March 09, 2008


No doubt from the moment your eyes scanned the solo syllable title your brain immediately throw up rows of iron gates and stone walls bracings yourself for the impact of what may be an article focused on making you feel uncomfortable.

As this is a natural tendency keep your guard up. Station your brain sentry front and center giving him (or her) the comfort that if anything crazy does come up she (or he) will be well utilized.

I am a part-time Catholic.

Nope, that line will be saved for later. Let’s talk about my mother instead.

My mother is a gracious women who appreciates the love she has for community. Like the rest of the world he early years were spent dealing with childhood problems and obstacles. Like other Baby-Boomer/Silent Generation cuspers she sought freedom from the bonds of a black and white social society which repressed color out of fear that the structure would one day crumble. Yet, she does long for that sense of tradition to keep her grounded and focused.

My mother’s identity for many years of her life was simple. Family, work, and community. All extra time, and in some cases extra money, was donated to the community which she belonged. To some degree this is how I learned of the social world. As a child in my family you heard the Polkrups, Corstens, Ericksons talked about as if you needed to know their names.

And yet I barely interacted with any of these folks.

My mother’s community consisted of these names and more. She volunteered to set up wedding receptions, funeral wakes, family homecomings, sock hops, spaghetti dinners, and the weekly Lenten Friday Fish Fry where I developed a strange addiction to the bighting bitter taste of rye bread. Then there were the dinner parties she hosted. Even our birthday parties and religious rites of passage had guests whom I’d only see on those occasions.

My mother sang in a folk group really a fancy name for a choir. We, as a family, attended folk group camp, with other families (as a great tangential note that is where I met my first best imaginary friend, Zork). I used to pilfer through my mother’s purse and played with anything I could find while she practiced singing with the other adults who all knew my name or at least knew me as Lynn’s little boy.

Those were the days my mother was happiest.

Those are the days we are all the happiest. When we’re surrounding by like minded, only slightly differing folks who share in the same activities and reflect the best of who we are. Those are the group activities that we look forward when work and (sadly yet truthfully) family seem to pull us away from our inner “oh!”

When my parents moved out of Wauwatosa to further west suburb my mother was smart enough and resourceful enough to find a new anchor. A new center. A new church.

That last one was not metaphorical.

I am a part-time catholic.

This is title bestowed to me by others. In short I must be seen with a name tag which reads ‘Catholic’ and instead of waking up in the morning and punching in for a 16 hour shift, I punch in yearly at Easter and Christmas. I don’t punch in during lent as I’m often sinking my teeth deep into the flesh of a beast who chews cud, or who wallows in shit, or runs around the yard with no head. And it’s been a while since I’ve punched in on a weekly basis.

Other than that I do not know what it means to be part-time catholic since I don’t feel as if I stray to far away from the things I learned from attending catholic school for six years; and what I dug up from intense self-reflection from my confirmation retreat; and even what I learned from a brilliant formerly catholic priest who ‘retired’ from his religion because it wouldn’t let him marry.

I may not understand much about my religion and its ways, or other religions including the non-Christian ones which those of us who grow up in Wisconsin tragically do not have much exposure to. And I will admit some amount of cynicism and skepticism. But, upon a fantastic conversation with my friend and colleague Greg over a steaming cup of coffee, I realized that there is one very important concept I do understand related to all of this: church.

Church is not just a physical structure we go to on a regular basis to receive fulfillment. It can be a weekly dinner with friends. Routinely volunteering at an abuse shelter. Walking daily while listening to your iPod. Participating in ongoing poetry readings. Singing in a choir. Playing games with your kids. Celebrating family successes. And of course, attending mass (or whatever your nomenclature bestows).

The concept of church is what my mother cultivated for herself in Wauwatosa. Upon moving and starting fresh my mother was distraught and thought she too was a part-time catholic. Whether or not she is/was (and whatever ethereal umpire makes that call) isn’t as relevant to the fact that my mother’s church was community. Any community. My mother soon found that community in other aspects of her life. It eventually lead her to India, to see other communities.

Your church is a similar concept. Something where whatever resources your using (mental, emotional, physical, time, money) ends up having a much greater and longer lasting return on life. There are two types and two styles (focused into four tightly wrapped and beautiful enchiladas of mirth) that you should be aware of. The types denote the regularity of your church and the style describes the personal participation of such. And yes because I started this article with religious verbiage I will continue as such.

Mass: This is the concept most associated with what your church is. It is an activity or hobby or event which you share with a group of people on a regular (weekly to bi-weekly to monthly) basis. The strength of the mass centers around what the activity means to all the people involved and that it will be a staple part of your identity diet.

Meditation: The difference, like the next, is that only you are participating in something you do routinely, but which exists outside of what you MUST do in this world to survive. Not that it isn’t an essential concept for you to cope with and enhance your survival but if you didn’t do it, you wouldn’t keel over. This again can be anything from walking, silent reflection, listening to music, writing, drawing, etc.

Pilgrimage: Something which you do by yourself and which brings you the same joy/personal fulfillment but only done about once a year (or no more than twice a year). Sometimes it involves a trip outside of your comfort and familiarity. This could be a concert or an event only held in a specific city. This could even be simply a day trip to visit a place which has great significance to you.

Festival: In the immortal words of Blue Falcone from Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, “Now we make PARTY!” The festival is of course the rare celebration among a group of people who all share in the essence of a particular event or activity or hobby. Much like the summer festivals (including Summerfest itself) in the city of Milwaukee, it is time organized by others (or you and your friends/family) to bring many people together to rejuvenate themselves all at one time.

I do not necessarily believe you need to have something for all four categories but I do believe that each of us should have at least one solo activity and one group activity we participate in on a regular basis. The group activity reminds us that there are always a community outside who appreciate the things we do. Whereas the solo activity strengthens the positive characteristic we have inside ourselves.

Either way, find your church and believe that your spirituality comes from a place deep inside and is tied to things and people which make you smile.