The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Flashback Friday!

I'm not Catholic, but I used to play one (though not on TV). I was married to a Catholic, you see, and he wanted to raise our children in the faith. It was important to him, and I had no moral objection to it. Knowing that he had no more impetus to follow the strictest (and some of the most antiquated) guidelines of the church than I did, may have factored into that.

My older two daughters have gone through what was called CCD in my day (though now it's ERE - Evening Religious Education), since they've attended public (heathen) schools all of their lives. It now appears that my youngest daughter will be beginning her own religious indoctrination this fall.

Discussions of this schedule have brought many memories of my experiences with this program flooding back. And, well, it's Friday, y’all. So, amidst all the memories of me learning the ropes as I registered my kids, buying First Holy Communion dresses, planning parties and helping with various projects, I'm thinking about my youngest daughter embarking on her religious education.

Consequently, this week's Flashback Friday! will require a little genuflecting. Granted, it won't be because of the writing. What say we chat a little about the impact of religious education in my life? Hallelujah!

Religion seems to be on the minds of a few folks right now. Mike Norton has a couple tongue-in-cheek posts up, and you can find a sweet piece at One Odd Goose that is rather topical as well. And LC is on her own road to enlightened discovery.

My own religious roots are Christian. As a youngster, my sister and I attended a Methodist church down the street from my home. My own parents didn’t attend. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I’m sure they felt we needed the guidance that church offered, but they needed a few hours without the kids.

As an adult, I began questioning Christianity and started my own quest for 'the holy grail'. Having many meaningful theological discussions with a preacher who used to frequent a former place of employment, I began to see what Christians believed. And why. He recommended a great deal of literature, for which I was very grateful. While I found myself exploring the teachings of any number of faiths, the universal truth that I came to again and again, was that not one of these was "better" than the other. I could never reconcile why followers of any faith believed they were.

My ex-husband was Catholic, as I’ve noted previously. Though during our courtship and the early years of our marriage, the only time we ever went to church was for a funeral, a wedding or Christmas Eve midnight mass. I never made an issue of going with him, in fact, I found the pageantry of a Catholic mass (especially on a holiday or special occasion) to be rather majestic and I was awed. But, he just never seemed to have an interest in attending otherwise.

When I became pregnant with my oldest, Baron made it clear that it was important to him that our children be raised Catholic. We hadn’t been married in the Catholic church, so this was somewhat of a surprise to me, but I didn’t take issue with it. It was important to him and religion simply wasn't important to me. He knew how I felt about it. It just wasn't something that impacted our lives on any real level.

For a number of years, we still never attended church. And when we enrolled my oldest daughter in school, we selected a public school, not a Catholic school. The money for a private school education just wasn't available.

I’d heard of CCD, classes Catholic kids took when they had to go to public school, so that they could get their religious education. I realized that by going to public school, my daughter would, likely, be learning about CCD firsthand. All I really knew about it, was that a couple kids I knew went on Saturday mornings for a few hours to a class. I didn’t know why or how. I never knew any of the logistics or theories. I figured I had a Catholic husband and he’d be helpful in navigating the course. Wishful thinking.

As we went through Kindergarten and first grade, I’d ask my ex how this CCD thing worked. How you got into it. When you got it started. He’d always shrug his shoulders and say he didn’t know, leaving the research up to me. The non-Catholic on the team. I had a hard time being motivated when it didn't seem more important to him. I knew, though, that it had to be time.

I never fully understood why (and at this point we had TWO kids) it was important to him for them to go to these religion classes, but it wasn’t important for us to go to church. But, again, I’m not Catholic and I was raised in a situation where the kids went to church, but the adults didn’t. Lesson learned? When you grow up, you don’t have to do that shit anymore.

In any event, I called a local church and did the same thing I’d done when they had been baptized. Figured it out. I learned that with my oldest starting third grade, she needed to start IMMEDIATELY. She was already behind in achieving the various sacraments that these classes afforded for kids going to public school. The first of these was First Holy Communion (which normally happened in second grade). I got her through that one and through her first Penance. Got my second child through them as well (and on time), having learned the ropes a little better.

But the story I wanted to share today, was the story of [Kid 1]’s Confirmation. That sacrament occurs during eighth grade, and it's (basically) when a person confirms their faith in God and the Catholic Church. (I sound like a pro, don’t I?)

The preparatory education for this sacrament actually occurs during the seventh and eighth grade. And, as far as parental involvement, there was a parent's meeting early in sacramental year, where we discuss what we want for our children and the process itself. As a non-Catholic, I've always felt a little out of place at these things, but I'm a very committed mother and having had to rely on myself to get these things done, more often than not, I haven't had the option of not being involved. At least not until I became divorced.

In our diocese, the preparations for the sacrament involved a few things. The confirmation candidate needed to select a confirmation sponsor (a fellow Catholic over the age of 16 who would help guide them through the process), select a confirmation name (to help them display the qualities of a saint they admired by adopting their name), write a letter to the Arch-Bishop, complete the necessary ERE training, attend a religious retreat with other confirmants, and complete five volunteer projects. None of it meant much to me...except the last. Encouraging people to become involved in things that give back to the community was something I had no difficulty supporting.

So, I, because I'd never had any experience with such things, talked to the religious education director at our parish and asked her if there was any criteria for these volunteering projects (after all, people in need are people in need, right?). Apparently, not exactly. They (the ERE program) preferred that most of the stewardship opportunities be with organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church. They encouraged candidates to select three of five from Christian organizations, in fact. It bothered me. Mostly, because there are a lot of non-Catholic folks out there in need, boys and girls. The Catholic Church has this huge force they could turn loose on helping them and, well, they're taking care of their own. Screw the Hindus.

Getting beyond that, I decided that (because I didn't know any better), these volunteer projects were the most important part of this process. And I wanted to play them up. I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to make the experience memorable by joining my daughter on at least one of the volunteer projects. The more I thought about it, the more grandiose that theme became. My sister wanted to join her in one. Her confirmation sponsor wanted to join her in one. It was a wonderful bonding experience for her. And the outlet couldn't have pleased me more.

As for the projects themselves, they were varied. I wanted to find some ways for her to help that would make her feel she'd made a difference, but that would also be of interest to her. When I called around to one charitable organization after another, I kept meeting resistance because of her age. She was only 13. In many eyes, that was, apparently, too young to do anything. I wasn't about to give up, though. I wanted to use this time to show her her potential. To show her she could be powerful and make a difference, even if she was only 13. But I had to make dozens and dozens of calls to get even a handful of opportunities. It definitely wasn't easy. But [Kid 1] and I came up with a plan.

She and I helped paint a mural at a center for at-risk teens. There were a lot of young people there and we were given brushes and paint and set to work making a reading room more special. She and I had a lot of fun that day. And we both felt we were making a difference.

My sister helped her make sixty peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to deliver to a local homeless shelter. I had called and asked what they would allow a 13 year old to do to help. They suggested making the sandwiches, as the adult volunteers go around at night and hand them out to people on the streets who refuse to come to the shelters. So, while she was too young to work the soup line or help in other ways, she knew that, that night, she'd made dinner for a great many people.

A former sister-in-law works as a dietician at a nursing home, and [Kid 1] spent the weekend with her, volunteering at her facility, delivering (and reading mail) to the residents, and giving a few manicures as well.

One Sunday morning mass, she spent in the babysitting room at our church, coloring with the younger children and helping take care of them.

The last project she did was the one closest to my own heart. It was something I'd found all on my own. The program's director advised me that she'd had no one from the diocese ever contact them about volunteer opportunities. She seemed almost as pleased as I was for the contact. She ran an assistance program for shut-ins in the terminal stages of AIDS. People whose families had abandoned them. Who had no friends to help care for them. While there were very limited things that a young girl could do in this situation, the director suggested doing holiday cards for them. As we were approaching Christmas, it would bring these people some of the glad tidings of the season. Some happy mail at a time when there was so much sadness. It didn't seem to be much, but she assured me it would make a huge impact on many lives.

I picked up a couple boxes of cards, specifically non-denominational, and some extra stamps. [Kid 1] and her confirmation sponsor sat at my kitchen table with the list provided by the program and wrote out cards. Trying to put some note inside each that would let the recipient know that someone somewhere was thinking of them. I'd wander through the dining room occasionally to see how they were doing and more often than not, I'd find them teary-eyed. Difficult to think of people dying at Christmas time.

We weren't given the addresses of the recipients of the cards (for privacy reasons), only names. [Kid 1] was instructed to put the name on the card and a stamp and the program director would add the address and put them in the mail. (Some time after the first of the year, I received a letter from the program director, letting me know that she'd received many comments from her participants about how much it meant to them to get those cards. She had also sent a note to the religious education director at our parish. I hope their program is now getting many volunteers as a result of this contact.)

After all of the volunteer projects were completed, [Kid 1] turned in the booklet in which she'd been asked to record her experiences. While not always eloquent, it was clear that she'd been moved by her involvement in these stewardship projects.

Roughly a week prior to the confirmation ceremony, [Kid 1] began to have, what I thought was, cold feet. She wasn't sure she wanted to go through with it. She talked to her dad. She talked to the religious education director. And she and I spent a great deal of time talking. Difficult for me as the non-Catholic. But, she'd never once, previously, expressed anything that made me think she didn't want to be Catholic. And in the end, my encouragement is what got her to the church.

On the day of the confirmation ceremony, many candidates were singled out for praise by the Arch-Bishop. [Kid 1] among them, for her stewardship choices. I sat back with some sense of accomplishment, as the Arch-Bishop spoke of her helping at-risk teens, and homeless people, the elderly and children and, especially (and at some length) victims of AIDS. Apparently, many others had mowed lawns for neighbors or acted as a server during mass. An easier route, I suppose, but I wanted more for my own child. To hear her getting the recognition, filled me with pride for her. As I looked at her, across the pews, I could tell that she felt the same.

After the mass, as we were all filing out of the church, the religious education director stopped me. She wanted to thank me for all I'd done to help [Kid 1]. She complimented me on the imagination and tenacity I'd shown handling the process, and asked me if I'd be willing to help other parents going through the same thing next year. I explained to her that I wasn't sure how appropriate that would be, since I wasn't Catholic myself.

She blinked and didn't say anything. Clearly shocked. She had had no idea. I hadn't been trying to actively deceive her (or anyone else, for that matter), but her mouth literally fell open. I had, according to her, been more active and more involved than most of the other Catholic parents. And while it hadn't been my intention, she then showered even more praise on me. I suppose my naive approach had been rather novel.

[Kid 1] parted ways with the church very shortly thereafter. She hasn't attended in quite some time. I imagine even the pomp is lost on her after so many years. Honestly, I delight in her reaching out and exploring her own spiritual discovery on her own terms.

While I didn't intend this post to be so philosophical or political in nature, I suppose that's what flashbacks do sometimes. I was looking for graphics to include here. Religious symbolism, primarily. And instead found this. It's from a 2005 rally at St. Bridget's Catholic church in Omaha, NE. It symbolizes what I feel is some of the worst that organized religion has to offer. Organized hatred (no extra charge for the delight in it, either).

Catholics, I'm sad to say, are no worse than others in this regard. In fact, xenophobia is not necessarily religiously-based (though they sure can pump it up when they want to). Organized religion, however, certainly has a rich history of pointing out (and punishing) those who are different, those who they believe are 'wrong'. Belief that what they are doing is a divine right justifies, even sanctifies, hurting their fellow man. That troubles me and saddens me deeply.

Those who shroud themselves in Christianity (or any other religion) touting that they help the helpless and are kind to their fellow man, far too often forget those teachings in their daily lives. Hate and hurt seem to get around that filter in their soul entirely too easily when they aren't inside their temple.

I have no quarrel with my children learning the lessons of the Catholic church. In fact, there are morals and values that they have learned there that are simply reinforcements of what they have learned at home. I have always sought to temper the rest with a more secular humanist approach. I haven't been disappointed in how my girls have turned out. They don't hate. They don't believe their faith is right and all others are wrong. They look out into the world and see tolerance and potential. They are kind-hearted and take great joy in helping people. They are individuals. And, I couldn't be more proud.

No doubt, they probably aren't the best Catholics, but they are good people. And that, dear readers, is so much more important to me.



Anonymous L.C. said...

Well your post brought back memories. I was raised Catholic, went to Parochial school, married a Catholic, and started out raising my kids that way too. Now we're knee-deep in an Episcopal church, where we spent much of our time, and our kids are very very involved. I don't know quite how it happened, other than the fact that we followed our oldest child to a church she began attending with friends. Many of our family members were appalled, even insulted, when we converted. But there came a point where dh and I had to find a place where we were comfortable, and where we felt we could make a difference and live our faith in a way that felt right for us. Probably not so much the religion as the church itself and the community, we've found, is what really makes a difference in our lives.

Thanks for the story!

8/04/2006 2:25 PM  
Blogger MJ Norton said...

Raised Catholic (even born and baptised in Rome, complete with a keen parchment document from the Holy See granting me complete forgiveness of my sins on my deathbed provided I'm heartily sorry -- as best I can tell it's a sort of extreme unction without the need of clergy or some other intercessor), went through parochial school thrpough grade 12, which was 6 grades past the point I stopped believing in any of it.

I've long since found nothing to shake me out of a system that has no need for a Creator God, much less belief in a Supreme Being that would be responsible for a system with so much misery, so many evolutionary dead ends, so many mistakes. Something that could do that would be vastly powerful, to be sure, but Supreme? Omnipotent, perhaps, but omniscient? Only if the being's also insane or sadistic. The concept of Divine Mystery is a dodge. It's something to quell the mind and opt out of thought.

Faith is a powerful and sustaining thing, and as such is vitally important to humans as individuals. Codify those beliefs and make an organized religion out of it, though, and you have something that becomes more dangerous, intolerant and restrictive the larger and more seemingly certain it becomes that it is the only game in town offering Truth. Still, one can go that far and still be okay. I doubt I'd feel fearful in the clutches of a devout Buddhist.

It's when one of these religions is messianic, when they become evangelical. When they fold in phrases like "One, True and apostolic church" it's time to either run fast and far or turn and if pressed be prepared to fight with blood in your eye and the assurance that you're up against a foe that's either insane or dangerously simple-minded.

Unfortunately, because they can be aggressive, territorial faiths, many brands of Christianity and Islam have been hugely successful, and in one fashion or another have accumulated dangerous amounts of Earthly power and are in the process of grabbing more.

8/04/2006 3:58 PM  
Blogger MJ Norton said...

(Apologies for taking it off on a ranting tangent.)

8/05/2006 12:59 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Mikey -

Gee, we never have ranting tangents around here...;)

You and I have talked religion enough in the past, that none of the information you shared was a surprise. Overall, I have some different feelings. I'd much rather try to put my faith (or lack of it when it applies) in people. In the here and now. In the what I can see and affect.

I don't know that I would say I don't believe in some divine force. I do. But I don't necessarily think it's something that begs worship or sacrifice. I believe that the positive or negative energies that we humans generate make the world go round. And I'm the first to say I am always learning and growing in these pursuits.

LC -

I've known several Catholics who became Episcopalians. I happen to believe that whatever makes people happy...whatever makes them stronger...whatever they believe that doesn't hurt their own business and no one should intrude therein. Personal choice (and the personal responsibility that goes with it) are pretty important things to me.

All the variety in life is what makes it as interesting and educational as it is. And that can never be a bad thing to me.

8/05/2006 10:30 AM  
Blogger AaA said...

I've typed paragraph after paragraph in reply after reply, and all of it seemed either trite and irrelevant, or grandiose and pompous.

"No doubt, they probably aren't the best Catholics, but they are good people. And that, dear readers, is so much more important to me."

You could replace 'Catholics' with any religion, or any delimiter of people at all, and this statement would be just as valid. Wanting anything else for your children beyond them being good people is a disservice to them, especially if you act on it to attempt to fit them into some other mold. People that force their 2-year-olds into kindergarten prep-school, and make them take golf or violin lessons or whatever need to take a step back.

8/05/2006 10:36 PM  
Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

Strike the word "God," and add some coffee and you could be talking about Unitarianism...which is how I was raised. They preach open mindedness and acceptance, as long as you agree with them. That hypocricy was my beef with my childhood faith.

And I guess we all have beefs, if we've gone through any period of questioning at all.

But just hearing "CCD" brings me back to junior high. Two of my science lab table-mates attended and talked about it all the time. Unbelievably, their names were John and Mary. Mary had been if not a close friend, at least a good acquaintance of mine all through school. We bumped into each other as adults in Boston, where coincidently we'd both decided to move after college. I was about to ask for her phone number and address so we could get together again or at least keep in touch when she said, "I won't ask for your number because if I didn't keep in touch with you after high school then I'm not going to now."

And I kept wondering if this is what Catholicism teaches.

8/06/2006 10:34 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Nate -

I was really touched by your comment. I couldn't agree more that trying to shoehorn children into the molds that we want for them isn't in their best interest. I suppose all parents do it to some degree, though. I try hard not to. But, I'm the first to admit that I'm not always successful at it either.

Opus -

Oddly, it's been my experience that Catholics have been less judgemental than other Christians. Well, at least until recently. It's why most of the men I've dated and most of my closest friends have been Catholics.

Thanks for the notes, gang.

8/06/2006 12:26 PM  
Blogger MJ Norton said...

I'll seond your note of most Catholics being less judegemental.

Most Catholics here in the US are at least second generation, most of those for at least a few generations. The religion is simply part of the backdrop -- it's part of the loose strength of a faith where people are born into it.

Most American Catholics are raised buffet style, picking and choosing rules as they go. It's the born again/ evangelical Christians (and this can in part include new converts to Roman Catholicism) who tend to be the intolerant meddlers.

8/06/2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger Kentucky Girl said...

See, here is my thing...I don't think that learning about religion is harmful in the least. In fact, a well rounded education for children would be a good understanding of all the major religions of the world. I was taught these and while I am not a practicer of a religion, I feel better knowing that I can "hold my own" in conversations about religion. :)

8/07/2006 6:35 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Mike -

Thinking about it, I guess I always felt that most of the Catholics I knew treated Catholicism as tribalism, more than holding firmly to the religious doctrine of the church. All of the Catholics I knew believed in birth control, despite it being directly in conflict to Church doctrine. There are other examples as well, but mostly what I got from it, was that they were "Catholic", like someone else was Ethiopian or Italian, and less like someone was Muslim or Jewish. If that makes any sense.

Kentucky Girl -

Nice to see you here! As for education, I'm almost NEVER against it. In this particular case, I'm a little guarded. Likely because my six year old is starting a new school AND a new before and after school program (for childcare) as well. My concern is overwhelming her with so many new things at once. But, she's a very bright girl and has done quite well at adapting. I'm crossing my fingers that having her embark on an eight year religious education program now won't be a mistake. While I would prefer not to test her limits, her father disagrees.

Generally speaking, learning as much as one can about all of the major religions of the world has to help better empathize with the people with whom we share this planet. And that will never be a bad thing in my eyes.

8/07/2006 7:53 AM  
Blogger AaA said...

I'll second (or possibly thrid) KY Girl's (oh man is there a good joke in there somewhere!!) opinion.

8/14/2006 7:44 AM  

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