Monday, June 10, 2013

Thoughts of a recovering Catholic

I was born and bred Roman Catholic and was taught way back then that ‘once a Catholic, always a Catholic.’  

I must admit that there are days I still feel Catholic, but in my heart of hearts I know I’m not.  That’s not to say my upbringing has been uprooted and I am free from what I was taught as a kid.  That kind of thing runs deep and still informs the fabric of who I am. 

I bring this up today because of a request for a financial gift I got the other day from my Catholic high school alma mater.  Such a request isn’t new.  I get one a few times a year.  And I’ve written checks a few times.  Not much.  Twenty-five bucks here.  Fifty bucks there. 

But now I’m not sure if I can continue sending them money. 

First off, let me say how grateful I am for the education I got at Carroll High School here in Dayton back in the 1960s.  I learned how to write pretty well in the classes of Mr. Hemmert, Sr. Mary Christopher, and Sr. Marie Irene.  I know I learned about social responsibility in those Vietnam years while working at Dakota Street Center on Saturday mornings and tutoring one afternoon a week in a Dayton public school.  I was proud to be a member of the school’s Backyard Peace Corps.  Civil rights for all Americans was pretty new back then and I felt strongly that we celebrated such progress in every class where we talked about such things.  I think the school staff trained me to be a leader and I am very grateful for that. 

It was a time in the Catholic church, too, when centuries-old practices were being rethought and restructured.  The mass went from Latin to English just before I got to high school and we were re-taught that not just Catholics would make it to heaven.  I felt pretty good about the direction of the church back then. 

But now I’m not so sure. 

You see, the Catholic church has a thing about accepting sinners after the sin.  As a divorced and remarried person, I am not welcome to participate in mass at the communion rail.  I changed my mind, got divorced, then remarried. That means I am not welcome to share the body and blood of Jesus because I am living in sin.  I’ve often ‘joked’ with friends that if I were a murderer and confessed that sin, I’d be forgiven and free to act as a full member of the church.  I might be going to mass in prison, but I’d be forgiven and embraced in the body of Christ.  Divorced and remarried?  Not so much.  

And then last week I read that in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, teacher contracts are being rewritten so that if a single woman becomes pregnant, she can be fired for violating a morality clause.  Guys?  Likewise, not so much.  

And how about priests messing with kids?  To be fair, the church is intolerant of such behavior these days, but for years those men were merely shuffled off to another parish.  When I was in college, I sought out a priest for counseling after a particularly tough break-up with a girlfriend.  After a few hours talking, I was feeling better, but it was pretty late.  The guy invited me to stay over and even offered me a spot in his bed.  He jumped in nude and invited me to do the same.  I declined, thought it a bit unusual, but survived the night with my virginity intact.  When it became known of this priest’s affinity for boys, his order shipped him off to be a chaplain in the US Army.  Talk about a guy being given a key to a candy store.  

I can forgive the church for its mishandling of pedophile priests.  It took bishops too long to act, but I think church people of good intentions are trying to set things right.  At least I hope so.  

Then a week or two ago, to add to my unease, I got an email from a Carroll graduate who has served as alumni president who encouraged me to send letters to Congress encouraging our national leaders to exempt the church from offering employees birth control in their health insurance programs.  It has something to do with religious liberty, I was informed.  But isn’t it some of those same representatives, like Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a proud Catholic, who want to cut benefits to those in need but can’t find a way to protect us from gun violence by requiring background checks at gun shows?  

Somewhere in the process of absorbing all this, I am having difficulty opening my checkbook to support an organization that from my point of view is way too politically conservative.  When I was a kid, I would say my church and school were more liberal in embracing ‘the other’ in a changing world.  Now I sense Catholic organizations have reinstalled their pre-Vatican II blinders to hold more righteous positions regarding personal freedoms and choice.   

The Catholic church is as male dominated today as it has always been.  Women are not accepted as equals, and even if an organization of nuns presses for equality, American bishops can disband the group or put some man in charge to keep those women in line.  Gays in committed relationships are living in sin, too, you know.  Birth control is unacceptable as is artificial insemination.   Can’t have a child?  You can’t pursue medical assistance at a fertility clinic.  You and your spouse are pretty much stuck, but feel free to pray for God’s divine intervention.  

‘Right to life’ is the official position of the Roman Catholic church.  Unborn life is sacred.  I don’t disagree with that, but what makes human life so special?  Isn’t all life sacred?  Not so much.  Drowning unwanted cats?  No problem.  Women taking a pill to plan for the children they will raise?  Unacceptable and sinful.

I am still a church goer, but now am an Episcopalian.  Some joke that the Episcopal church is ‘Catholic light.’  We do, in fact, use the Nicene creed in liturgy and so say that we believe in ‘the holy catholic church.’  For us that means universal, not exclusive. Gays and lesbians are welcomed in our churches in full membership.  Our church ordains women.  Shoot, our national presiding bishop is the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.  Not all Anglicans agree with the American branch of the church today, but they supported slavery back in the day, too.  But they came around.  

Until the Catholic church does, I’m afraid I’m done writing checks to further the influence of a high school that promotes its narrow conservative practices.  My idea of Jesus is as a prophet who embraced all, not excluding those who didn’t have the proper authenticated membership card.  Where I go to church, we have a saying, ‘Don’t check your brain at the door.’  That’s where I need to be.

Today’s elder idea: 
This is my simple religion.
There is no need for temples, 
no need for complicated philosophy.

Our own brain, 
our own heart is our temple.
The philosophy is kindness. 

Tenzin Gyatso
The 14th Dalai Lama

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sci fi & humanity

I’ve been a fan of reading science fiction since I was in grade school when I found a copy of Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel at the Belmont library.  Some time after that I stumbled upon various Arthur C. Clarke novels and soon found him to be my favorite.  And when CBS had Clarke join Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra on set for live coverage of Apollo flights, including the moon landing, my liking of his approach to science and fiction grew.  

Of course, just about the time of all those amazing Apollo flights, Gene Roddenberry cranked out a couple of seasons of Star Trek -- complete in front of plywood sets -- and my affection for science fiction was set for life.  Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Checkov became heroes of mine.

But something has changed in science fiction over the last ten to twenty years that leaves me pretty disappointed.  

The thing I liked best about Clarke was that his fiction was really based on science.  Distances, orbits, and complications of space travel were key components to his stories that then added human elements that made for truly engaging reading.  When 2001: A Space Odyssey was made into a movie my senior year in high school, I can remember walking home from the DaBel theater really pumped, while my girlfriend was totally confused by the whole affair.  I didn’t quite understand everything Stanley Kubrick and Clarke tried to do in the movie, but it somehow made some kind of mystical sense that really got my blood pumping.  I still like the idea that when the good spaceship Discovery moved through space, long exterior shots were completely silent.  These days when I see space movies, vehicles out there make huge rocket noise -- when in fact there is not sound in airless space.  

I was pleased, too, to see new Star Trek series make it to television.  When we were first married, Cindy Lou and I often spent two hours a weeknight with dinner in front of the tv together:  the first hour watching Little House on the Prairie, the second watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation.   I liked Voyager well enough, and Deep Space Nine, but I think Enterprise became my favorite Trek spin-off for the same reasons I ended up liking Arthur C. Clarke so much:  it seemed plausible and, well, hopeful.  

What disappoints me so much today is the extreme violence included in science fiction.  Enterprise, with Captain Archer at the helm, was about the first human folks setting out for space with the help of cautious space-savvy Vulcans along in a supervisory role.  Sure, there were firefights, but the episodes I liked best were about Earth-folk making contact with other civilizations.  It was the problem-solving humanity of the crew that enticed me to watch to see how all would turn out.  

A few years ago, cable television created a Syfy channel.  Great, I thought.  A whole network devoted to my favorite type of fiction.  But after only a few seasons, it became obvious that what Syfy thought was science fiction, I thought was  horror.  Tonight’s prime time presentation is from a series called Defiance with an episode paraphrased as ‘Down in the ground where dead men go.’  

Sorry, zombie shit isn’t what I call science fiction.  

And as much as I liked this summer’s newest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, it revolves way too much around huge blow-em-up events for my taste.  Gene Roddenberry’s original idea of humanity discovering others in space has been reduced to the basic elements of Hollywood blockbuster destruction movies.  And what was released last week that qualifies as science fiction?  Will Smith’s After Earth and Brad Pitt’s World War Z.  Do you see the pattern?  

I am drawn to this topic today because of a preview I saw at Into Darkness of the upcoming holiday release of Ender’s Game, a novel written by Orson Scott Card.  In my search for good science fiction years ago, I bought a copy of Ender’s Game on a recommendation.  I tried to read it, but gave up after just a couple of chapters because I just couldn’t get into it.  With the movie coming out, though, I thought I’d give it one more try. 

This time I couldn’t put it down.  And last night I started book two of the series, Speaker for the Dead.   

True, there’s plenty of death and destruction in Ender’s Game, but it is an engaging story of kids put in unnatural situations where they bond and become able to accomplish things the adult world could not.  Sounds like Stephen King, now that I think about it.  And Jaden Smith in After Earth.  And heroic kids in Hunger Games.  

I’ve got copies of Isaac Asimov and Ursula Le Guin on my sci fi shelf.  I’m liable to try them next to see how I do.  If the truth be told, I’m not a very good reader.  If the story doesn’t grab me quick, I have a tendency to put it down and watch baseball or Rachel Maddow instead.  They keep my interest better.  

I’ll miss the late Arthur C. Clarke’s unwritten stories of we Terrans trying to make sense of our finding probes sent by civilizations light years away trying to make contact with whomever they find.  

I wonder what will happen when some consciousness in some distant star system locates our Voyager 1 or Voyager 2 drifting in space, complete with explanatory plaques?  I hope my great great great grandkids then will know how to be friendly -- and human.  

Today’s elder idea:  Years ago while teaching, I can remember talking to students about a short story I loved and most of them were bored with.  I invited them to pick it up again when they were older for another try.  So it was with me and Ender’s Game.  I’m glad I listened to my own advice.