Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On Not Eating Corned Beef and Cabbage

We've been quietly going to another church since January. People, I know, switch churches all the time for all kinds of reasons. But we'd been going to the same Catholic church since we moved here in late 2006: both girls in Sunday School, me volunteering, Jason cantoring, a fair amount of familiar faces. And Jason and I have been going to a Catholic church in one form or another since we were married, after a few months of struggling to figure out how, exactly, we were going to meld our different ideas about God and communion and worship into something that would work for our entire future family. He grew up Catholic, I didn't, and a bunch of factors (some more legitimate than others) swayed us to choose his tradition.

The new church isn't Catholic.

I love the new church so much I could almost cry just thinking about it.


You know how some people make a very big deal out of eating corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day? Well, maybe you don't, but I do, because I live with one. Jason has little - if any - Irish blood in his background, but he loves to buy a giant corned beef sometime mid-March, get his hands on a can of cabbage or two, and boil up a big, stinky Irish dinner for the holiday, even if he's the only person in our family who will eat it. He genuinely loves the taste, and he's adopted the tradition as his own. There's something joyful and meaningful to him about celebrating the holiday that way. He likes to have a few guys over, carve the beef into slices for reubens, and watch March Madness basketball. He likes the way the meal reminds him that spring is just around the corner. He likes how it smells and how it tastes.

In other, more Irish parts of the country, I imagine there are whole Irish families who annually celebrate in much the same way. It's part of their culture, and their grandmother or dad has been cooking this meal on March 17 for as long as they can remember. There are probably people in those families who don't necessarily love the taste of the beef or the smell of the cabbage, but they look forward to the holiday because of the tradition it represents and because it's a tie to their heritage. They eat the dinner. And even if the specific food is not their favorite, they likely enjoy the familiar celebration.


The Catholic Church had become like corned beef and cabbage to me. After over a decade of practicing the faith, it had never come to feel familiar. I had never been able to embrace the tradition it represents or connect with its culture. In addition, I had not been able to embrace it as an outsider, either; I don't genuinely like how it tastes and smells, it's not joyful or meaningful to me, and I wouldn't want to adopt it as my own.

Here's the thing: because I didn't genuinely enjoy it, and because I wasn't connecting with it out of familiar tradition, I had stopped eating it at all. I'd forgotten that there was a time in my life when I looked forward to going to church, when I genuinely enjoyed the traditions and connections, when I left church feeling like I'd been gathered around the table at my grandparents' house and was going back out to the world, fortified for the week and reminded of how loved I was. So I didn't want to go, ever, at all, period.


I have plenty of friends and family who find joy and meaning in the Catholic church, either because they genuinely appreciate the doctrine and worship style or because it's been a big part of their cultural and familial tradition for years. It's their home, or it's their adopted home, and they find joy and meaning and delicious sustenance there, and I am so very happy for them about that. But as our girls grew older and as Jason and I thought more about the messages we want them to hear and see, the Catholic church wasn't working for us.

So a few months ago we went to not-a-Catholic church again for the first time in ages. We've been going pretty regularly. And we never leave without a deep sense of gratitude that we spent an hour there. I remember the first time we were there for communion and the minister gave a little spiel that went something like, We don't presume you to be Christian in a certain way; it is simply our hope to be Christian to you. And that means that absolutely everyone is welcome here, and that anyone with any shred of belief is welcome to join us around this table, and I could have wept on the spot with relief. The rules and dogma and doctrinal scoldings at our old church left me feeling resentful, beaten down, and defeated. The Catholic church, when asked, "What are you sure of?" replies: "Everything. Fall in line." But here - here! right in our city - was a church that, when asked the same question, replies: Barely anything. But come figure it out with us.

Don't get me wrong; I like rules: speed limits, bedtimes, ask-to-be-excused-before-you-leave-the-table, pay your taxes, wait in line, be a good neighbor. But when it comes to God, I've long gone on record as being a little suspicious of anyone who seems to be too sure about anything. It is a MYSTERY. Who among us can really know much for sure beyond the Greatest Commandment (Love God) and the second, "like unto it," (Love one another)? Why raise our girls in a church where they, no matter how holy or wise or effective a leader, can't lead because of their gender? Why endure doctrinal scoldings during sermons about things that we never agreed with in the first place? Why remain a part of a church that wants to silence dissension, keep people away from the table, and offer communion based on a set of narrow parameters?

From now on, we'll be over here, eating at a table that nourishes us, celebrating the hol(y)days in a way that makes better sense to us, creating our own little family traditions.

1 comment:

  1. So happy for you and your family. Thanks for sharing it...miss reading your blogs! We would love to find a place and space for us to feel this way. If you have a minute, would you mind shooting me an e-mail with the church (not sure if it's one that might have a connection here in Ann Arbor?) Thanks!