Friday, May 16, 2014

City Slicker Catholicism

An unfortunate side effect of all the years I've been blogging as a Catholic - which is now almost six years - is that I run pretty much every Catholic experience and scenario I encounter through the lens of either the Catholic homeschoolers and/or the Traditional Catholics. I consider this state of affairs the equivalent to an unwanted illness, but at minimum this compulsion probably makes for good blogging.

For example, take this past weekend.

We were in northern Wisconsin on a little getaway, because the one-year anniversary of my Mom dying was basically Mother's Day weekend, and I just wanted to be somewhere else. Our location wasn't too far north, being about two and a half hours northwest of Milwaukee, but still in an area that people in Wisconsin would consider "up nort."

Naturally, being there for Mother's Day, we were faced with finding a mass to go to on Sunday. We've been in this location many times before, and quite frankly, the one Catholic church that represents the population of 6000 or so isn't our cup of tea. (I once blogged about the creepy decor at this church on the old blog.)  Plus their one Sunday mass time wasn't working out with being served breakfast at a B&B.

So this time, we tried something new and ventured about 20 miles further to a Catholic church in a town with a population of about 1900 people. Note that this church, too, had only one Sunday mass time. What we ended up with was an Indian priest (that we could understand fairly well) saying mass in a mid-1960's architectural church. Some elements of decor inside were traditional, but many more were modernist post-Vatican II. Before the mass readings, the kids were excused to go to kids' church, and we let Alan go because we were just visiting and he was driving us nuts anyway.

All good so far, right? I mean, at least in the sense of being an American Catholic parish.

But during the Eucharistic rite it happened. When the priest raised the consecrated host - and again when he raised the cup - he paused in silent reverence.....then started singing (with the whole congregation) a short sing-songy song about loving and adoring Jesus. Not once, but twice. Totally against any Church rubrics that exist, even while the words of the little song were beautiful and were completely intended to foster in people the idea that the Eucharistic Lord is present and to be adored. The little song went something like "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I adore you. Lay my life before you. How I love you."

It's at these moments that my husband and I will shoot each other a knowing look born more of surprise than of judgement. These looks betray our uncomfortableness at not having expected what happened and being weirded out at not knowing what to do when faced with innovations.

But this time, yeah, even though I was supposed to be engrossed in the sacrifice of the mass, here's the judgemental thoughts that were rolling around in my head this past Sunday when I was exposed to the "singing consecration": Whatcha gonna do about this liturgical weirdness, Traditional and conservative Catholics? Where ya gonna go? Where ya gonna hide? How far are you gonna drive to find a reverent mass (or Latin Mass) now, given that you're three to four hours from any major city that might have such a mass to go to?

Which led me to think that the ability to find and attend a "mass of your choice" is a city problem. Uber-reverent and Latin masses are for city slickers, because overall, it's only in large metropolitan areas where they can be found. Which also makes it......elitist.

Wait. Where have I heard that before? This is not the first time I've had similar thoughts.

You know, for every Catholic who lives in the cities and suburbs, there's another who lives out in bumblef*ck. And those folks pretty much have no choice or slim pickings about where they're gonna go to mass. It's usually "this place" or the "place a half hour or 45 minutes away." That's it!

What if your permanent Sunday mass choice was wreckovation with liturgical abuse -or- horrendous architecture with liturgical innovation? Or the priest so uninspired that his sermons make you nod off? Think about that. Because that's what many, many Catholics face as their day-to-day reality. And yet they survive, persist, and even thrive. Why is that?

Because they have learned to work through and accept the reality that the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church no matter what the surroundings. And that, my friends, is something I totally admire. Faith in the Catholic Church because, well, that's what you do. Because if they didn't, then they'd be shit out of luck. (Not to mention being in a state of mortal sin.)

Where we used to live, at one point, we had eight parishes to choose from. If we expanded our radius another 15 minutes, then we probably had another half dozen to add to the mix. And yet we were often unsatisfied and considered driving into Milwaukee County for 45+ minutes (and many times did) to go to a mass that was more to our liking. Boy do I feel like an asshole now that I think about it.

We finally live in Milwaukee County now and probably have 75+ parishes from which to choose, which means in essence, hundreds of masses we can pick over to personally fit our schedule. And yet, the homeschoolers in our area, well, over 60% of them all attend ONE parish because they refuse to attend anywhere else....nothing is good enough or holy enough or proper enough for them. Some of them drive an hour or more to go to this place, even while they have dozens of parishes around them to consider.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a "conservative" Catholic (whatever that means) and I'm not for liturgical abuse or innovation. I have a higher tolerance for it than other conservative Catholics, true. But overall, I'm not staying long at a parish that's all funked-out. Which is why we've yet to find and join a church in Milwaukee County. Believe me, there's been LOTS of interesting stuff we've experienced in our search -which I may or may not blog about in the future - but even then, it hasn't occurred to us to drive 45 minutes or an hour away to pick a parish. We just wouldn't do that. Not only is it a massive inconvenience, but the concept of driving that far or long for mass/parish participation pretty much smashes the concept of local community.

After the "interesting" mass we attended in this small northern Wisconsin town, I asked my husband: "If we lived here, which of the two churches would we pick to attend?" He was hard-pressed to give an answer and so was I. Ultimately, it would probably come down to the professed beliefs of the priest and the kinds of people who attended the church. Yet the more I thought about it, I recognized that the hard-pressed feeling had more to do with facing the reality of having TWO CHOICES for parish life instead of dozens upon dozens. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have to deal with such a situation.

Which brings me around to something that irritates the crap out of me. All these Latin Mass types on the internet whining and crying (or alternately bragging - all depends on the personality and the point they're trying to get across) about how they drive one, two, three hours just to go to a Latin mass. The expected response is to be awed at how utterly devoted they are to their Catholic faith because of the sacrifice they're making.

What about the sacrifice being made down the street at their local parish? You know, the one up on the altar?

I feel the same way about the local homeschooling community's "unofficial" endorsement of ONE parish and one parish only as the only legitimate novus ordo parish to consider in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Which I find hilarious since 90% of them live out in the suburbs, but this church is located in the Mexican ghetto of Milwaukee. (Disclosure: I volunteer at the food pantry at this parish because I'm currently interested in serving and seeing the faces of people who are legitimately need to see the face of Christ in servivce, but I am soooo not a member.) So, yeah, spend an hour driving in with your long skirts and chapel veils and then take off for the rest of the week. Nice! (If anyone reading this is actually part of the local homeschooling community and attends this parish, sorry, but this is how I really feel. Sue me. Ostracize me. Whatever.)

I'm up on my soapbox here and I know it. So, while I'm up here I'd like to remind everyone to consider what a BLESSING it is to have mass at all. I recently read the story of Father Joseph Kentenich's (Schoenstatt Movement) time in the Dauchau concentration camp during World War II. At various times, getting caught saying mass was punishable by death. Sometimes mass was said with smuggled wine in only a whisper with barbed wire, rats, and brick walls as the surrounding environment, and yet - that was good enough!

I am a City Slicker Catholic because I have too many choices, which makes me opinionated and entitled, which makes me an elitist. I sincerely believe this to be true. Did you hear me? I AM AN ELITIST. But maybe that's a bad thing? I'm considering that it might be!

What about you? Are you practicing City Slicker Catholicism? Do you feel you're entitled to the myriad of choices you have? Or are you stuck out somewhere where you're feeling lucky to have a parish nearby at all?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Lengths to Which Some Skirts Will Go.....And While We're At It....

Before I start my rant, let me explain a few things:

-I collect vintage clothing - specifically from the 1940's to 1960's period. I especially like dresses from this period, which is a good thing, given that dresses were the main staple of women during this range of years, making them the most available item to find.

-I sell vintage clothing on Ebay and have for years. Again, specifically from the 1940's to 1960's period. In order to successfully sell these items, I have to know something about what I'm selling. Proper identification of the decade the clothing originates from and all that.

-I own and have read numerous books about vintage clothing, style, and design.

-I make it a point to see movies that are "period" pieces. You know, those movies where entire research teams painstakingly develop costumes and sets that are exact to the years portrayed in the movie. Ditto for period TV shows, say for example, Mad Men.

-I religiously read Reminisce Magazine for numerous years now. That's the magazine that publishes people's original photographs and stories from the 1900's through the 1970's. Most of the stories are from the 1940's and 1950's.

-I am our family's unofficial genealogist and historian. Which means that all antique and vintage photographs end up in my care. Like hundreds of them, spanning from the middle 1800's to the 1980's. I look at and study them all.

Why am I explaining all this? Here's why:

To postulate the very obvious fact that American and western European women in the 1930's through to the present day (and in some instances, including the late 1920's) never, ever wore skirts or dresses that went to their ankles! (Noted exceptions made for 1950's ball/ballerina skirts and 1970's prom/formal dresses, which were not considered every-day wear anyway. Also hippie clothing, which I assume we'll just ignore.)

What precipitated this bold statement? The local Catholic homeschool conference I stopped in to last week. Yes, here we go. Ready?

So, OK, I was only there for an hour. Not exactly a scientific sample, I admit. My short visit was due to the rather lacking quality of the conference. (Note to the IHM Catholic Homeschool Conference people - it was TERRIBLE! Ten booths of vendors in a dark dingy auditorium does not a conference make. Especially when three or so of the vendors are poor, pitiful souls trying to sell their own homemade curriculum. But I digress.)

Anyway, of the women and teenagers I saw there, about 1/2 were wearing skirts. Impressive to see the other half wearing pants! I was encouraged! But those wearing skirts?

Every. single. one. ankle. length. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Even my husband noticed, which is unusual for him, because he hardly notices what women are wearing at all.

Let's face it: If you questioned these women as to why they're wearing what they are, one of the oft-cited reasons would be that they are dressing more in line with an older time when woman were dressed more modestly than today. OK, fine, I'll accept that reasoning. Except in those older times, women weren't wearing drippy, droopy, long skirts down to their ankles. (Oops, sorry, yes they were - about 100 years and more ago.)

My point is this: Do these women actually KNOW how women dressed 40, 50 or 60 years ago? If they answer, "Yes! Modestly!," they would be correct. But that's only half the answer. The other half of the answer they are making up and imagining.

I've said it before and I'll say it again (and will probably say it again and again and again): The women who insist on LONG, modest skirts as the Catholic Uniform of Holy Correctness have taken their cues from Protestants, specifically puritanical, Calvinistic Protestants. Which is understandable, given that for so many decades conservative Catholics had no decent leadership or guidance to show the way to live a holy life. So they looked around and saw conservative Protestants engaging in this long skirt practice, amongst other practices also copied, and decided it was better. Except no where in Catholic teaching does it dictate to dress like this.

Wake up, ladies! The only women back in the good old days of the 1940's to the 1960's who were wearing long skirts were ancient grandmothers whose birth date started with the number 18! Why is this important to point out? Because God didn't put you on this earth to live in the past! If you're trying to emulate the 1800's prairie lifestyle or the 1910 fashion ethic, something is very, very wrong.

I have no beef if you want to wear a skirt all the time, whether it's for modesty or because it makes you feel feminine or because you think guys aren't looking at your butt because you're in a skirt. (Actually, they ARE looking at your butt, long or short skirt, but that's a different blog post). If long skirts peel your banana, fine with me. But I do have an issue when ALL OF YOU are wearing what amounts to a UNIFORM. Isn't there a wild-and-crazy personality out there that says, "I'm gonna be daring and wear a skirt that goes to my knees!"?

And another thing. If you're gonna stick with the long skirt schtick, why do you insist on just throwing a plain old t-shirt with it, along with hippie sandals, flip-flops, or athletic shoes? I cannot think of a more UNfeminine look at all, and yet you all claim you're dressing feminine and teaching your daughters the same. I know I'm gonna ruffle some feathers here when I say this, but I'm gonna be me and just throw it out there: You don't look feminine or attractive at all. Rather, you look like someone who just rolled out of bed and couldn't find the right top or shoes to go with your skirt, so you just put on whatever you could find lying around. (Note for those who like and understand the hippie/peasant look: You seem to get it right with the long skirts.)

This is not t o say I advocate women dressing like ho's, sex goddesses, or in an immodest manner. Hardly. If those new to my blog think that's what I stand for - wrong-o! What I stand for is dressing like it's 2014, in a relevant way that really shines to others. I say that a Catholic testimony is only relevant if the people giving the testimony appear to be, well, relevant. Why would I listen to a homeschool mother wearing a frumpy jean skirt down to her ankles tell me about why contraception is wrong? Nope, not gonna be moved. 

And while we're at it.....

I subscribe to a few Facebook homeschooling groups. Some are local, some are national with even international members. I'd like to note that I subscribe to learn about homeschooling, not to engage in moralistic discussions, but I've figured out that's too much to ask and those discussions are the price to pay in order to also get commentary on the pros/cons of certain books and curriculum.

As ALWAYS, there has to be ongoing modesty discussions ala, "Help! I don't know what kind of swimming suit to buy for my five-year-old daughter! What did you buy?" 


Here's an idea, lady: Use your God-given brain to think it through and figure it out yourself, like generations of women before you have. After that, try to have some modicum of self-esteem and purpose and stick with your decision. Stop worrying about whether or not other conservative Catholics will judge you for putting a modest two-piece tankini on your kid or letting your son swim without a swim shirt. Live your life in the freedom God gave you. Don't turn your kids into body-hating head cases at the age of innocence believing that you're instilling in them all-important concepts of modesty. BACKFIRE ALERT!!!! 

Additionally, believe in yourself enough that when the time is right - and you'll know when that time comes - that you'll have the ability and resources to have discussions with your kids about reasonable, rather than oppressive ideas about modesty and clothing selections. Alongside discussions about peer pressure and resisting the urge to do what everyone else is doing just to fit in. (Which is sort of ironic, given that so many conservative Catholics just do what all the other conservative Catholics do. I often secretly laugh to myself about this sort of thinking/behavior. Thinking they're all counter-culture, and yet they're just sheep in a different pasture.) 

It's not that difficult, people! I swear that the internet has made people into insecure idiots. Way too many discussions out there about morals and conservative living, which confuses people or puts ideas in their heads with no authoritative basis of need-to-do.

There are people who will walk away from this blog post thinking I'm a judgemental bitch. So be it. There are some who will point out that I've only written this to justify my own discomfort at not fitting in with the local conservative Catholics, and that too would be partially true. But still, I think my observations need to be aired and discussed in terms of my ultimate, larger point, which is: Are you making certain decisions about how you dress as a Catholic woman on your own, free from undue influence by those around you or not?

Like so many other things I see Catholics around me doing, I don't "get it" and swear I didn't get the memo.