Why You Should Read Books

When I was a kid I hated reading. It was largely because I hated the books our school was making us read. While parents and kids are kind of losing their minds over the homeschooling situation, and this quarantine in general, I think this is actually an opportunity. Reading is obviously important. Books are our window into history, science, mythology, philosophy, and speculation, not to mention God’s revealed Truth, in a way that things like movies, documentaries, and YouTube can’t be.

As I said, I hated the books we were reading in school. All through elementary and at least through middle school, we read something every year about slavery in America. While it was unjust and cruel, by the time I was ten I just didn’t care any more. Homeschooling, I think, is an opportunity to teach kids once that slavery happened in America, but more importantly, it still happens all over the world. Use this as an opportunity to read together about different countries, different religious, and different cultures.

For history class, download some books on your computers, tablets or whatever, and read historical fiction about stuff your kids actually find interesting. For English class, read a couple of books, and have your kids compare stuff they actually enjoy reading to a piece written in the 1920’s that might be in the same or a similar genre. Have them write about what it might be like to have lived in the year 1020, or to live in 3020. Obviously scale these ideas to what is age appropriate.

I think, though, that traditional forms of teaching just won’t work. If your kid doesn’t like reading, but he/she is super interested in mythology or black holes, read books about mythology or black holes. I suggest all of this because I love to read, and I love stories, yes, but also because I think right now, reading and learning together is a good way to keep everyone a little closer together and a little more sane. I honestly do think that book club has been great for my family. I hated Pride and Prejudice, but I love seeing my extended family once a week, discussing the book for ten minutes (which was what happened, at least with the last book), and then complaining and joking for an hour.

I think it also gave us a sense of having a task to complete. We knew that it would take us six weeks to complete Pride, so we could think about those six weeks in terms of finishing a book instead of an indefinite abyss of “what’s next?” This summer, even when the official school year ends, I’d pick out two or three books, or one longer one, just for fun, that will be the kids’ summer reading, but will also be a time keeper. If you and your kids really honestly dislike reading, though, I saw that Harry Potter is on Spotify to listen to, and you can’t go wrong with that.

Idols And Heroes

Last night, my dad and I ended up laughing at a musician we heard on a Spotify playlist who was trying to be a poignant country singer, but really just came across as whiney and corny. His lyrics were really quite terrible. Then, of course, because I’m a musician, we ended up talking about songwriters who are actually good at what they do. A songwriter I admire very much is Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam. My dad agreed that Pearl Jam was a really good, original band, but, he said, Eddie can try to hard to “be his idols” when it comes to his own side projects. I know, for example, that he “idolizes” Neil Young. I don’t know that I totally agree with my dad because I love Eddie’s music, especially the weird stuff, but I also love Neil Young, so there’s that.

Our conversation then moved to an idea my dad had for our house in Maine. He said we should have a bookshelf with work from all of our “Idols.” He started listing off people he admired, and I noticed, he stopped using the word “Idol,” and switched to “Hero.” It’s an interesting distinction. Our God commanded that we are not supposed to have idols because there is only one God, and only He is worthy of worship. Another interesting question is: when does one cross the line from admiration to worship? I have a very long list of people I admire, but I don’t worship any of them. I don’t worship them because I know my God, and I know what worship is, and how to worship. I had to be taught, though.

I think worship invariably has to be taught, whether it is worship of God, or worship of some other human or thing. Catholics, for example, have specific religious practices that are forms of worship. Perhaps worship of a certain musician, for example, would involve getting a guitar and learning to play all of their songs, playing them at open mic nights, and listening to their songs all the time, and seeing them live whenever they’re in the area.

This is not to say one cannot do all these things and be an avid fan without worshiping them. A better example than Pearl Jam for me might be Tenth Avenue North. I know and love almost every one of their songs. I’m more of a singer than a guitarist, and I can harmonize on plenty of them. I recently went to see Mercy Me just because Tenth Avenue North was opening for them. I’ve seen them several times by now. Still, they’re just dudes, and I don’t worship them.

In the end, whether it comes to awesome humans or awesome things, I think everyone at one time or another needs a reality check. Everything and everyone in the world, whether it’s a black hole, or a baby has an ultimate Source, and if the effort is taken to find that Source, there’s not much that can be done but to worship Him. The uncreated God created this universe and everything in it out of love because He wanted it–wanted us–to exist.

Truthfully, I think that’s why I love mythology and I admire good fantasy writers so much. If there is any writer I aspire to be like, it’s J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the universe it takes place in is genius. Right now I’m rereading the four books of the Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini. I admire this writer, too, not because his universe is genius, but because his style is eloquent, but easy to follow, and his story is enjoyable.

I loved my dad’s bookshelf idea because I do have heroes. I have a long list of heroes. Some of those heroes are Catholic, some are non-Catholic Christians, and many are not Christian at all. In fact, I have no idea what they believe, or believed, but they are or were admirable. There are still more whose names I don’t even know, but whom I consider heroes. With all this in mind, I submit to you all my list of heroes. These are in no particular order, and are not separated into categories. It’s also probably not exhaustive, but these are the people who come to mind as heroic.

-J.R.R. Tolkien
-Seamus Heaney
-William Wallace
-The Astronauts of the first Apollo mission
-J.K. Rowling
-C.S. Lewis
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky
-Christopher Paolini
-Eddie Vedder
-The members of U2
-The members of Tenth Avenue North
-Neil Young
-The Indigo Girls
-Any martyr of any faith
-Anyone who stands up to injustice in any way
-Saint Faustina
-Saint Dismas
-James Gallagher, the first person to fly nonstop around the world
-The crew of the HMS Challenger

NOTE: Jesus and His Mother are not on this list simply because they’re too obvious and I didn’t think I needed to put them on here.

Broken Heart

On Thursday I went to Adoration like I usually do, and I went to confession like I often have to. I confessed that I’ve been struggling with a certain temptation, and I sometimes give into it, but I don’t think I’ve given in lately. I also confessed that a very long time ago, when I first came back to God, I didn’t understand the sacraments and that I felt like I sort of misused them because of that, but that this was something that I just hadn’t confessed because I keep forgetting to. I also confessed that sometimes, after I know God has forgiven me for something, I have trouble forgiving myself. The priest absolved me, and told me that I’m a holy woman.

A lot of people have been telling me that lately. My best friend has told me that several times. I sort of wrote it off because she’s agnostic. Then another friend who I don’t really see very often told me the same thing at her aunt’s wake. My mom has told me that I’m a holy person, but I kind of thought she was joking. My godfather has implied it. Now my priest is saying it. I don’t think I’m a holy person. I’m working at it.

I recently read a horribly depressing article. It was about what crucifixion actually does to the human body, and how people who were crucified actually died from asphyxiation after horribly long periods of time. It said that Jesus most likely did not die in this way because Biblical and scientific evidence suggest that he most likely died from heart failure. The really horrible part came next. It explained that heart failure can be the result of deep longing, loss, and/or rejection. This is especially common among elderly people who have lost a partner they have loved and been with for a very long time. In other words, people can die of a broken heart. In other words, Jesus died of a broken heart.

Jesus died for sins I haven’t even committed yet. When he was on the cross, he knew I was going to leave him. He knew I wasn’t going to care for several years. I don’t care that I was seventeen. My instinct is to say that I’m sorry. The thing is, I’ve said I’m sorry more times than I know, and I know he’s forgiven me. Peter rejected him three times; pretended he didn’t know him, and Jesus made him the first Pope. Last night I had a thought. “I’ve said I’m sorry, and he’s forgiven me. What do you say when someone’s forgiven you?” Then it hit me. It was stupid, really. “You say, ‘Thank you.'”

Braving The Bleak

Last week we were on vacation, camping in Maine. It was mostly awesome, but my medication did still give me some issues, and it was frustrating. I had to take a lot of naps. Today I was back to work. I’m working on a rather dark story for my mythology, which isn’t exactly fun, but I’m getting through it. I’ve actually enlisted one of my friends to help me with this one. Basically, I’m describing a Realm in my universe called the Bleak, which, unlike others, is deeply connected to darker human emotions. In another story I described a Realm called the Waiting Lands, which a human could possibly get to, not just in their minds, but also in bodily form, but they would have to “brave the Bleak” first. The Waiting Lands are very strange, but also very cool.

When I’m writing, or sometimes much later than when I actually finish a story, I find myself reflecting on how my fantasy mirrors my reality in a way. Last week was kind of a Bleak for me. I had a lot of fun with my cousins, but I was dealing with issues with my meds, and on top of that, I found myself fighting a pretty difficult spiritual temptation. I am hardly ever angry at God, but I did once yell at him. I didn’t doubt him. I was just mad.

Of course God, being obnoxiously helpful like he is, decided to intervene. My dad decided shortly after my spiritual tantrum that we should cut my dose just a little bit without informing my doctor, which seems to be working, and one night when I couldn’t sleep because I had slept all afternoon, I was reading random stuff on my phone, and I found Saint Therese de Lisieux. That girl lost her mother at the age of four, she was sick quite often, and she died very young. Still, she trusted God completely. I read snippets from her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” and it was all about how God is truly a God of love. This really moved me, and I keep coming across more and more things that emphasize the fact that God loves me and that he’s listening.

There’s a line from a Tenth Avenue North song that keeps running through my head that seems quite appropriate. “Even when we fight temptation, even when we stand accused, we know that you will defend us, we can always run to you.” I won’t lie, fighting this particular temptation has felt like an uphill battle. Last night, though, I started rereading the Gospel of Luke, really slowly, just because I wanted God to talk to me. He did, in two ways, actually.

I don’t remember how I got to it, or what the verses were that made me realize it, but somehow God spoke to me and told me that I was promised heaven. Initially I thought, “duh, I’m Christian.” But then a voice in my head said, “No, think about it.” God doesn’t break his promises, and the fact that that promise stuck out to me means that I needed a reminder. It also said to me that I haven’t lost the fight. That wasn’t where it ended, though. I had a weird dream this morning. This seems to happen a lot. I was on a weird roller coaster train, and it broke. All the passengers were literally going to die. A voice from nowhere in particular said “Love, luxury, lust.” Then a priest on some kind of flying platform started going to all the passengers. Finally he came to me, right before the train was going to fall, and he gave me my last rights. I wanted him to stay with me, but I let him go so he could get to the other passengers. Then I woke up.

The dream said to me that there was love, and there was luxury, and there was lust on that train. It didn’t matter. Jesus came to save everyone. More to the point, he came to promise heaven to everyone. Okay, there is a path we have to follow, and it gets a bit complicated, but Jesus also said that he’d stick with us no matter what. When asked why he hung out with sinners and outcasts, he said that these were the people who needed him most. He’s not afraid.

I was one of the last people the priest came to in the dream. The train was about to fall, but he got to me. I’m not sure if that says anything in particular, but it was comforting. Maybe if there is a message there it’s that God will catch me if I fall. I think I needed a reminder of that, too. There are a  number of places in the Bible that say the Lord is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Other translations might say “slow to anger and rich in kindness” or something similar. God is not looking to scrutinize and make us feel guilty for our every move. He’s our Father. A good father doesn’t do that. He will make sure to kindly correct us when we do something we shouldn’t, but ultimately, a good father loves his kids. That’s what it comes down to.

Today we got to see a full solar eclipse. We didn’t get the full effect in Massachusetts, but we watched it on TV, and got to see a partial effect outside, which was still pretty cool. My brother was less impressed, but I get excited. There was a bizarre sense of unity because of the eclipse today. It was all over the news, and unlike usual, the news was happy. Everyone was on the same page. While watching the full effect on TV, I couldn’t think of exactly how to express my reaction, but I thanked God because something like this is a gift. It’s definitely something you don’t see every day. I know this seems unrelated to the rest of my post, but maybe it means that I’ve braved the Bleak, or at least I’m almost through.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Who Do You Trust?

Yesterday massively sucked. Our house cleaner comes every other Tuesday, which basically means I can’t work every other Tuesday because I’m out all day doing mind-numbing errands with my mom and brother and by the time we get home I’m kind of fried. Yesterday was a house-cleaning day. Usually we’re up and out of the house pretty quickly, but for whatever reason, we took what seemed like over an hour to leave. On top of that, we had decided to go to Flat Bread Pizza for lunch, which for us is in Salem. Salem is a pretty long ride for us, and by the time we got to the restaurant I was famished. This is probably sounding like whining so far, and under normal circumstances, it probably would be.

Shortly after we got to the restaurant I started feeling sort of sick, so I just sat still and figured I’d be fine once I got some pizza in me. Flat Bread is my favorite. However, shortly after I got my first piece down, my head started spinning, I started feeling faint, and then I got sick in my plate. We left after that and went to a gas station next door where I tried to keep down some chips and some Gatorade. I couldn’t even keep down the chips, and I could keep down the Gatorade for a while until we got almost back to our house. Then I got sick again in a container of wet wipes.

I was so dizzy I could barely make it to the bathroom on the second floor of our house (which is across from my bedroom) to get cleaned up before I slept for several hours. I did finally get up around nine PM and was finally able to eat some crackers and drink some Gatorade. I was also, thankfully, able to get my epilepsy pills down, and then I slept pretty well last night.

Today I got up feeling almost back to normal. I ate a pancake and some cheese and crackers and a bit of fruit before going to get my blood drawn (to make sure I’m not, you know, dying or anything), which went swimmingly, and then I got coffee with my mom, and I just finished writing the fifteenth story in my mythology.

It kind of seems like I’ve had more weird health issues lately. I had a thought a little bit earlier today. Is a cry for help a kind of worship? I’ve learned to say, when I ask God for help that I trust him. He did get me through yesterday, and yesterday was one of the worst days I’ve had in a quite a long time. A little while after we had left the restaurant I was feeling really crappy, and I told my mom I thought I should go to the hospital. Willingly going to a hospital is like admitting the worst kind of defeat for me. I have to be almost convinced that if I don’t I’m going to die. I’m not exaggerating. My whole family (on my mom’s side, anyway) is like that. Luckily my dad talked me out of it, but I prayed to God before we got home, and I said, “I don’t want to die, but I trust you, and whatever happens, I’m ready. Just please help me.” Now reading it, it sounds absurd. I’m twenty-four, but yesterday I was ready to die if that was what it was coming to.

I suppose this needs a bit of explanation. The symptoms I was experiencing yesterday seemed to be the result of really low sodium levels. One of my epilepsy medicines does deplete my sodium, which stinks because I’m also kind of a health nut, and a lot of salty things aren’t particularly healthy. Sure enough, though, once I got some crackers and Gatorade down, I was a lot better. I should also say that I’m only a health nut in the sense that I try to eat fairly small portions and ration the amount of actual junk food I eat. I also prefer, in general, to snack on fruits and vegetables, but I certainly don’t go overboard to the point that I feel like I’m missing out on something.

Still, none of this really answers my question. Is a cry for help a kind of worship? After yesterday I’m inclined to think so. I think it depends on whether one trusts God, and if one remembers that he’s there in the good times as well as the not so good ones. I remember our priest talking about this a handful of times in church when I was younger, before I had ever even accepted Christ, really. He said it’s so easy to remember God and to call out to him when we need something, but he’s not just here to give us whatever we need or want. He seeks our worship when things are going well because he loves us and he wants us to love him back.

While I was waiting for my appointment today I was trying to work through this in my head, and ultimately I had to realize that I keep asking myself the same questions over and over, which all boiled down to one: Am I worth dying for? In the opinion of the God I worship, I am. Part of that question is: How am I, one out of millions, and nothing special, worth it, and why am I worth it? I’ve decided to stop asking, though. I told him that in the waiting room. I’m done asking, and instead I’m just going to say, “I love you, too.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Complementary

I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance a few weeks ago. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I thought it would be worth sharing. Our conversation, of course, started with small talk, but for some reason, we both felt very comfortable with each other, and I found out in a fairly short amount of time, that this person was also Christian.

The interesting part of this is that she and I had very different views of things like science, philosophy, mythology and logic going into the conversation. It also turned out that she and I came to faith through very different means, had different upbringings, and were part of different denominations within Christianity. All this being said, I want to explain, in particular, my view of science and logic, as well as some broader sociological issues from my personal Catholic point of view.

As I mentioned in a recent post, there was a time (mostly through middle and high school) when I was Catholic in practice, but Agnostic in belief. I went through the motions without actually knowing what any of it meant. A lot of this has a lot to do with where I grew up, who I hung out with, and what my education was like.

I grew up in a suburban town in Massachusetts where the political standpoint on many issues tends to be relatively liberal, and the line between church and state is drawn boldly. When I was a kid, the most important things in my family’s life were our extended family in Maine, and my education, including the cultivation of my imagination. Often, these things superseded God entirely, so our church attendance was infrequent, and we didn’t really talk about God at home.

My education as a kid was delivered from an atheistic standpoint. I went to public school, and no one, kids or teachers, talked about God. Therefore, my initial understanding of Truth was from a scientific and mathematical standpoint. 1 + 1 = 2. The Big Bang created the Universe. God was there somewhere, sure, but at the time it didn’t really matter to me. Then when I got what you might call the equidistant of an internship in high school developing a disability advocacy program, I ended up working with a devout Jewish guy, my brother’s age, and a Muslim woman,  who I’d guess was in her twenties, and it was interesting to work with people of other faiths who were also far more invested than I was.

Then I went to a Christian college, as I have previously mentioned. Although we were saturated with the culture and Christian worship, I ended up taking a few philosophy classes where the whole point was to think logically and atheistically. All of this comes back to my conversation a few weeks ago. My acquaintance was surprised that I put so much faith in physics, for example. However, this also relates to another question she asked me. She asked, “So how do understand Greek mythology, since it was once an actual belief system?” I told her that this was a belief system based on what was inferable and observable at the time. I put faith in science because it can prove what is inferable and observable to be true. I also explained that I have never thought God and science were at odds, and that God often works through, natural, scientifically verifiable means.

One last thing I would like to add is that I have come to understand that a belief system has stages, and is personalized invariably by everyone. What I mean is that the primary stage of one’s belief system informs their secondary, their secondary informs their third, etc. Specifically this refers, in my case to my understanding of science through Christianity, my understanding of politics and culture through both, and my understanding of economics through all three. In other words, certain beliefs hold priority over others, but they all inform each other to some degree. If science can help me understand what God is doing, then great.

A Question For Atheists

This is kind of a two-part question. I’m not trying to pick a fight or argue for my faith. I just want to understand more precisely where you’re coming from. My first question is more general. I see this among atheists and my agnostic friends. People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence because of the lack of some kind of proof. It occurred to me that I have no idea what kind of proof you’re looking for. Furthermore, it seems to me that, in many cases, not just in the case of spirituality, what constitutes proof is at least somewhat subjective. I would love to get a few different perspectives, so my question is, what would prove to you that God exists?

My second question is a little more personal, but less complicated. I’ve noticed that when atheists write posts or comments, here and in other places, they most frequently attack Christianity in particular. I assume this is partly because Christianity is one of the most prominent religions, if not the most prominent religion in the U.S. and in the West overall. My question here is, do you have an actual problem with Christianity specifically, or do you argue against it the most simply because of its prominence?

Admittedly, I do get tired of people only attacking my faith. However, it seems to me that your arguments would be stronger if you could make a case against multiple religions, and not just the one you know best or dislike the most. I would also like to add that many arguments against Christianity are, in fact, against bad behavior based on wrong interpretations of Jesus’ teaching. These are, in my opinion, justifiable, but misdirected. Like I said, I’m not trying to pick a fight. I really just want to understand.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!