baby is "good," what it really means is that the baby is convenient to the adults around them.  That's not a baby's purpose.


Seeking Understanding: “Church No More," a series at "The God Article"

A minister in Greensboro, NC, who has the blog, The God Article, is taking a three month sabbatical to understand those who are "spiritual but not religious."  In Ain't Goin' To Church No More, he explains:

I'm a preacher. I'm all wrapped up in the system. From the inside, it is truly difficult to gain perspective...

That's why I ain't goin' to church no more – for three months, that is...

Frankly, it feels weird/odd/relaxing/disjointed/freeing/wrong/good.

Why am I not going to church? Because a great deal of the people with whom I'd like to figure out how to be in ministry don't. They're not heathen. They're not un-spiritual. They're – well, just like me, except they have Sunday's off.

This is my hope for the next three months: I want to understand what it is that the “spiritual but not religious” like about not being in church AND I want to understand what I, a life long churchgoer, miss about not being in church. I'm also hoping that YOU will be in dialogue with me about this.

I'll be blogging my experience in a series called “Church No More” and I hope you'll follow along, make comments below each post and interact with me on the blog's Facebook page.

I'll be reading.  If the planets align, I may even comment (I haven't been commenting on blogs for a while.).

[The last few weeks, I've been writing posts but not finishing them.  This last week, I've thought about writing posts, but I haven't even started.  There's lots going on.]

[Hat tip to a friend on Facebook who linked to this.]

Church for the successful: Thoughts on "Spiritual but not religious"

But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

I just read two more blog posts criticizing those who don't go to church -not atheists or agnostics, but believers who consider themselves "spiritual, but not religious."

It's always amazing to me to see how criticized those people can be (I'll abbreviate as SBNR). 

Now, I don't really see what the problem is.  If person A is happy with their faith inside their church, and person B is happy with their faith outside a church, what harm is person B doing to person A?  This is what reminded me of Jefferson's quote on religion.  Person B is neither picking Person A's pocket nor breaking A's leg.  If person A is happy in their church, what problem is it for A that B isn't in one?!

Now, it is understandable that the authors of the posts I read today would both be offended at SBNRs and wouldn't understand them.  Both authors are priests so they're at the center of their communities.  They're successful at church.  Not only are SBNRs coming from a totally different angle, SBNRs are rejecting their brand.

Successful priests and ministers haven't sat in church looking at a sea of backs during the Sign of Peace.  They haven't failed socially and volunteer-wise. They aren't totally incompetent at church politics.

They haven't had questions go, not only unanswered, but unacknowledged.*

Not that everyone that feels like a failure at church actually gives up and leaves.

I haven't.

And people who are (or could be) successful at church can also be SBNRs.**

I feel a close kinship to SBNRs, which is why I get really irritated when they're attacked.  I understand feeling closer to God in nature.  I find that I'm the most challenged, both in my beliefs and how I live them out, by many things that I read.  There are lots of places outside of church to volunteer to help others.  I'm researching more of those now - ones that younger son (13 yo) and I can do together.   

I find a lot of disdain and and insider thinking in some (not all) religious posts about SBNRs.  SBNRs supposedly aren't "accountable to the community."  They're not challenged.  They don't sacrifice for others.  God is just an abstraction in their heads. 

Really?!  How many SBNRs do they actually know?  How many have they actually quietly listened to and understood?

I suppose that, if you spend most of your time in church and most of your social attachments are there, you may not understand that these things - challenge, sacrifice, accountability - also take place in communities outside church circles. 

Now, I'm writing this as a person who has been involved in church for the last thirty years.  I also have friends and relatives who are SBNRs - and with whom I can have long and challenging conversations about God, faith, and how to live out that faith.***

I've also watched and listened as people I know who have been involved in churches, often for decades, have stopped going. 

If one is successful at church - in leadership positions, with a network of church friends, challenged by the preaching and community, that's great. 

But, if you're this kind of a church "have," why condemn the "have-nots?"  Wouldn't you be happy enough with all that you have?   Why attack those who are not similarly blessed?  It often looks quite mean-spirited.

Going back to the beginning, if person A is in, why condemn person B who is not?

The only way I can understand is that, maybe, person A isn't totally happy in their church.  If A is grinning and bearing it, feeling like they're dragging through the drudgery of their church life, then I can see that A could be bitter about B's freedom.


*  Note that I say "successful" priests haven't.  I would think that priests and ministers who have experienced these things would be more understanding of others.

**  And, of course, SBNRs can find church just irrelevant to their spirituality. 

** You could also make a case that I'm an SBNR who goes to church, but that kind of muddies the definition, doesn't it?

Why I'm not returning to the Catholic Church anytime soon

A Catholic friend on Facebook asked her Protestant friends to answer in one sentence what is keeping them (or would keep them) from becoming Catholic. 

I answered in one word (which we'll get to later), but here's the rest of the essay.

I'm in the Episcopalian Church.  Am I Episcopalian?  Am I Protestant?



Sort of?

I will say that I'm an Episcopalian choir member.  That is familiar to me!  On the rare occasions that I do things outside of choir in the church, there are so many things that seem unfamiliar to me, or that I just don't share in.  I'd say that, cuturally, I'm not really Episcopalian. I don't know the dance steps, and I get them all wrong. 

Of course, you could say that, culturally, I'm Lutheran since I grew up in the Lutheran Church, but I haven't regularly gone since high school so I'm not really Lutheran.  I'm in the Episcopalian Church so I can't be Catholic, but the American Catholic Church culture is far more familiar to me since I was in it for 20 years.


For me, it's not just what would keep me from joining the Catholic Church, it's what would keep me from returning. 

It's a timely question in a way.  A few months ago, we went to daughter's Catholic church in Asheville.  In some ways, it felt like coming home.  Even though we'd never been at this parish before, it felt familiar in a way that our Episcopalian church - outside of choir - has never felt familiar.

Her church was also very warm and welcoming.  Everyone around us shook our hands at the Sign of Peace - even those that were separated by a pew or two.  The priest came up and talked to me afterwards!*  It was the longest conversation I've had with a priest in over twenty years! 

There was a part of me that felt... alive just as a member of the congregation in a way that I don't normally feel outside of choir (of course, choir is far better yet).

There are things I miss.  I miss the ease of volunteering for ministries (in the Catholic Church, there aren't all that many volunteers so ministries are almost never closed).  I miss the... feel, for lack of a better word, of a community oriented Catholic parish like daughter's.  I do know the steps there.  They may not always be natural to me, but at least I know what they are.  I miss the more concrete homilies.  I miss Father C's focus on God's Love. 

I miss regular Daily Mass.  Daily Services at the Episcopalian church wander all over the schedule so I never know how to try to fit them in from one month to the next. 

But I wouldn't go back at this point - not for a long time.  Why?

First:  The music.

The most common current American Catholic church music is referred to as "Folk music."  I'm very familiar with folk music, having steeped myself in it for thirty years.  What most of the Catholic churches use use is folk/pop - most often sounding like the songs are 60's and 70's vintage.  There was one new song that we sang at Mass once which was soooo 1970's Barry Manilow that I looked to the end to see if the music had his trademark upwards modulation.  It didn't - until the choir sang the chorus an additional time at the end and modulated upwards.  I couldn't keep from laughing. Dear husband and I looked at each other, and I burst out (quietly) with You know I can't smile without you.

Not to say that it's all bad.  There are a number of Catholic "folk" hymns that I like, but there are so many bad ones.  Also, for some reason, Catholics can't sing entire hymns.  They only sing selected verses ("But the hymn is only three verses long!  Why do we have to skip one?!"(Actual family quote)).

Classical musicians, or Catholics who like classical music, or those who even just want to improve the music that is there, are told to "offer it up."**  Now, I consider that offering up is a very important part of my prayer life, but, in this situation, it's just an admonishment to put up with it.  Catholic musicians can get very self-righteous about the "folk" music.  No, my dislike of Catholic "folk" music doesn't mean that I dislike folk music - which I love.  It doesn't even mean that I dislike 70's pop music.  I just dislike bad music.  It's a shame you have to fill your Church with it.

I did offer it up - for 20 years of lousy music.  There was one church where we joked about the cantata for choir versus cantor - which was basically how the music went.  That was also where I didn't volunteer to play the flute because I wouldn't know which of the four out-of-tune guitarists to try to tune with. 

In the Episcopalian church, I was so happy to find that there are numerous other hymns to sing in Advent besides Pre-e-e-pare ye the Way of the Lord.  As much as I love Pippin and Wicked (written by the same songwriter), I would be so happy to never hear that hymn again because of its Catholic Advent overuse.  It's okay the first 500 times through, but after that...

[Although, if we could sing it while splashing around in a fountain, as they do in the linked video, it would be more enjoyable, although cold in December.]

I figure I'll spend twenty years enjoying and singing beautiful church music, then, maybe, I'll reconsider.  After 20 years of wandering in the musical desert, I'm enjoying the oasis.

Also, I have no interest in leaving my current church.  I love singing in the choir.  Everybody is friendly, the music is wonderful, and the choir director is fantastic (he's also a composer and we get to sing his compositions!).  Even when older son graduates and if moves off, I'll still stay in choir. 

Second:  I wouldn't return to the Catholic Church in the next five to nine years because, although he was baptized in the Catholic Church by Father C, for the last nine years, younger son, has grown up in the Episcopalian church.  Now, culturally, he's less Episcopalian than I am.  He has no interest in learning the steps of the social dance.  However, when I mentioned this post to him, he said that he wouldn't want to join a Church where women couldn't be priests, and he remembers enough of the Catholic music (and has heard it recently) that he far prefers Episcopalian music. 

I was actually quite surprised at how strongly he felt about the music, but he's spent a lot of time in the choir room!

In the Catholic Church, he can't, and wouldn't, be able to receive Communion until he went through a year-long class.

Which brings me to the unpleasant subject of...

Sacramental preparation.

I went through Confirmation classes in the Lutheran Church.  I went through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) when I joined the Catholic Church.  I went through Baptism preparation for three children (although by the third, the Director of Religious Education jokingly asked if we wanted to help teach).  I sat through the parents' parts of older son's First Communion/First Reconciliation classes (and listened to his complaints about the kids's parts).  Daughter had the same classes in a different parish.  I went through JIF (Journey in Faith) when we joined the Episcopalian church, and older son went through the teen Confirmation version. 

For the first part of the session, teens and adults were together.  Older son only had to poke me to wake me up once.

I don't think I have the patience for another round of Sacramental Prep.  The only ones that I found useful were RCIA when I joined the Catholic Church, and daughter's First Communion/First Reconciliation class.  They were the ones that, not only had a good deal of concrete information, they also had enough interaction to get questions answered.***  I don't find that the Preparation classes usually go in depth enough for me - or for my kids.  Older son was patient with the confirmation class that didn't have time for teens to question, but I knew that daughter wouldn't have any patience with that. She decided that she would join a church as an adult. 

Younger son is even more critical of classes than daughter and I are.  I didn't think that was possible! 

Third:  At this point, I'm at home when I go to choir and when I sing in the choir on Sundays.  I finished the second half of this post after getting home from choir.  I'll miss everyone in the choir in a few weeks as it ends for the summer, and I'll look forward to seeing them all again in the fall.  As much as I enjoyed visiting daughter's Catholic parish, I have no drive to leave the Episcopalian Church or to return to the Catholic Church myself.  I've gotten to like the familiar rhythms of the Episcopalian church.  I love the beauty of the services.  It's not just the big things - I'd miss the trees I see out the window opposite the choir section.  Older son, younger son, and I all agree that it would be so difficult to lose the beautiful Episcopalian music.  The two of them are so firm on the subject that, if I ever returned, it would be solo, and I don't want that.


*  I'm used to priests talking to dear husband, but he was in the restroom.  The priest was actually talking to me!

** For those of you non-Catholics, this means offering up your sufferings as a prayer.

***  For me, both information and interaction are necessary for a good Sacramental Prep. class.  Older son's First Communion class was very interactive, but had very little that was concrete beyond "God loves flowers."  JIF had lots of information, and a wonderful small group section, but there was never any time to get questions answered (We came up with LOTS of questions in our small group). 

Really?! I can't picture it.

I recently read Art of Stress-Free Living as part of my ongoing project to keep my blood pressure down naturally.  The introduction started out with various examples of the effects that stress produces on the body.  The book was going along fine until, on page 18, the author said:

Mounting evidence suggests that any number of soothing emotional experiences can improve our physical health.

So far so good.  That makes sense.

Then the author went on to say:

At Duke University, researchers have found that religious observance is associated with lower rates of illness and hospitalization. 


Now, if it meant that religious observance gave you a healthier diet or maybe helped you be more disciplined in exercising, I could understand that. 

However, the paragraph goes on to discuss optimism and the relaxation response.  Why would religious observance be in a paragraph that starts out discussing "soothing emotional experiences?!"

The only soothing things I've ever found about churches are daily Mass/daily services and Compline.  Neither are part of regular religious observances.

Why would religious observances be mentioned at all in a book about being "stress-free," or even about just reducing stress?

What's the first thing you do on a Sunday morning? - okay, besides yell at your kids to get out of bed because they'll MAKE YOU LATE!!!!!!

Figure out what you're going to wear.  What are the right clothes?  If you're the sort that dresses church-y all week, you're in luck.  If you're the sort who feels like a drag queen when you put on a dress, you're not.  Church also depends on healthy feet and legs.  The sorts of shoes appropriate for church clothes rarely are good if you have feet/knee/hip problems.  Given my knee surgery and my past history of sprained ankles, I wear running shoes most of the time.  Those aren't appropriate for church.  After my knee surgery, however, I totally gave up on dress shoes.  I now go halfway - I wear jazz dance shoes to church.  They have more support but don't look as sports-y.  They still don't look church-y, though.

I've failed before I've even left the house.

At least my kids are older so, when they go, it's not stressful.  When they were younger?!  Older son had colic for 4 months.  At least he could be distracted by toys and books from a fairly young age.  Daughter wouldn't sit still at all after she learned how to crawl.  By the time the first hymn had ended, I was already at the back of the church (after turning her away from the front a few times) trying to keep her from disassembling the Virgin Mary alcove.  We were really bad Catholics and finally gave up on Mass for about 18 months.  Church with small kids is definitely not stress reducing!

Along with missing Mass that year, there are so many parts of religious observances that I have failed. 

Church politics?

Epic fail.  I'm no good at politics.


I have to turn off half of my personality* to get by at any church.  I find it somewhere between difficult and impossible to get beyond acquaintance-ship at churches.  I already failed at being involved in community at church so there's no reason to waste time on that again - either trying it or writing about it. 


I have two Sunday School dropouts and one who never went to Sunday School.  Also, one of them, the one who's never liked loud groups of strangers, dropped out of Vacation Bible School partway through. None of them had any interest in the tween/teen programs,** and I'm not the sort to push my kids into activities.  Bad church mother.***

Volunteer expectations?

I'm no good at (or just plain not interested in) the traditional things women are supposed to do at church.  I'm not patient enough to teach Sunday school (tried twice and hated it failed), and, quite frankly, I'm not interested in following somebody elses' curriculum.  I'm not much for cooking either.  Why don't we all just bring bag lunches?

Actually, I failed at that too.  The last time I went to a church event  where people brought bag lunches, most of them picked theirs up at Whole Foods or some other restaurant.  I just brought a sandwich, fruit, and carrots from home. 

Of course, I haven't even gotten to the teachings of churches.  There's all sorts of stress and failure there.  There has to be.  They want you to change what you're doing, and the easiest way is to guilt you into it.  Every denomination does it. 

Well, except for Father C's homilies because he focused on God's unconditional love for us.

Bizarre. I've never heard another preacher like that.

Choir is the exception to my experience of failure at church.  I've realized, particularly this summer in the musical, that I know where I'm supposed to be, I can sight-sing, and I can sing in tune and in harmony.  That is valuable, even if I'm not a high soprano.  I've also enjoyed church far more since I joined choir. 

That doesn't totally help, though, because I've failed at everything else I've done at church besides choir.  The building itself reminds me of my failure.  Just driving by any church that I've been a member of, either makes my blood pressure go up, or it makes me realize that I'm more relaxed because it's not Sunday.

Stress city.

I finally concluded that the health benefit of religious observances must be for those who naturally fit in to churches.  If you feel you're doing all your church requires, if you're raising your kids the same way as other church members, behave similarly in political ways, volunteer traditionally, and dress appropriately, I can see that the sense of in-ness and feeling like you have your place could be very soothing.


* The questioning, expressive part.

** ... except for daughter asking (repeatedly because I wasn't giving good enough answers) what the preteen/teen groups are for for:  "We already saw everyone at church on Sunday morning, and we'll be back on Wednesday for children's choir.  Why would I go again on Sunday afternoon?  How will I see my school-going neighbors that way?"

*** Well, I'm a bad church mother compared to what one is supposed to do with kids at church.  Interestingly, the results as adults have not been what one might expect, given my badness.  Older son has a few unusual attitudes towards church, but he's a dedicated choir member - and occasionally the solo bass.  Daughter started going to Mass again the first month of her freshman year at UNC-A and was confirmed last Easter.  Younger son and I are enjoying daily services again now that things have calmed down after our busy summer. 

Enjoying church

2011_04_14_3913cs At one quiet point during the daily service on Tuesday, I realized that I was enjoying church.  That's not surprising during a daily service.  I've enjoyed daily services and daily Masses since dear husband and I used to go to daily Mass at the convent at St. Leo's in Winston-Salem - back when I was in college. 

The surprising realization was that I currently enjoy everything I do at church - daily services, choir rehearsal, and singing at Sunday services.  My only problem with church is that my voice hasn't allowed me to be there as often as I wanted this spring. 

Let me back up.  When we first started going to church, we went to an Evangelical Presbyterian church.  It was the sort of place where you were expected to be there as often as possible, and we were.  Sunday school and services on Sunday morning, Prayer and Praise on Sunday evening, guest visitation another evening, Wednesday evening programs, women's group, small group, etc.  Along with Sunday morning, we were there Sunday evening through Thursday evening. 

Did I enjoy these things?

No.  I enjoyed the Sunday services, learned a bit at the adult Sunday School, but, if I'd been doing what I wanted, rather than what was expected, I would have stopped there.  It was always a rush to get my work done for college because evenings were all taken up.  The orchestra at Wake Forest University met on Wednesday evening.  I never even tried out for it. 

I'm not one to sit around regretting the past, but, if there's one thing that I've done that I could change, it would be to go back and never have joined that church at all.  I look at all the things that daughter is involved with in college, and I really regret not having taken advantage of opportunities when I was in college.  Wake Forest was the last of the three universities I went to as an undergraduate, and I never even made any friends there.*  I only went to classes.

We went to the large, crowded, and noisy (exhausting for me) Wednesday evening dinners because that was part of being a Christian.  We volunteered for all sorts of things because that was part of being a Christian.  We taught Sunday School, even though I hate having to discipline other people's kids, because that was part of being a Christian.  By the end of the school year, we were barely on time for Sunday School because I dreaded it so much that I didn't get out of bed until the last minute.

Do you know that girls, on the whole, potty train a bit earlier?  I spent a good bit of the second half of the year in the bathroom with potty-training, two year old girls.  Some of them liked to read books on the potty.  Except for the whole sitting-on-the-disgusting-bathroom-floor aspect, that part actually wasn't so bad. 

Except for the Presbyterian pastor saying that we must be under the influence of the devil because we were switching to the Catholic Church, it was a relief to join the Catholic Church.  Yes, some priests emphasize the whole guilt-by-birth-control part, but most priests never even mention it.**  Catholic churches seem to feel lucky to get any volunteers at all so there wasn't any pressure to be there every evening during the week. 

We did get involved in various things at church, but, overall, we had more time.  At this point, I was working and dear husband was in college.  That's when we really got into hiking, camping, backpacking, folk music, going to concerts, actually making friends and having them over to dinner, etc. - all the things we didn't have time for before.

Once we had kids, our involvement varied.  We did children's liturgy for a few years (alternating with others so it wasn't every Sunday).  I still hated trying to keep other people's kids in line, but at least it only took place during the readings, the sermon, and the prayers of the people then we could send the kids back to their parents. 

The biggest drawback, for me was the music.  Catholic music was changing in that time, and, after the first few years, in most of the Catholic Masses we went to, the music varied from mediocre to dreadful - except for a year when one church had a fantastic choir director.  Really, I would have preferred to have Masses without music at all. 

When we joined our current Episcopalian church (with fantastic music, though that's not why we joined), we tried to get over-involved again.  We were there too many nights, there were too many attempts at socializing, and I was back to just enjoying Sunday services.   We spent almost no time with friends and very little time with relatives. 

[One aspect of churches that I've always enjoyed which I haven't mentioned yet is any sort of small (discussion) group involvement.  This was one of the only things I enjoyed in the Presbyterian church, it happened occasionally in the Catholic churches, and it happened in the program to join the Episcopalian Church.  I love discussing faith, but I'm always amazed at how little that happens at churches unless we're involved in something formal like a small group.]

Something strange happened at our current church, though.  All the things I volunteered for that I didn't really want to volunteer for but I did anyway because it seemed to be expected? - I was turned down.  They had enough volunteers and didn't need any more.  This made me feel horribly guilty for a while because I wasn't "contributing."  The guilt was particularly bad during stewardship season when the preaching really emphasized getting involved.  I finally started skipping church during those months - until one year when older son mentioned that the sermons weren't like that anymore.

Eventually, I volunteered (again***) for the choir, and it worked.  Right now, I'm one of only two second sopranos.  I do feel like I'm contributing.

My behavior towards myself, church-wise, has been very different than my behavior towards my kids.  I have dragged myself to all sorts of things at church because I'm "supposed to" as a Christian.  On the other hand, we've always focused on what the kids want from a church.  Do they want to try Sunday School?  Fine.  Do they want to go back to homeschooling instead?  Fine.  What do they want to be involved in?  We've always wanted church involvement to be a positive thing for them instead of a chore. 

Older son absolutely loves choir.  He almost never misses it.  Last fall, at college, daughter decided to go back to the Catholic Church, and she joined it at the Easter Vigil last Saturday.  I was surprised, because she was the one who was the happiest at having women as priests and deacons in the Episcopalian church.  I was less surprised when I found out that the Catholic church she attends in Asheville is about as liberal as a parish can be without getting in trouble (and more liberal than our Episcopalian church).  She's also been really encouraged by the Catholic student group there. 

Younger son?  When dear husband stopped going to the Episcopalian church, I didn't really feel that I could require the younger kids to keep going.  Sunday worship has always been the one thing that we did emphasize, church-wise, although we always tried to find a church that the kids could enjoy.  However, it seemed somehow hypocritical to make them go when he didn't. 

Although we still discuss faith, both as a part of everyday life and as part of our homeschooling, younger son hasn't had the regular church attendance that the older two did at his age.  This fall, we started going to daily noon services every few weeks (they're not held every week and sometimes with the rest of our schedule).  It turns out that he loves them!  He hates crowds and likes the peaceful, shorter service (though he does miss the music).  During the consecration, we all gather around the altar, which is a very special experience. 

I realized, at the daily service on Tuesday, that I was happy in what I'm doing at church.


On Wednesdays and Sundays, I get to sing in the choir with a wonderful group of people.  In between, there are other non-choir people that I'm happy to see.  Occasionally, during the week, I get to sit with younger son at a peaceful, meditative, daily service, which he actually enjoys!

It's been a few years since I've felt like I have to drag myself to church.



*  I went to MIT and UNC School of the Arts as an atheist so I had the time to make friends. 

** Trying to live up to Natural Family Planning brought us immeasureably closer to divorce than anything else has ever done.

*** I tried to be in the choir when we first joined but, because Wednesdays were so busy from morning until evening, I usually had a migraine by the time choir started.

Blog recommendation: Introverted Church

I'm at low ebb this evening, and I wasn't going to blog at all (my voice has been weak for a few months now, it almost totally disappeared at choir tonight, and I have an audition in a week!).  I wasn't even going to bother reading other blogs, but I have to pass the time until I can go to bed since I end up with insomnia if I try to go to sleep too early.

Then I read a post that I loved at Introverted Church, the blog of Adam S. McHugh, whose book Introverts in the Church intrigues me, though I haven't had a chance to read it yet.  As I wrote in a previous post, it often feels to me like being extroverted is a prerequisite for being Christian.  A whole book about being an introvert at church (written by a minister!!!) sounds like it would make being a Christian less discouraging.

The main point of this post isn't about introverts, though.  That paragraph was just an introduction. 

In his latest post, On Blog Traffic, Controversies, and Self-Promotion, Pastor McHugh writes about not having a "big" blog like some other well-known Christian authors:

...Yet sometimes I think I should work to attract more readers, especially when I compare myself to other Christian writers with hugely popular blogs.

Honestly, it would be really easy to do.  The secret? Take sides on controversies...

He has decided not to do so, and I liked his first reason (about not discussing the "Rob Bell/John Piper skirmish" (which I know nothing about)) so much that I decided to blog anyway:

...I almost always see the merit in both sides of the argument and value the contributions of both sides. John Piper was my favorite pastor and writer during college and early seminary. He introduced me to the theology and life of Jonathan Edwards, and he taught me that passion and intellect are not mutually exclusive. Rob Bell has been my favorite preacher for the past 3 years. He asks provocative questions that always leave me thinking, he makes me laugh, and he gives me an emotional sense of the transforming and healing presence of God. I don't agree with everything either one of them says, but I am grateful for both of them. I refuse to wear a Team Rob or Team John t-shirt. I'm going with Team Jesus, who loves both of them and is transforming both of them into his image...

The highlighting on that quote is mine.  That is the attitude I'm aiming at, although I have a long way to go.

Read the rest here.  I've also added his blog to my sidebar.

The priesthood in light of Hamletta

Daughter was in a teen production of Hamlet a few months ago.  The whole thing is run by teens - the board of directors, the production director, the casting, everything.   The group isn't affiliated with any high school.

Hamlet has mostly male characters, and, this winter, this group didn't have enough guys for this production (and also wanted more opportunities for girls).  Daughter played six different male parts.  Many other parts, including Horatio, the gravediggers, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, were also played by young women. 

The first thing that daughter was told was "to learn how to walk like you have balls."*  This was as straightforward a production of Hamlet as they could do, given their cast.

Another local group, also run by teens, is** Athena's Train.  They put on one Shakespearean play every summer, and the group is for girls under 18.  They also do the plays in a fairly straightforward manner - the girls playing men have their hair up and are wearing relatively masculine clothes. 

I've seen plenty of Shakespeare performed by young women so I'm actually fairly used to it.  However, I was wondering today what would be changed if Hamlet were really Hamletta?


Livia If you really did switch the genders in Hamlet, what would you have?  Hamletta, wants to revenge the death of her mother, the queen, at the hands of her evil aunt, Claudia.  Of course, you would keep the characters as intense as in the original.  Think of Hamletta's mother maybe as a Queen Elizabeth-type character.  I picture Claudia played by Sian Phillips (the capable, and quite deadly, Livia in I Claudius, pictured right). 

Even if the characters are just as intense, good, evil, pompous - whatever their characteristics, the play would have a different feel when switching genders.  The friendship between Hamletta and Horatia would be different than that of Hamlet and Horatio.  The love between Hamletta and Oaf, who eventually drowns himself, would have a different character than the original. 

This is not to say that there aren't women who can be more "masculine" than men, and I'm sure there are men who can be more feminine than I am.  However, even though we've made great strides towards equality, overall, there's still a different quality to what men and women do. 

The new play, Hamletta would not only be about the story of the princess, it would also be about the switching of the genders.  That would become a major element and theme of the play itself.  If Hamlet had originally been written as Hamletta, that would be another matter.  It would have always had that quality or feeling.  However, changing genders, after the story is so well known, brings the gender changing to the foreground. 

This brings me to the priesthood.  I'm speaking only of the priesthood in Catholic or Episcopalian terms since the method and meaning of leading a congregation varies from denomination to denomination.

The rationale behind the all-male Catholic priesthood, and behind Episcopalians/Anglicans who don't agree with a female priesthood, reflects some of the same elements as the gender changing in Hamletta.  One of the biggest arguments for an all-male priesthood is that the priest symbolically stands for Christ.  Since Jesus is a Man, then the priest must be a man. 

[You know, you could probably write a blog post about the meaning of the capitalization and non-capitalization of "man" in that last sentence.]

Based on Hamlet/Hamletta, I could see that Man/man match - only if that really encompassed all of what being a priest means.  If the only function of a priest was to symbolize Jesus, then a female priest would imply a woman being scourged and crucified at the hands of the Romans.  It would give all the Biblical stories, at the very least, a subtle difference.  What would be different about, for example, a woman at a well asking for water and discussing a (woman's? man's?) five spouses. Would the disciples have been men or women?  Piera thrice denying a woman is different than Peter denying Jesus because relationships between women, in general, work differently than relationships between men. 

A woman doing any of these things would have a vastly different quality than a Man doing them.  

However, the symbolic nature of a priest, even in the most conservative Catholic or Episcopalian church, is only a very small part of being a priest.  When you're at a service or a Mass, are you really thinking of the symbolic nature of the priest - even when they're reciting the Eucharistic prayer?  Maybe you are, but I'm certainly not.  I'm usually trying to focus on the prayer, and, if I'm focusing on the priest at all, I'm focusing on how the priest reads the words, or, in a more formal Mass/service, how they're singing the words. 

I started there because I would think that the Eucharistic prayer would be the center of the priest's symbolic role.  In the rest of the Mass or service the priest is preaching, leading worship, discussing the important parts of the bulletin, stressing out about whether things are going right, etc.  Beyond that, the priest is an administrator, counselor, and leader.  While some people may be more comfortable with men in all of these non-symbolic roles, women can do them just as well.  It all depends on the gifts of the individual priest.

While I can, in a limited sense, understand the opposition to a female priesthood in the light of Hamletta, the reality is that a priest's symbolic function is only a small part of their role so I can't agree with that opposition.  I'm glad the Episcopalian Church has women as priests. 

[Bringing this back to the teen production of Hamlet - one of the male roles that daughter played was the priest.]


*  Of course, we had lots of fun discussing this!

** Or maybe it's "was."  I haven't been able to find out anything about them past about 2008. 

Thoughts on Holy Week

2010_03_27_2808s During Holy Week, I had to work hard to not have any expectations of myself - internally, at least - no expectations to feel or look at things a certain way.  Externally, of course, being in the choir, I had places to be and things to do.

  • Palm/Passion Sunday:  I don't remember Palm Sunday also being Passion Sunday in the Lutheran Church when I was growing up.  I understand why the two are put together, but I always have the feeling that Palm Sunday gets glossed over, and that there is more to get out of it than just being the introduction to the service.

During the reading of the Passion, I was struck again by the words of the criminal crucified with Jesus, and with Jesus's response: 

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23: 39 - 43)

What does that mean?  I know - I can see the literal words.  But what is it that just went on between Jesus and the criminal?  Nobody else in any of the Gospels gets that kind of response - "...today, you will be with me in Paradise."

On second thought, I'm not sure I want an explanation.  It's beautiful the way it is.

For the Palm Sunday anthem, we sang When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, but with different music than I'm used to.  I spent the rehearsals working on getting the notes so the words didn't really hit me until we ran through it one more time in the nave before the service started.  

...See from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown...

I got all teary during the third verse - hopefully, anyone who noticed assumed it was allergies.

Okay, since I got teary during the run-through, I'd be fine during the service, right?!  Unfortunately, I did the same thing while we were singing during the service, although I held out until the final verse.  I just kept my nose buried in the music so no one would see. 
  • Maundy Thursday:  I've never been to a Maundy Thursday Mass or service - not in 20 years in the Catholic Church or 7 in the Episcopalian Church.  There are many reasons including that my voice can't hold out for four days of intense singing and that the foot-washing idea weirds me out.  
I realized that in a way, this doesn't make much sense for me.  Yes, the foot washing bothers me, but Maundy Thursday also celebrates the beginning of the Eucharist, which is central to my faith.
  • Good Friday:  I teared up here too; I always do. 
We had the Bishop preaching all week.  He's probably the most charismatic preacher I've ever heard. This sermon was encouraging - about how Jesus came to make us into family - but, after thinking about it, it seemed very unrealistic.  Just look at what's been going on in the Catholic Church or the splitting up of the Episcopalian Church.  I don't think Jesus came to make us into a dysfunctional family. 

The anthem was Crucifixion by Adolphus Hailstork. It's a powerful piece and more rhythmically interesting than a lot of choral music (click here to listen to a bit).
  • Easter Vigil:  It was an uplifting, energetic, inspiring service.  I was totally wrapped up and carried away.  This led me to wonder, however, whether this means that I'm re-growing a bit in faith, or does it just mean that I was carried away by the theatricality of the evening (which is quite dramatic). 
I particularly liked the part of the Bishop's sermon which discussed Mary Magdalene and her role.  He emphasized that she never saw things quite the same way as the others - that she was always out of step. 

Obviously, I'd like a sermon where someone being out of step is still okay. 
  • Easter morning:  We started with my absolutely favorite hymn of all time, Jesus Christ is Risen Today.  The anthem also was wonderful - The Angel Rolled the Stone Away (unfortunately, I can't find a good recording online).
I also realized another reason for not going to the Maundy Thursday service.  I'm not extroverted enough to add another service to these four days!! I was blitzed by the time we finished lunch.  We had a quiet afternoon, and I'm going to have a quiet day tomorrow. 

[Photo:  Bloodroot buds at the Greensboro Arboretum]

Eucharistic Prayer C and also a performance at the Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace

2010_03_15_2300s My voice is gradually returning, and I went back to church (and sang!) for the first time since my series of posts on faith (and the first time in over six weeks).  I decided that I wasn't going to expect anything in particular of myself at church.  For instance, instead of trying hard to get some lesson from today's Gospel, or trying to react to it properly, I just said to myself, "Neat - a story about Jesus."  I also allowed myself to just have whatever opinions I had, rather than trying to turn off my opinions. 

My strongest opinion was in reaction to the Eucharistic Prayer.  They used, I think, Eucharistic Prayer C, which I'm not very familiar with.  I didn't care for it because it didn't seem very focused, and (as you saw if you read my long series of faith posts) I could use some focus right now.

However, I looked up Eucharistic Prayer C this evening.  The first website I ran across, Blogula Rasa, which mentioned it, referred to it as The "Star Trek" Eucharistic Prayer* because of how it begins:

God of all power, Ruler of the Universe
you are worthy of glory and praise.
Glory to you for ever and ever.
At your command all things came to be:
the vast expanse of interstellar space,
galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being...
(click here for the complete Eucharistic Prayer)

Blogula Rasa also says:

It’s also known as “Star Trek” because it invokes “galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,” and I always loved hearing it. We also used it whenever there was a NASA shuttle mission “up.”

...which gives me a different feel for it. 

In keeping with this theme, here's a performance at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. [Hat tip to a friend who posted this on Facebook]


* Actually some churches even refer to it that way in their bulletins.

[Photo from last weekend of St. Phillip's Church in Charleston, SC]