Tuesday, October 9, 2007


One of the people we stayed with in Manchester was a skilled photographer. She snapped an offhand photo of Catherine and me and zapped it over.

Monday, October 1, 2007


I wrote to a friend today who is a Catholic but works in a large evangelical Protestant church. Here's what I said:

I was just thinking about you, and about what it must be like for someone raised Catholic to experience something like your church.

I was actually thinking about church architecture, and how it mirrors our thoughts on worship: the great old Catholic churches have an altar front and center — a place for holy rituals and communion. But then the Protestant churches came along and replaced the altar with the pulpit — a place for preaching about the Word.

Wow, that's a really important shift, no? And that seems to sum it up completely. Protestants have tended to want to verbalize everything, and have gotten really good at talking about the faith and putting it into bullet points — and also downgrading everything that can't be put into bullet points. This is why Evangelical churches don't have a big satisfying Eucharist. (They're like the smart kid in school who's so good at math and spelling but then scoffs at all that other stuff like social skills and emotions.)

That got me to thinking about modern churches and how we've even gotten rid of the pulpit, replacing it with... the stage.

What does that say about us and what we think about worship? Not that either way is good or evil, but it can't be meaningless, right? I think the average person at your church would say that we're on a stage performing an act of worship for our Divine Audience, who looks on us with pride and joy and pleasure, whereas a hundred and fifty years ago an Evangelical person would hear that and be puzzled: who cares about us? Let's hear the Bible the Bible and only the Bible! Meanwhile, a Catholic would look at the whole thing and say, "Nice, but where's the sacred ritual, the sacrament, the communion with the Almighty?"

Hm. So my thought is that someone like you from a Catholic background might be energized by all the dynamic thoughts on spiritual things that you might not have gotten in the past, but at the same time feeling like the worship service isn't really real. And maybe frustrated that all these people who are constantly talking about the Eleven-and-a-half Principles of Success In Faith never get to the meat of the issue — our contact with inexpressible, deep mysteries of sin and sacrifice and redemption and eternity — stuff you can never really fit into any verbal form, and is maybe better expressed by rituals and symbols.

But that's just my guess. What are your thoughts?

And in the meantime, I suspect that in our computer lives we've all become Catholics. A generation ago, as Umberto Eco pointed out, you had the DOS Protestants with their emphasis on knowledge and entering verbal strings to get results, and the Mac Catholics with — literally — icons! — things that you have no understanding of but that you can interface with and embrace and enjoy and use. And the DOS people tended, just like Protestants and Evangelicals do, to think the Catholics aren't really real and don't really get it, with their images and pictures and eye-candy and the fact that they don't have to study to be a computer user. But now the battle is over, yes? Those Catholics with their computer version of stained-glass windows for the illiterate, will win every time!

This is also why the Catholic Church is so great at iconography. It's no coincidence at all that when the makers of The Matrix wanted Keanu Reeves to look bad to the bone, they dressed him as a Monsignior. (Also, has anybody's wife ever dressed up as a Lutheran schoolgirl? I think not.) Catholics have been manufacturing powerful images for centuries, precisely because of their theological thoughts on where meaning resides and how we get to it.

Anyway, back to the topic, have you ever run into a frustration or misunderstanding at your church, being a person used to the unspeakable mysteries of Catholicism, confronted with someone who expects you to verbalize stuff you may never have verbalized or may even consider impossible to?

His response was that he didn't grow up Catholic at all, but only is now to accommodate his wife and her family.

Ah well. Never mind.