Friday, January 06, 2006

Christmas Concludes

I have survived another Christmas and a two-week visit with my extended family (who live across the country from me). There was an odd element to it as I had been very expectantly celebrating Advent while here in my fortress of relative solitude, but being back with the clan (who aren't particularly pious) broke that off rather abruptly.

My family is ... how can I say this ... peripherally religious. That is, Christianity is part of the family identity but most of them don't actually go to church or things like that. And it's far too easy for me to fall into a mode like that when packed in a guest room with my wife and daughters for two weeks with no time for quiet reflection.

Even so the trip did have some quirky fruit. Here are the highlights....

-My brother, a fan of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" whom I had nearly given up on as lost to modern pop spirituality, announced that he's decided to join the Roman Catholic Church.

-My sister says one of the reasons she doesn't go to church is that whenever she has they've always tried to get her involved in something. :-(

-Christmas Eve is the one time most of my family goes to church (though a few, such as my sister, have even managed to work their schedule to avoid even this). At our traditional congregational home, the invitation to communion included a qualifier saying that all who believe in the Real Presence in the Sacrament are welcome to partake. This at an ELCA congregation, which my brother later characterized as "too liberal."

-After the service my Baptist cousin wanted to know what kind of wine they use for communion (it's quite tasty). My brother responded, "Oh, that's easy, it's the blood of Christ." Did I mention that my brother is becoming Catholic?

-The three reasons my brother is becoming Catholic: (1) the idea of the Church as an institution, (2) the spiritual presence he felt when visiting the cathedrals of Europe, (3) confession.

-A cousin who has been Catholic all his life observed that confession is one of the things he doesn't agree with about Catholicism -- why does he need a man between himself and God? I, a lifelong Lutheran, defended the practice.

-This same cousin, a Catholic uncle and my soon-to-be Catholic brother all confused the Immaculate Conception (the doctrine that Mary was conceived without Original Sin) with the virgin conception of Christ.

-My Catholic cousin said that when he was young he believed everything the Church taught him, but now that he's older he questions a lot of things. For example? "When Cain was cast away from his family, where did the other people come from?" I responded, "You know, the Catholic Church doesn't really teach that the way you think they do." I'll make good Catholics out of this bunch yet!

-My brother's three-month old daughter was baptized while I was there, making an early entrance into the Catholic Church. I lived half my life two blocks from the church where the baptism for held, but this was the first time I had ever been inside.

-We arrived 20 minutes early for the baptism. While we were ascending the stairs my daughter asked me the difference between Catholicism and Lutheranism. When we got to the doors they were locked. I told her, "This is the difference. The Catholic Church won't let us in." ;-)

-My step-mother, who sings in her (Methodist) church choir, said she doesn't like my grandfather's wife because of her religious (Assembly of God) behavior -- for example, she (my grandfather's wife) won't let anyone eat when we go out for a family dinner until she has said grace. If this is offensive to a fellow Christian, imagine how non-Christians perceive it?

-One of my good friends from college, who is now teaching at a well-respected liberal arts college, reports that he has his "Intro to Religion" students read the "Imitation of Christ" to show them that Christianity also has the sort of ascetic traditions that they find so fascinating in religions like Buddhism. He says they couldn't be less interested. One of his colleagues attributed the book to Thomas Aquinas in conversation.

-I visited the Gettysburg battlefield. It is truly a sacred place. And there's an ELCA seminary there that figures in the history!

-I also visited Washington D.C. At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln is covered in scaffolding. Half the city is under construction.

-The Jefferson Memorial features this quotation: "I have sworn before the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." I'm really not sure what I think of him.


Luthsem said...

Well my wife's family is Assembly of God and her mom believes that Lutherans are just playing church and living like they want to during the week.

Andy said...

Yeah, my grandfather's wife is always asking me if my church preaches the real gospel or a "social gospel". I don't think she has any idea what it means, but she knows it's a bad thing. :-)