Word Addiction! A Guest Post from Rebecca Willen

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s meet today’s guest, Rebecca Willen.

I Admit It! I Have a Word Addiction.

RebeccaWillenDo you ever feel a shiver up your spine when a particular phrase of prose or poetry hits you just right?  Do you visualize conversations in your head in Times New Roman, 12 point?  Do you enjoy Bananagrams, Scrabble, and crosswords?  Do you get absurdly excited about new bookshelves?

If so, you might just be a word addict like me.  Welcome to the club!

Whenever I get the dreaded interview question “Tell me about yourself,” my answer usually involves the fact that I really like words and people.  My two loves work in tandem – words have little purpose without someone to listen or read them but find their end in the communication of truth to a receptive mind.  Likewise, communication, counsel, teaching, and so many other forms of written or spoken words help people to bond and grow.

The challenge with technology and social media is that the value of words can be lost.  Popular vocabulary is dwindling, and the beauty of a word is reduced to an arbitrary number of characters, or an attempt to catch a short attention span.  On the other hand, the myriad methods of communication, and the speed at which words can be transmitted from one person to another, allow words to gain new impact and power.

For a word addict like me, the challenge is to reinforce in my friends, my readers, and all those with whom I communicate, the truth that words are important.  Every word you use, down to its order in a sentence and the inflection of your voice, carries with it a vast array of connotations and connections.  A good writer knows how to use words to draw a reader into their story, to wring the heart and spark thoughts in the mind.  A good speaker knows how to grab the audience’s attention and keep it, while communicating important information in a way that interests and encourages retention.

As a Catholic, I have a great responsibility for the words I use.  I can, and must, try to communicate God Himself, infinite Truth, through words.  A single word misspoken can ruin another person’s image of the Church; in an apologetic conversation, a badly-used term can muddy the waters; in counsel, a wrong word can ruin a friendship.  But think of what can be done positively through words!  Look at the great saints and writers of the Church.  They took their responsibility seriously and gave words their greatest possible power for good.

I like to help words achieve that power, in my own little way.  Right now, that means working as a freelance proofreader and getting experience so that someday I can be an editor.  (Consider this a commercial break—I’m looking for proofreading jobs starting in September!)  And honestly, you’d be surprised how a misplaced comma or badly chosen word can mess up the message of a sentence or work.  Writing is also fun and valuable, something in which I’m trying to grow.

If you’re a word addict, writer, speaker, blogger, bibliophile, or use social media, be encouraged!  The Word has given Himself to be our aid and support.  May the Lord bless and keep you in all that you do with the words He has given.

Rebecca is a confirmed bibliophile, a word addict, and if you haven’t guessed, a bit of a nerd.  Having recently graduated from Christendom College, she’s starting out in the world as an anachronistic millennial, and retains her sanity by never leaving the apartment without a book.  She writes at Our Hearts are Restless, and works as a database analyst and freelance proofreader. Contact Rebecca.

“Why I Stay Catholic,” with the Aid of the Internet

Disclaimer:  I know none of this artwork is mine.  I’m not making any money off of it.  Try to sue me, and you won’t make money off of it, either.  

Elizabeth Scalia on Patheos has invited Catholic bloggers to respond to the question, “Why do you remain a Catholic?” I was thinking on this question and reading others’ responses, like Sarah Reinhard‘s and Barb S‘s.  Then I woke up this morning with the realization that I couldn’t possibly tell you why I stay without explaining why on earth I came back in the first place.

I’m a storyteller.  Let me tell you a story.

Once upon at time, many years ago, there was a little girl who loved nature and science and art all together.  Basically, she loved learning.  She was a nerd from the get-go.

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Alas, she grew up in a world where adults weren’t to be trusted.  They lied to children.  They manipulated.  At best, they ignored them.  At worst, they used them for their own gratification and told the child it was her fault.  They put the “ME” in “The Me Generation.”  As for catechizing the little girl?  You mean, from the cafeteria line?  CatholicBabyBoomersMeme

Anyway, this girl, while not a Millenial, did get sent to Catholic schools for thirteen years (kindergarten included) during the late 1970s into the super-early 1990s.  High school saw her progress from suicidal thoughts, to aggressive atheism, to a nice, bland “I’m spiritual, not religious,” agnosticism.  Her gods were her ability to read palms and tarot cards in the lunch room and at cast parties for modest sums.  Strangely, the only Catholic school lessons that did stick were the ones on abortion and, perhaps less so, the one on artificial birth control being bad for you, on a scientific level, mind you.  She couldn’t see past the science of them both.  So.  Remember, she’s a nerd?

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Oh, and the whole “save yourself for marriage” bit:  see, it was the age when the world was being introduced to HIV/AIDS.  This girl had an anxiety about getting sick and dying a horrible death, so the whole “waiting” thing seemed smart, but it was not taught in a very cohesive manner, so she only thought she had to wait for some things.

And then she, her palm readings and her tarot cards got to college.  All she knew upon arrival was that she was a weird person whom people generally don’t like.  She didn’t know why she had trouble trusting and connecting with people.  Then she got cast in a play where she played a character who had faced similar (not the same, just similar) betrayals as she herself had throughout her life up until that point.  She broke down.  During rehearsal.  In front of the whole cast.

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She didn’t know why.  She just knew something was even more wrong with her than she initially suspected.

She went home from rehearsal, curled up under the quilt made by her (devout Catholic) Granny, and stared at a wall.  She shook a lot.  She tried not to sob too loudly.  She remembered things she’d experienced and thought to herself, “That’s not such a big deal.  Why would something so minimal make me this upset? After all, everyone always told me that whatever I thought was making a big deal out of nothing.” But that thought did nothing to console or heal.  Whatever was going on was much bigger than she herself was.

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So she stared at the wall some more and thought, “Okay, God or whatever you are.  I just want The Truth.  I don’t care what it is.  I just want The Truth so I can get out of this bed and have things be better some day.”

Over the next days, weeks, and months, God (not the whatever, thankfully) answered her.  She did still own a Bible (for the intellectual exercise of reading it, like reading Thoreau), and she’d heard that the Psalms could be comforting, so she read those.  She also read about Wicca and Buddhism and Shinto and a whole alphabet soup of scavenging for Truth.  After about four months, she and her nerdy, metaphor-loving brain could find no more solid metaphor for God than the cross and resurrection.

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Disappointed that she couldn’t find truth in nature worship or something cool like Eastern religion, she conceded.  “Okay, fine, God.  You want me to be Christian.  I’ll be Christian.  Just whatever You do, don’t make me Catholic.  The odds that I’d be born into The Truth are pretty darn slim to begin with, and besides that, nobody likes Catholics and their archaic, made-up beliefs that have no basis in reality.”

She joined the campus Christian fellowship, but in the interests of remaining open-minded, she still poked around the local Catholic community center. Except remember how she didn’t just like literature and plays and art?  She also liked science a whole lot and always felt kind of torn at having to choose a major?  Well, she loved nature.  A lot. Hence Wicca being mentioned first on the list above.   A girl who loves both nature and metaphor is a sucker for finding the logic in Natural Law, and a girl who doesn’t trust authority is going to mistrust what the culture says her.

Guess what?  Catholicism is all about Natural Law.  And even moreso, Catholicism is about Truth being solid, unchanging, utterly immune to manipulation.

“Oh, crap,” she said to God.  “Am I Catholic?”

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She was talking to God pretty regularly at this point, and said, “Okay.  I can’t stand that this means that most of my friends are living in a way that is contrary to biological reality, but since I still get to love them, I can stomach it.  However, I still don’t get the Eucharist, Mary, or the Pope.  You’ve got some ‘splaining to do.”

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Considering how much this girl got metaphor, the Eucharist barrier was the first to tumble: God loves us so much that it’s completely intimate.  He loves us so much that he won’t just die on a cross for us.  He literally will go through $h1t for us.  It’s a no-brainer.  The Eucharist is Jesus.  No other Christian faith teaches that with such clarity and reverence.

The Pope was next: every play needs a director, and her life was plays at the time.  Easy-peasy.  Not like this:

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The Mary thing was tougher.  Human moms are unrealistically held up as the height of perfection.  Mary was just another human mom, so what’s the point?  Funny enough, this girl was reading one of the most anti-Catholic novels every to be written just as she was struggling with this idea of Mary being a sinless intercessor for us with Jesus.  Goddess worship abounded.  But Mary couldn’t be God.  There’s only one God.  But upon closing the book, this girl virtually heard God say, “What makes you think I would leave you without a mother?”

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“Oh, crap,” she thought.  “I guess I really am Catholic.”

So by junior year, she poured the cultural Kool Aid down the drain, made several decent confessions, and accepted the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Peter’s great confession, “To whom else could we go, Lord?” sounded in her head more like, “If there were somewhere else to go, Lord, believe me:  I’d be there.  But you’re Truth, so I’m stuck.”

There was still one thing, though, that took a few more years to take, something she only learned while practicing True Catholicism.  It was the value of suffering.  She had suffered much in her life, and becoming Catholic did nothing to ease that.  It did, however, give it meaning.  Other faiths teach that suffering is to be avoided, ignored, or passed on to others (especially if you’re counting Western individualism as a religion).  Catholicism is the only faith that teaches that suffering has meaning and value and can be accepted with love for God and for others.

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Suffering means that God loves us so much that he wants us to know the agony of his own heart.  It’s not about winning heaven, like some twisted martyr complex.  It’s about having faith and hope that we are loved in a relationship, that we get to give, not just receive.  We have the honor of loving God back.

So, yeah.  I’m that girl.  And, crap, I guess that girl’s Catholic.  Still.  So, however reluctantly most days, I run to God.

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What’s more amazing is that he runs to me right back.

Why do you stay Catholic, when everybody else is leaving?  Blog it, and let Elizabeth Scalia know by tweeting at her @TheAnchoress.  

“I Am the Lost Princess”: A Respect Life 7QT

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7 Quick Takes Friday, brought to you by ConversionDiary.com

This is one of those things that has been banging around in my head, demanding to get out of its tower, and every time I try to work on writing stuff that actually has a deadline, this won’t leave me alone.  I’m going to trust that’s because God wants it shared, so I place it in Mary’s hands to clean it up before presenting it to Him.  I’m also going to lay aside my fears about sharing this much, because (a) it might help someone, and (b) chances are it won’t because the Internet is a hugely anonymous place, and the vast majority of people—like, vast majority and I’m not even saying this to be self-deprecating—don’t even know I exist.  There’s great freedom in the humility of that.

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Last Sunday, I took First Shift to the Mother-Daughter Fertility Appreciation Tea and Fashion Show, sponsored by our nearest group of Fertility Care Friends.

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We’ve also watched Disney’s Tangled twice in the past month-ish.

Stay with me.  There’s a connection.

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In Tangled, we see that Rapunzel’s been kept from Truth in order to keep someone else happy.  It’s a false happy (because we’re all going to get old and die) and it’s a temporary happy (see previous “because”), but Rapunzel doesn’t know that.  She’s only ever gotten Mother Gothel’s version of reality (see: relativism), and that’s the version that keeps Rapunzel up in a tower, raised by lies.  As soon as Rapunzel wants to see the Truth for herself (the floating lights), Gothel tells her that she can’t handle the Truth (Disney’s Jack Nicholson), and then she proceeds to twist what Truth is.

But, Truth eventually finds us, because it’s all around us, and even if we stay in our towers, sometimes it accidentally climbs to find us.  Rapunzel’s encounter and then adventure with Truth (led by a thief of all people) gives her the chance to find the clues of who she really is.  Finally, even when Gothel re-traps her with lies, the clues fall into place, and Rapunzel claims her identity.  She claims the Truth.

“I’m the lost princess.”

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I participated in a support group a long time ago.  One thing I remember about that group was that I was one of only a very small handful who wanted or had children.  “I don’t want to repeat the past,” the others said.  “I could never have kids.  I’m too damaged.”

Then I had kids.  I have never done a more healing thing.  See, up in my tower, I was told things like, “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.  You can’t take proper care of yourself, so that’s why I have to do these things.”  There were co-morbid lies, including but not limited to, “Fat people can’t do things like be loved, dress nicely, or exercise.”

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I didn’t realize it until last Sunday’s Mother-Daughter Tea, but my whole parenting style has been like this:  I work for a security system company, and it’s my job to install in my kids’ amazing brains a series of security alarms.  Whenever they hear something that is not objective Truth, an alarm goes off.

Whether the lie is, “Long division is too hard to learn.  I’ll never get it.”  BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

…or something more like, “I need to be the center of attention, and getting people to look at me for my body will make that happen.” BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

Because I’m Catholic and teaching them to be so, we have objective Truth available to us and cannot be threatened by it.  Frightened by it, sure, but we know it’s there to get us to the eternal embrace in the arms of our heavenly King, so the fear is something we can move past.

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Here’s what’s been so healing about being Security System Servicemom.  As I set those alarms in my kids’ heads, they’re being reset in mine.

“Fat people can’t do things like be loved…” BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

“…dress nicely…” BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

“…or exercise.” BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! (Dude, that one’s so obvious, it doesn’t even need a link.)

I recently had a close relative from the tower demonstrate to me that the first thing you should notice about a person is how much weight he’s gained.  That would’ve seemed right and proper to me before.  Now?  BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

I have another close relative from the tower demonstrate to me that he still relishes telling people how wrong they are.  Before I would’ve just gotten down on myself.  Now 1 Cor 13 rings in my head, and it rings with a loud, loving, Truthful BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

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October is Respect Life month.  So many of us, raised in the tower and raised by lies, have bought the lie that we are too damaged, either by the past or the present, to be good parents. And so, come heck or high water, we’d better make sure we never have to parent.  Well guess what Security System Servicemom does?  She sets the alarms so well that even if she herself tells the lie

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! (The lie I seem to tell most is “I should yell at you like a banshee for your mistakes—sinful ones or not.”)

If you join up with the Truth in parenting, and if the Truth is the person of God Himself… how can you possibly be too damaged?  You can’t.  And if you tell yourself that you are, guess what you’ll hear resounding in all four corners of your mind?

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

“You’re making a big deal out of nothing.  You couldn’t take proper care of yourself, so that’s why I had to do these things.”

Nope.  BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

You were wrong about the world, and you were wrong about me, and I will never let you use my hair again.

Then I run back into the arms of my true Mother, and the King, my True Father, embraces us both.

How did you get out of your tower?  

Bias, Point-of-View, and a Ragamuffin Movie

On Friday night, we finally got around to watching Ragamuffin on Netflix.

I first found Rich Mullins shortly after I first came to Christ, so that would have been around 1992.  I say “came to Christ,” when “fumbling around with my eyes closed, hoping I’d bump into Him” might be more accurate.  I was waffling between just finding some nice, sensible non-denominational Christian fellowship to join, or throwing my lot in with the Catholics.  Little did I know that Rich Mullins himself was fighting a strikingly similar battle.

Whether I went to InterVarsity or Christopher House, we all sang “Awesome God.”

A year or so later, after I had (however reluctantly) realized, “Well, I guess I’m Catholic,” I was on the road with a Protestant friend and fellow cast member in a travelling production of The Hobbit.  Had I heard the newest Rich Mullins album?  I hadn’t.  My buddy had it on cassette tape (because we were poor theatre majors and that’s all his old car could play), so I read the liner notes while the music played and we rolled toward our next gig.

I heard a tentative sketch of a Catholic Mass on that tape.  I saw the Apostles Creed as song lyrics.  I saw pictures of old stone Mary statues in the liner. I don’t think I said it out loud, as not to offend my Reformed driver, but I remember thinking, “Rich Mullins has gone Catholic, too.  He just doesn’t know it yet.”

In 1997, I remember learning just a few days after returning from my honeymoon that Rich Mullins had perished in a car crash.  I was devastated.  A few years after that, I learned from a priest friend of one of Mullins’s priest friends that Rich had been taking RCIA and was days from receiving his first Eucharist when a truck stopped him from outright crossing the Tiber.  It was like hearing of his death all over again.  So when I saw that Ragamuffin was going to be an actual thing, I was excited… and curious.

Protestants were making this movie.  Would they tell the Truth, even if it was hard for them?

There was much I did not know about Rich that I learned from the movie.  I honestly had never heard anything about his problems with depression, addictions or substance abuse.  [I admittedly have kept my head under a rock since Rich died when it comes to contemporary Christian Music; it seemed like, if he wasn’t making any more music, then what was the point?]  I also learned about Brennan Manning and his Ragamuffin Gospel (about whom and which I still know so little that I can’t even give you a link that seems reliable and/or flush with information).    Admittedly, I was just impressed that the filmmakers admitted anything at all about Rich’s interest in Catholicism.  They indicated his interest in, if not devotion to, St. Francis.  They even let slip a mention of Rich reading Chesterton.  I was pleasantly surprised.

I really, truly enjoyed the film.  4.5 stars, if I knew a forum in which to give them.  I feel good about telling you to see it.

That said, however, and upon reflection, I have to wonder if the filmmakers told the Truth about Rich Mullins.  A significant part of the plot was given over to his time with Brennan Manning, an evangelist who left the Catholic priesthood and doesn’t seem to have returned before his own passing.  Okay, fine.  But the filmmakers deliberately chose not to show Rich Mullins even setting foot in a single Catholic church, much less his attending RCIA.  Why did they leave this significant, downright professionally risky business out but keep Manning’s influence in?

I have to wonder about this, because I’m a storyteller, too.  I have made the Truth my business, even if the Truth wears a fiction suit, speaking to them in parables and all that. Can I keep uncomfortable Truth out of my stories when it might offend my Catholic sensibilities, just like it seems the Protestant makers of Ragamuffin did?  Or can that sort of thing be just a matter of point-of-view?  From a Protestant POV, is it unTruthful to gloss over your hero’s flirtation with Rome even while showing him chain smoking and chugging from the bottle?  What was so frightening to the Ragamuffin production team about showing Rich Mullins calling a priest and telling him, I HAVE TO RECEIVE THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST”?

What Truth is frightening me away from telling the stories God asks me to tell?  What Truth is frightening you?

If we storytellers are to “penetrate concrete reality,” as Flannery O’Connor says we must, we must be braver than bias.  Were the makers of Ragamuffin that brave? I feel I can’t answer that.  I’m not sure I can tell from my Catholic point-of-view.