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Catholic church and me

According to my computer it is December 26 already and therefore I guess it is safe to talk about why I STILL insist on not wishing strangers Marry Christmas in the U.S. unless I am absolutely certain that they celebrate Christmas: Because Christmas in the U.S. remains a religious holiday.

One’d thought that Christians in this country would be happy and proud that their holiday, the holiday celebrating the birth of the person of whom their religion is the namesake has not gone completely secular despite all the gross commercialization that’s going on.

Although I personally have no problem when strangers wish me a Merry Christmas (and I will wish them the same too), I do not care to assume that everyone I meet in the U.S. is Christian. Of course I know that the “wishing you a Merry Christmas” comes from good will, and it is much appreciated. Nevertheless, the “assumptions” implied in the greeting bother me especially since people simply take it for granted and don’t even realize that they are making assumptions.

[Digression] The irony is? If I were in Taiwan, I would have had no problem wishing anybody Merry Christmas because over there Christmas means Santa Claus, Reindeer, Snowman, Christmas trees, poinsettias, Christmas lights, catchy Christmas music, a great excuse for college students to host parties, a rare opportunity to exchange gifts (vs. cold hard cash in red envelopes <– how mundane & boring) It is an unofficial holiday to celebrate the spirit of giving. Who am I kidding. It is the spirit of spending & shopping that’s being observed…

Christmas in Taipei We do it better

 

I hung up the phone with a customer service rep two days before Christmas and turned to my husband who’d just come back from mass with his mother and our two boys.

“Wow. The rep just wished me a Merry Christmas. I’d say he took a gamble when he said that because how’d he know that I celebrate Christmas?”

My husband raised his eyebrows. “You know. The nice thing to say when people wish you a Merry Christmas…”

“Is to say thank you and Merry Christmas to you too. Yes I know that. Christmas to me is more or less a secular holiday, and I don’t mind celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ because it does not matter to me either way. I am happy for you guys. I am agnostic. I believe in everything.” I raised my eyebrows back at him.

“In the homily today,” he started, “the priest told us a story about ducks. Some guy was in his house during a snowstorm and he heard loud thumping on his windows. He looked and saw a bunch of ducks hitting his window – they’re trying to come inside the house but they could not tell that there’s glass. So the man went outside to open the doors to his barn next to the house, thinking that it would be a suitable shelter for those ducks. However, no matter how hard he tried, shooing them, waving at them, luring them with food, he could not get those ducks to stop hitting the window and change their course towards the barn. He realized that he’d have to wait for the ducks to find their way to the barn on their own.”

He looked at me triumphantly, fully satisfied with his success of being a contrarian. Argument for argument’s sake.

“Hmmm.” I took a deep breath. “That is offensive.”

“Why? I am merely saying that you will find your way on your own.”

“It’s offensive because you are assuming that I am LOST and have to find my way somewhere. I am not lost. I am happy where I am. I don’t need to find my way into the church or whatever. Hey, wait a minute. Were you trying to convert me?! I thought Catholics do not proselytize?! What the fuck?!” I protested loudly, in front of his decidedly un-religious brother too, nonetheless.

My husband grinned sheepishly, with the look of someone who just said something he did not intend to mean and got called out, “Well… Maybe the barn is not religion. Or church. Maybe the barn just means happiness in life. That you will find happiness in life on your own…”

“Hmm. Yeah right. The ducks my ass. Seriously what the fuck dude?” I walked out the room, still annoyed because I was unable to explain clearly WHY the story of the ducks is presumptuous and offensive when told to someone who does not wish to and need not be converted.

Later when the three of us were driving to a bar, the subject of ducks came up and we started teasing my husband about our “interesting” discussion earlier.

“Oh come on. I am never going to live this down, am I?”

“You know.” it dawned on me, “Here’s why I find the story of the ducks offensive. It’s like if I simply say ‘I forgive you’ and then walk away. ‘I forgive you’ predicates that you’ve done something wrong that needs to be forgiven. It is grossly unfair, isn’t it?”

 

I don’t know how to end this post so let me share this idea with you: “I forgive you.” would be a great epitaph.

 

 

 

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Dear Easter Bunny, please accept our sincere apology for banishing you to the land of creepy holiday creatures where you will reign supreme I am sure.

You were slayed when 9-year-old Mr. Monk declared that he no longer believes in Easter Bunny.

Rejoice!

The Husband took the boys to Wal-Mart last night because I had failed to procure pastel things to appease the Easter Bunny. This man loves a great bargain and is not afraid of those greeters; he falls square in Wal-Mart’s target segment. While there, Mr. Monk made the surprise announcement. Now that there’s no need to keep up the charade, they came home with a bow and arrow set, a Captain America shield and two water pistols, and created the bestest Easter baskets at the fastest speed in the history of this household.

 

The boys had given up soda pop for Lent hence the giant bottles of soda in the baskets. Mr. Monk took one long sip of his orange soda and declared, “This is the BEST Easter ever!”

Deprivation is the mother of poetry joy.

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Before we got married, The Husband and I talked about whether we should raise our children Catholic, his mother’s religion. I said “his mother’s religion” because like countless Catholics, he is twice-a-year Catholic. He gives up something for Lent (that usually make me exclaim, “Jesus died for you sin and you are giving up THAT for him?”), refrains from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, goes to the Easter Mass and the Christmas Eve Mass.

A convenient way to be a Christian if you ask me. To me, an outsider who is pretty mush ignorant of the whole Catholic “thing”, it seems that once you’ve been confirmed, you are IN. It’s like one of those lifelong 1 Million Mile frequent flyer status. You are set for premier status for life even if you stop flying altogether.

I was young and naive and more importantly, a newcomer to the West. I thought religion is all about doing good, fearing cosmic retributions, building moral characters, helping out each other in the community, believing in the Golden Rule and “what goes around comes around”, and more importantly, being self-reflective and building that relationship with the cosmic force up there whatever you personally call it. How can religion be bad?

Alone in the U.S., deprived of a close-knit society that really believes in “It takes a village”, I thought, “THIS [The Catholic upbringing] could replace the built-in value systems in a Chinese society so that my children will not grow up in a moral vacuum.”

Like I said, I was naive and ignorant. I was not aware of the political implications associated with being a Catholic, or in general a Christian, in the United States in the 20th and 21st century. In fact, I did not know that in the U.S., despite the claim of separation between church and state, many Christian denominations behave as if they were political parties, to say the very least.

Dante apparently did not have to deal with marriage equality. Milton was not asked to spout his opinions on women’s right to choose.

If you have followed this blog for a while, you probably have heard me talking about my inner struggle of negotiating between sending my kids to the religious school every week and disagreeing with almost everything the Catholic church decided to take a stand for/against in recent years. It becomes more and more difficult as my children become older and the Church shares more of its doctrines with them in a more straightforward way.

Today a bomb was dropped.

Like all Catholic 8th graders in this country, my son is going through the Confirmation process. It is something that he tolerates and may even look forward to since after this, there will be no more religious class! There was a mandatory half-day “retreat” this afternoon where they gathered all the 8th grade class into one big giant room to prepare them for the big decision, the big day.

On our way home, I asked casually, “So how was it? What did you learn today?”

“We had some interesting discussions. He told us, ‘No judgement. We will not tell your parents what you say. But, imagine if you are a parent, and your 15-year-old daughter comes home and tells you that she’s pregnant, what will you do? Tell her to get an abortion? To give birth to the baby? Raise the baby or give the baby up for adoption?”

I gritted my teeth.

“… We learned that there are four ways for abortion….”

It’s a miracle the car behind me did not crash into us when I braked abruptly. I had to restrain myself from saying anything and to wait for him to share more.

“It was absolutely horrible. We were eating and he was telling us about how abortion is done. Did you know that they used to use saline…”

“… Forceps… Forced babies to come out…. Pulled the baby out by the feet… Dead babies… … …”

I was beyond upset. So instead of reaffirming these young people of their faith, they penned them into a room, told them the most extreme, horrifying in any standard, cases from the past,  and force-fed them anti-abortion propaganda. If these were the first things, and only things I’ve heard on the subject of abortion, I’d probably be out there holding protest signs against Planned Parenthood too.

Why weren’t the parents consulted first? These kids were only 13 year old. How many of you want your children to be shown details of abortion procedures at the age of 13?

I tread lightly as I did not want to startle the deer, to scare him away when all I wanted was for him to come home, by his own will, with me.

“I just want to make sure that you understand the facts…” I rattled off some pointers.

Did they explain that only a very small % of abortions are late-term? No. Did they explain that in the current legislature, many states outlaw late-term abortions except for the safety of the mother? [Gross generalization but it would have to do at the moment]. No. Did they mention that it is still up for debate whether an embryo counts as a person? No.

I was losing him: these facts were not as powerful as the sensational, graphical, description he just heard.

He started defending the young, hip, traveling priest. “Why are you so judgmental? Now you are just judging these people. Just because they have a different view does not mean you are right and they are wrong.”

I had to bite my tongue again, knowing that “Not everything is relative. I bet Hitler’s family thought he was a great guy” was not a productive thing to say at that moment.

 

I was so angry. I imagined red hot flames coming out of my eyes and nostrils. I am still shaking as a matter of fact. On the verge of tears finally I said, “Ok, hear me out. If those people think that they can spoonfeed MY CHILDREN a bunch of propaganda, I should be able to present MY perspective… I will say this first: If you are a man, you have no right dictate what a woman is or is not allowed to do with her body.”

The whole way I was wishing that I had thought about this more before we took the pre-Canon class, before we even got married. I should have said No way, Jose. This is not what I signed up for. To have someone come in and teach my children values that are completely opposite of mine and not being allowed to say anything about it, or the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, just so he could get that piece of paper. Confirmed.

This is NOT the Golden Rule I expected a religion to help instill in my children.

 

“I am very upset as you can probably tell.” I told my son the truth. “This was not what I signed up for. They are supposed to teach you morals and telling right from wrong. Not this propaganda stuff.”

“Mom! I am not an idiot! I don’t just believe everything the guy said.” He said from the backseat, “I can think for myself, ok? You are treating me like some kind of brainless robot that simply follows orders.”

I guess I’ve never thought that one day I’d come to be grateful for his being a pain in the ass, to appreciate his natural tendency to disobey, to question authority.

 

 

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Out of My Mind

February 5, 2012 random

I went to a grade school talent show on Friday evening that lasted 2.5 hours. Yesterday we had Catholic brainwashing religious class, band festival at our local senior high school, gymnastics meet and team dinner. Today is the Chinese school New Year celebration performance: reporting for rehearsals at 9 am [it’s now 3 am] and […]

11 comments

Mass at 5

January 30, 2011 no manual for parenting

Warning: According to my Blog Advisory System, this post is rated RED for The Touchiest of All Touchy Subjects. I wrote it last week but did not have the heart to publish it because I was worried about losing readership. In the end though, I have got to do what feels right by me and […]

54 comments

Warning Signs: To hell in a handbasket

March 8, 2010 a picture is worth a thousand words

I know that the Catholic Church, and many other Christian churches, has a complicated relationship with Science. So I appreciated the fact that they DO indeed include Science in the curriculum for Catholic schools. In the public schools that my kids have been to, Science has always been taken as a given. There was never […]

54 comments

sacré bleu

January 23, 2010 random

I rushed to the Religious Ed with Mr. Monk as I always do on most Saturday mornings. I then walked to the 6th grade classroom to inform the Catechist that my oldest would not be there that day. We got to talking about his son. “…He has a Ph.D. in [something akin to Rocket Science]…” […]

17 comments

“We have nothing to fear from love and commitment”

December 3, 2009 this i believe

The State of New York voted down the gay marriage bill yesterday. By a vote of 38 to 24. There are 32 Democrats. Somehow I am not too surprised. Not because I am familiar with the NY political scene, but lately people have been letting me down. I am losing faith. (Don’t worry. This is supposed […]

20 comments

Towards a Discussion of Religious Pluralism with a First Grader. Gingerly.

November 20, 2009 no manual for parenting

Scene 1 On our way home in the car, the 11 year-old lodged an official complaint against his younger brother for embarassing him in school: He talks about God too much. He said things like, “God created everything” in daily, random conversations, without prompting. On top of that, he also sometimes sports a British accent, […]

26 comments

Forget glue guns: Metallic Permanent Pens are the only things you need…

November 10, 2009 no manual for parenting

This was the post I meant to compose this Saturday, right after I rushed the kids off to the Religious Education class kindly provided by the Catholic church.  Especially helpful since their mother is a Heathen.  As usual, we were late. But this year the teacher is nice. She never once gave me the evil […]

18 comments