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Looking Forward, Looking Back: Parte Dos

I’ve been blogging for ten years. Ten long years, in which I’ve been writing exactly what I wanted to instead of building an audience. That’s not good for marketing. Nope, not at all. However, there were two blog series I did that had a stable set of fans who always wanted more: Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl* and New Mexico Noir**. It was my goal from the beginning to compile, edit, and publish these blog posts eventually, but life got in the way. Now I’m finally doing it. I’m giving myself a blessing instead of a curse by telling myself Godspeed, you will complete these tasks, rather than my usual manner of telling myself I will fail from the get-go. It’s good to be realistic, until realism becomes an excuse for not acting. Far be it for me to believe in a “word of faith” movement, which is gnostic at its core. Nevertheless, the messages we tell ourselves eventualy influence how we live our lives. When I see successful men like Scott Adams claiming they created their success by writing it down ten times a day on a sheet of paper, I don’t see hocus-pocus. Inatead, I see that they retrained their cognitive train to run down a different set of tracks. The train then ran to a shiny new station: one where consistent actions created success.

*nonfiction: philosophical essays revolving around coffeehouses

**fiction: a comedic New Mexico based mystery

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The Focus of Mass

No, this isn’t a physics post. It’s about church and its purpose. Metaphysics would be a more accurate subject designation. However, this will function as a very basic apologetic. Why? I’ve mentioned more than once that I listen to or read debates on Protestantism vs Catholicism. There is a fundamental misunderstanding many Protestants have of Catholic worship, and that is the purpose or focus of the Mass. Those Protestants who aren’t converts, that is, those who’ve never been to a Mass, tend to imagine the oddest things about the Catholic church service.

Namely, they believe the Mass is done with a focus on and in consecration of Mary. I don’t know who started this rumor, but I’ve heard it enough times now to know it’s not the belief of one dishonest but ardent Protestant. To give these Protestants the benefit of the doubt, they may have been witness to a video of nuns praying the rosary in a chapel, which repeats a number of Hail Mary’s, and mistaken it for a Mass. It is not.

First off, let me explain why I ended up going to Catholic Masses in the first place:

    1. We had at one time been members of an LCMS congregation, but God had led us away from the Lutheran church after moving;
    2. However, I longed for the liturgical service because taking the Lord’s Communion wasn’t the same in churches where the elements were unconsecrated and the grape juice had replaced the wine;
    3. For a couple of years, I could find no other job than one that required me to work on Sundays, and the Catholic church is the only one I knew of in my community where I could go to church on Saturday evenings, as well as every other day of the week. Obviously, only the Saturday and Sunday services are considered appropriate for meeting the Sabbath requirement, but, the fact is, they offer the elements seven days a week, and all around the world, too. That’s not to mention the little chapels for prayer they often keep open twenty-four/seven;
    4. To reiterate this last point in a simple statement: the Catholic church makes themselves available to people in a way that Protestant denominations do not.

Yes, but why do Protestants assume the Mass is about Mary? Better question: Why didn’t I believe that? The answer is simple. I went to Lutheran services for years, so I understood the purpose of the liturgical service — one that had sprung directly from Catholicism. Also, during my years of constant reading, I had studied the Roman Catholic catechism and the “apocryphal”* books. I knew Catholics weren’t allowed to worship Mary; that is considered idolatry. More than that, the entire liturgical service leads to the crux, as it were: taking the body and blood of Jesus Christ. That is what a Mass is. That’s what it has always been. The congregants pray and repent and praise God, thereby preparing their hearts to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Whether the congregants do this quietly on their knees while the priest prays and does most of the movement, or kneel and stand along with the priest, depends on the service being a traditional Latin rite or conversely a post-Vatican II Mass. But either way, the movement of the Mass still leads to accepting the sacrifice of Jesus. Never Mary. Ever. In fact, her name might be mentioned once (twice at the most) in the service, and only in a list of other saints who stand as witnesses who’ve gone before us. Interestingly enough, many traditional Catholics reject the modern Mass, but not because it has a focus on Mary (or doesn’t). No, they reject the modern service because the priest interacts more with the congregants than with Jesus, even down to blessing the elements and then allowing Eucharistic ministers from the congregation to pass them to the people. Protestants are so out of touch with Catholics that they don’t know Catholic infighting is about audience participation. But over Mary? Perish the thought. Their church authorities have determined repeatedly that Mary is important because she said yes to God and became the mother of our savior. Her act of obedience should lead us to Jesus, always.

To reiterate what the Mass is about, I’ll quickly detail the order of it. Confession and repentance. Praising God. Bible readings (one each from the Old Testament, the epistles, and the gospels; if you follow the weekly readings and not just the Sunday ones, you will read the entire Bible in two years). The homily, based on the Bible readings. Affirmation of faith in the creed. Communal prayer. Offertory. Eucharistic service: involves the Lord’s Prayer, the people blessing each other, the priest blessing the sacraments, and then the people partaking of the elements. Final kneeling, contemplation, and prayers. The priest carries the cross out into the world, and the people follow, bearing the gospel in their hearts.

This last part is very important as a distinction between Catholic and Protestant churches. Church is for renewal of Christians so they are spiritually ready to carry the gospel into the rest of their week. Are they successful at this? Not always; they are, after all, just people. They follow rituals that begin to lose their meaning after a while, and they forget the reason the priest is carrying the cross out of the church with the people at his heels. In fact, there are a number of Catholics who ditch the Mass just as soon as they’ve taken the elements. That is the sad reality. But the complacency of people doesn’t change the content and meaning of the Mass.

Many Protestant church services have been so long removed from the traditional Mass that they’ve forgotten that its focus was always the spiritual renewal of the people, primarily by partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In fact, many Protestant churches rarely make the Lord’s Supper available to the congregants at all. The focus of the Protestant service is on either the sermon, the praise and worship time, or the altar call. In many churches, the singing and homily are meant to lead to the altar call as the crux. Why? Their focus is on spreading the gospel in the church rather than renewing the spirit of the people so they can spread the gospel during the week. I remember the days in youth group when we were pressured to invite non-Christians to church in order for them to be saved. We were not considered “good” Christians unless we did this. To avoid the potential for Christians to be left spiritually empty, Protestants have Sunday Schools and Bible studies. See, I’m not knocking their model. The corporate service has a different purpose; that’s all (and granted, their are 1000s of Protestant churches, but a good many of them have the above model). I just wish Protestants would try to understand the Catholic service before writing articles slandering it.

*I put that in quotes because some of the books Protestants consider to be apocrypha, Catholics consider to be part of the Canon. Catholics use the word “apocrypha” only for books outside the Canon, generally pseudepigraphal books. That is, they are known to be stories that couldn’t have been written by the purported author during the time he would have been writing.

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Looking Forward, Looking Back

It’s a mystery how quickly the Christmas holiday fades. Here in NM, we often have a false spring in January; that’s part of it. But it’s more a matter of facing reality head-on again, whereas in December I’m looking at it sideways because I’m distracted by pretty things: decorations, lights, music, tamales. A Thomas Kincaid, painter of light vision of reality, heartening back to “simpler” times, or quiet times of the soul. Despite having to jump with both feet, face first into life last week, I’m still contemplating what this next year will bring.

If I had to review 2018, I would say it was a year of struggle, searching for a new path — God lifting the gates so I could move forward. I quit my stable job at the end of 2017, which explains the struggle. I despaired throughout much of 2018 as I tried to renew my freelance business(es). I needed to be at a point where I could turn away work, not accept it in the nick of time. Am I there? Yes, but not solely due to editing and book formatting because God has given me unexpected work in other areas.

Also, I published my book The Minaverse in 2018. The sales were…disappointing to say the least. So that is not included in my freelance work. Recently, a reader sent me a message, claiming my book is “brilliant” and needs to be made into a film. She clarified: the characterization and setting are brilliant (my two best skills are one, really, because setting is a character to me), but the visual comedy would translate to film well. Flying prosthetics, playing whack-a-mole with a baseball bat and androids, soccer players defying gravity. I had fun writing it, but have had a nearly impossible time convincing others to buy it, let alone read it. Heck, my asking for beta and free review reads was like pleading in a dark, soundless room where nobody could see or hear me. It has been a bizarre experience.

But now 2019 has arrived, and although I’m disappointed in my own performance — I’m still not done with the next book?? — my life is very full right now. I have nothing to complain about. I don’t need sales to keep me writing, though having readers would be an inspiration, like that moment after you’ve applied for a job and checked back numerous times, and the company finally calls you back. That’s what having readers feels like.

In my spare time lately, I listen to conversion videos on YouTube. These often involve apologetics, but not always. It’s fascinating to me why Christians turn wholeheartedly to Protestantism or Catholicism: converts tend to be the most ardent people. And yet, and yet…they are ardent for Jesus (that’s key) by going in opposing directions (or they assume they are moving down an opposing path). These two groups are like squabbling siblings, though, who have the same father. It’s my guess that complacency kills us inside, and that God is surprising us awake. I think God does want to surprise us. Not by going against his own nature, but by how he works in our lives. Last year didn’t go as I expected or hoped it would (I hardly had an expectation that I would sell a ton of books after not publishing for four years), but I’ve been surprised by many things.

Through all this contemplating the future, I’ve determined my word for 2019 is surprise. Funny, I know. Because that’s every year of life. We can predict the future, but we can’t foretell it. Not under normal circumstances, anyway.

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Mexican Music Monday

This “Music Monday” idea I stole from HP of Hillbilly Highways. But rather than write about Americana, I’m going to write about Mexicana. And…being that my schedule’s a bit rough today, this might end up as a Tuesday post. What can I say? I’m a little backwards.

In the old days — snort, meaning the last few years — we’ve quite superstitously taken a New Year’s song from whatever was playing on the radio or other media when the clock rolled over to midnight mountain time. This year, midnight beat us to the punch, and my husband hurried over to YouTube to pick from “recommended” videos. He didn’t look; he just picked.

“No, no, no!” I protested. “It can’t be Tragos amargos. I don’t want 2019 to be tainted with bitter sad alcoholism spawned by lost love.”

So he clicked on the next: Naufraga en mi cama. Again, I protested. I didn’t care for the idea of being shipwrecked in my bed due to tragedy. Let it not be so. And on it went until he was so exasperated I stopped protesting. Lágrimas de cristal ended up being our New Year’s song. At least in that one, the sadness has a happy inspirational feel, if you’re the type of guy who likes to imagine the woman you broke up with sitting at home and crying. It’s not clear who broke up with whom, actually. Al partir, the song says. At the parting. I’m guessing she broke up with him, but only because of the ambiguous language.

Mexican music is difficult, but the type I listen to is folk music. Folk music is difficult in any language as it records the more often than not dark, sad history of humanity. Of course, not all of it is melancholic. As with any folk music, there are also songs about positive love experiences, the joys of crushes, and dancing and eating marvelous foods. There are bragadacio songs — plenty of them — and instructional diddies (how to dance or love). And then there are the oddball songs that touch the soul, but that don’t fit neatly in melancholic or joyous ballads. Ramón Ayala’s Mi golondrina is one of my favorites of this latter category; it’s a song about the flight of a swallow that could be a metaphor for anything cyclical that might just seem static when in the top or bottom of that circle. To me, it’s a song about the poetic spirit or the muse, as it were. It comes and goes with the season of life, and I’m never sure if it will return to me.

Melancholic or not, the draw of Mexican music for me is the incongruity of the simple lyrics with the full, dramatic sounds of the accordion mixed with saxophone or the brass band. I’ve often called it happy-sad music, but a better descriptor would be boisterous. It has a lot of energy. That alone makes it worthy of New Year’s music, the uninspiring lyrics notwithstanding.

Signing out from New Mexico country, right here in the borderlands….

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Dorothy Day and Genetic Recognition

I like to listen to people debate, even if they aren’t directly debating each other, but rather, responding. I see a lot of this online, and it does get tiresome after a while due to the midwittery of most writers/debaters. Most bring nothing new to the debate because they simple don’t have the mental accuity to do so. Popular midwits, such as Matt Walsh, are popular because they strike that everyday-man recognition, but with their use of excessive or fancy words, they seem to be saying something profound, something we hadn’t quite thought of. I don’t mean to sound harsh; I dont even have the IQ of a midwit. That is, mine hovers right on the average. However, because I struggled with learning in school, I was forced to dismantle everything and put it back together in order to understand anything at all, which means I’ve done a lot more mental work than other people of average or even above-average midwit IQ ranking. Struggle is good for humans. It really is. An intelligent person who hasn’t struggled, who is clever and grasps concepts too easily, may end up with a very shallow understanding of the world. This is unfortunate but true.

Lately, I’ve been searching for intelligent debates or responses between Protestants and Catholics. And by that, I mean between living people. I want the on-going conversation, and not the one that occurred hundreds of years ago. I’ve spent a lifetime reading dead authors; I want to engage now with living people. This has become a chore due to the laziness of midwits. It’s one thing to ascertain your own side’s position. It’s quite another to understand your opponent’s. Midwits have foregone conclusions, but their willingness to embrace a deep understanding of their conclusions tends to be sorely lacking. If you are a Protestant simply because you believe Catholicism is a works-based religion, but have not bothered to read the RC catechism, then you are bringing nothing of merit to the table. The same is true of the reverse, although I’ve found that educated Catholics have been forced into a position of apologetic thinking — a defensive position brought about by struggle.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily impressed by modern Catholic thinkers. On my Kindle, I’m still enjoying the dead ones, currently 17th and 18th C Saints (with a capital S). E.g., I don’t mind men like Scott Hahn, but he does strike me as a shallow midwit. I had finally decided to read his Rome Sweet Home anyway, but then I found a review that insisted I — well, not me, specifically — should read Dorothy Day’s conversion story instead of Hahn’s. I decided to read both.

Dorothy Day is dead, so she doesn’t meet my desire for a living, breathing conversation. However, reading about Day prior to starting her autobiography did get me thinking about another aspect to debates on philosophy and theology. Intelligence is only one part of the package when it comes to influencing others. Personality, genetics, and sex are also part of the picture. Personality and genetics are why I read Chesterton and shake my head in wonder and claim my historical soulmate is a grumpy-faced Englishman. With Day, I recognized the look on her face, too: stoicism that could be misconstrued as meanness or grumpiness. But with Day, I have the female sex in common. Also, as it turns out, she was born in America to an Irish father from the South and an Anglo mother from the North…which is basically my ancestry, as well. Her Wiki bio is a little unsettling, as she dabbled in feminism and communism and lived an immoral life before converting to Catholicism. I recognize none of that because I grew up in a Christian home, whereas she did not and, hence, she did not have the foundation I was given. That being said, Wiki is an inherently biased source; I would prefer to read Day in her own words. So far, there is recognition for me in her writing, as well.

There is much to be said for personality clusters. There are only so many personality types in the human population. I see them again and again, albeit influenced by the factors I’ve already mentioned (intelligence, sex, genetics…even upbringing, as seen in Day’s early behavior). When enough of these factors come together, likemindedness occurs — the concept of “soulmate.” Being influenced by somebody who is so similar to me is probably a bit…selfish, but not terribly unusual. Most people are influenced in this way. On the other hand, is it really influence, or is it simply comforting to not feel alone in the world? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that those who have really influenced me are those who have surprised me. I unwittingly discussed that in my recent spiritual memoir and would like to delve more into that another time.

If you’ve managed to make it through this entire post, then I have a couple questions for you: what thinkers do you consider to be soulmates? And what thinkers have surprised you and woken you up?

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