Thursday, March 29, 2012

So, here's why I hate Theology

I’m reading the book, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and she is talking about finding more fun. She says that her surprise in this was that she didn’t really know what was fun for her, she was so confused with what she thought was fun but in actuality, hated doing.

Reading her contemplation of what it is that she enjoys, the posts from her readers on her blog, her confessions about what she loves—it made me think. What do I enjoy? What do I find fun?
An easy answer, of course, is found in the fact that I’m reading Rubin’s book in the first place. Isn’t that why I’m doing this 100 book challenge? Because I love reading? But then I started to think about other things, things that I don’t enjoy, the person I’ll never be. Unlike Rubin, I don’t lament the fact that I’ll never be a lawyer or businesswoman. I’m comfortable and at peace with the fact that I’ll never be wealthy, that I feel like an idiot when wearing anything resembling a business suit. No matter what I do, I’ll never find chess or strategy games enjoyable (in spite of the fact that my housemates love them). I hate video games. The auctions frequented by my family members stress me out and make me feel depressed for days. I don’t like to dance, partially because of my knee injury and partially because of my fear of looking like a fool (one exception would be dancing with someone I’m completely comfortable with—Patrick, I don’t mind you). I will never enjoy going to bars or clubs, I will always prefer staying home and watching a movie or, even better, reading a book. Even more, I love conversations over tea and art. That brings me joy. I’ll never love reading the news, never find pop culture interesting, and, most depressing and heart-wrenching of all, I will never really love theology.

There, I said it. I won’t be able to make myself love it, no matter how important I think it is. Worse even, sometimes I hate it.

Perhaps some of you reading this are asking yourselves, “Wait… isn’t Kait getting her MA in Theology?” Yes, yes I am. That’s the problem.

I love my work for the Church. I love talking about God, Jesus, and spirituality. I love leading people in prayer. Planning retreats is my greatest joy, which is why Molly and I want to start that retreat center. But when we get into the tall, ivory tower of academic theology (from which God seems curiously absent and Jesus foreign), I want to shoot myself.

Earlier in the book, Rubin was talking about how she knew she wasn’t meant to be in law when she saw her coworkers law journals and loving it and she thought it was the worse thing in the world. Well, my classmates and housemates love to read about theology, love to talk about it every chance they get. I really just want to talk about Jesus or God, read the Gospels, or, even more likely, talk about what happened in the latest episode of Dr. Who or read about natural health or a fun book. I like talking about Tolkien, not Aquinas. (Frankly, I’d rather talk about Aristotle, Plato or even Homer than Aquinas… and Aquinas just Jesusified all their stuff anyways.) I guess that’s when I knew… I’m not really meant for this whole theology thing. I mean, I’ve been suspecting it for a while, but now I’m sure.

So, what do I love to do? What do I find fun?

Greek. Greek history, Greek language, Greek culture, Greek art, Greek literature. I could enjoy reading Homer in Greek every day for the rest of my life. And then, there’s Xenephon and Plato and Pindar… I could live off them for eternity.

And there’s Spanish. Spanish music, literature, art, food. The way my best friend’s mom’s voice sounds when she’s whispering Spanish to her father in the kitchen before Hannah and I wake up in the morning after a sleepover. The way my aunt’s voice sounds when she sings Spanish in her band, so full, so alive.

I love writing. I love creating. I love painting. I love calligraphy. I love random crafts and sewing. I love shoveling manure and gardening.

And of course, there’s literature. Dostoyevsky, Austen, Tolkien, Melville. To be perfectly honest, I got more pleasure out of Moby Dick than I will ever get out of The Summa or any papal writing.

I did love The Confessions. Of course, it took me three times to love it, but I do. And I love The Catechism (which, I know, is a little weird). But all this lofty theology is above my head, and far away from my heart. I love that which relates God to real life, to the concrete, to the physical instead of just the spiritual. I love Catholic Social Teaching. I love prayer, but not the repetitive kind, the kind that actually enables conversation, conversion, change. I don’t watch Jesus movies. I didn’t really enjoy Bella. I wasn’t pleased by the ending. But movies like The Human Experience, The Way, and October Baby (thanks, Amy, for taking me) get me in my core.

I have one summer left at Notre Dame and I’m nervous about getting through it, plus getting through my comps. I know I can do it, God wouldn’t have put me here otherwise, but it’s not my passion and I have a definite need to live out my passion. I still haven’t figured out how to do that or how to get from here, in grad school and working as a campus minister, to where I want to be, at a retreat center with Molly, living out simplicity, community, prayer, and service. What I do know is that I still carry my Greek textbook with me to work and back everyday, even if I don’t open it for a week at a time. What I do know is that I can’t concentrate enough on my schoolwork to read a whole (relatively short) encyclical in one sitting without massive amounts of tea and prodding and trying to keep myself from looking at craft ideas on pinterest.

That’s where I am right now. Pray for me.

Monday, March 26, 2012

February and most of March 2012

26 March, 2012

So, I haven’t really written an actual update on my life since Lent started, and next week will be Palm Sunday! I’ve been super busy trying to keep up with everything (work, homework, community life). Lent is going good, though, and I’m enjoying the busted halo calendar (check it out if you haven’t already).

February went by fast, and March has gone by even faster.

A couple weeks ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to take four of my students (plus Patrick, one of my community mates) with me to Nazareth Farm—the sister farm of Bethlehem Farm, which some of you might remember was one of my hopeful plans after I graduated (God, in His infinite wisdom, had other ideas that led me here to Echo, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world). I was excited but nervous, as I had never been the leader of a service trip before and was also nervous about how I would do after being turned down by the other farm when I applied to be a caretaker. That had really hurt me, but looking back now I see the hand of grace in it (using that context strength!).

Being at Nazareth Farm was the most wonderful thing that could have happened. It was the rest I needed. I love the feeling of being physically tired when I crawl into bed at the end of the day instead of just emotionally exhausted. The physical work we did was wonderful and a pleasure. I worked on many things, from helping to shovel out the creek (which was full of rocks and dirt that had washed down from the mountain in a recent flood) to building spindles and railings for stairs to helping cut wood for a roof (I’m afraid of heights and thus got nowhere near the actual roof, unlike the rest of my crew). I also loved the community and simplicity, my two favorite parts of the farm. The four cornerstones are community, simplicity, prayer and service and I feel like I want the cornerstones of my life to be the same! I’m in love with that life and I can’t wait until Molly and I have our retreat center so we can start living it.

Speaking of, we’ve agreed that our goal is to put a down payment on the center by 2023, although I’m thinking we’ll beat that by a long shot. The idea is to give ourselves ten years after grad school to start, but we’re both ready for it now. I really feel that this is where God is calling me to be, and from our conversations, I think so does Molly.

Also, Naz Farm is starting a new farm in Kansas City, MO called Jerusalem Farm. Check it out!

After Nazareth Farm, I came home and took a day to myself, doing a self-led retreat all day Monday until I went to a real retreat at the Fatima Retreat House that night. It was a wine and art retreat led by Katie Sohm, and it was wonderful. She led us in prayer and led us in painting a picture of a dogwood tree, which I loved since it’s the MO state tree. It was a great night and exactly what I needed after the exhausting drive back from the farm (and the emotional exhaustion of moving back into a fast paced life that I really wasn’t designed for). It was SOOOO GOOD!

Since then, things have continued to be busy. Last week, I threw a surprise wedding shower/sleepover for a student and our women’s group. I have spent a lot of time processing my experience at Naz Farm and will continue to do so. I have also gotten back into my normal routine, but am far behind in my class work (so much so that I’m nervous about catching up). This is the life of a campus minister.

I am also fighting homesickness for Dallas and my dear friends (I really just want to curl up on the Ponikiewski/Parent’s couch and watch tv and pet Radar…) and also homesickness for Rolla and the country after being in West Virginia.

I have also been in a domestic mood (also courtesy of Naz Farm) and made homemade peanut butter, baked some gluten free bread, and made cookies with Amy and Joe tonight (Joe also helped with the bread) while Patrick laughed at us. It was a great community night that we were blessed to share with Natalie from Lalanne (the others are on spring break) and I had a lot of fun. I’m not as content and at peace as I was a week ago, sitting and looking at the mountains of West Virginia, but I’m happy to be here. I wouldn’t trade my life for the world.

As I near the end of my first year in Echo, I’m growing nervous and excited about the future while still trying to suck every experience I can out of the present. Please pray for my future that I can find where God is calling me to go!

As part of that, I am applying to be a Providence Associate with the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods in Terre Haute. It's not like being a sister, there are no vows, I am just entering into a deeper relationship with the sisters and trying to have a deeper relationship with Providence, dedicated to love, justice, and peace. Please pray for me as I discern this new relationship with the sisters!

Happy Lent and continue to pray for me. I am praying for all of you!

Finding my Strengths

As I think I might have mentioned before, I’ve become fascinated with personality profiling, like Meyers Briggs. Therefore, my spiritual director recommended that I take the strengths finder test using the book Living Your Strengths ( This book has helped me see who I am in a different light and as a saint once said, we get to know God better by knowing ourselves better. Learning more about my strengths has really helped me to know myself and understand why I do things.

My five strengths are (in order): context, connectedness, intellection, learner, and belief. Reading the book, I have started to see how these strengths work together to make me who I am.

Here are the descriptions that are provided for my strengths (both online and in the book, I don’t know who originally wrote them):

“Context: You look back. You look back because that is where the answers lie. You look back to understand the present. From your vantage point the present is unstable, a confusing clamor of competing voices. It is only by casting your mind back to an earlier time, a time when the plans were being drawn up, that the present regains its stability. The earlier time was a simpler time. It was a time of blueprints. As you look back, you begin to see these blueprints emerge. You realize what the initial intentions were. These blueprints or intentions have since become so embellished that they are almost unrecognizable, but now this Context theme reveals them again. This understanding brings you confidence. No longer disoriented, you make better decisions because you sense the underlying structure. You become a better partner because you understand how your colleagues came to be who they are. And counterintuitively you become wiser about the future because you saw its seeds being sown in the past. Faced with new people and new situations, it will take you a little time to orient yourself, but you must give yourself this time. You must discipline yourself to ask the questions and allow the blueprints to emerge because no matter what the situation, if you haven’t seen the blueprints, you will have less confidence in your decisions.

Connectedness:Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. Some may call it the collective unconscious. Others may label it spirit or life force. But whatever your word of choice, you gain confidence from knowing that we are not isolated from one another or from the earth and the life on it. This feeling of Connectedness implies certain responsibilities. If we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit because we will be exploiting ourselves. Your awareness of these responsibilities creates your value system. You are considerate, caring, and accepting. Certain of the unity of humankind, you are a bridge builder for people of different cultures. Sensitive to the invisible hand, you can give others comfort that there is a purpose beyond our humdrum lives. The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries.

Intellection:You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the “muscles” of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions. This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person’s feelings. The exact focus will depend on your other strengths. On the other hand, this mental activity may very well lack focus. The theme of Intellection does not dictate what you are thinking about; it simply describes that you like to think. You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. In a sense you are your own best companion, as you pose yourself questions and try out answers on yourself to see how they sound. This introspection may lead you to a slight sense of discontent as you compare what you are actually doing with all the thoughts and ideas that your mind conceives. Or this introspection may tend toward more pragmatic matters such as the events of the day or a conversation that you plan to have later. Wherever it leads you, this mental hum is one of the constants of your life.

Learner: You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered—this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences—yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”

Belief: If you possess a strong Belief theme, you have certain core values that are enduring. These values vary from one person to another, but ordinarily your Belief theme causes you to be family-oriented, altruistic, even spiritual, and to value responsibility and high ethics—both in yourself and others. These core values affect your behavior in many ways. They give your life meaning and satisfaction; in your view, success is more than money and prestige. They provide you with direction, guiding you through the temptations and distractions of life toward a consistent set of priorities. This consistency is the foundation for all your relationships. Your friends call you dependable. “I know where you stand,” they say. Your Belief makes you easy to trust. It also demands that you find work that meshes with your values. Your work must be meaningful; it must matter to you. And guided by your Belief theme it will matter only if it gives you a chance to live out your values.”

I am not entirely sure that I agree with all of this, but I definitely see myself in these signature themes, as the book calls them. I am also seeing how God, by giving us each a different set of signature themes, has different plans for each of us that are tailored to the talents he has given. I think that everyone should take this test and read the book (which I’m almost finished with) to help them see where they can work better and under what circumstances.

Also, if you’ve taken the strengths finder test, send me your results! I’m always curious about everyone else. 

100 Book Challenge—Book #12 The Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry

100 Book Challenge—Book #12 The Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry

It’s hard to write a review of a compilation of essays, particularly ones as diverse as Berry’s essays. Some are religious, some are purely environmental, but all speak to my soul. Wendell Berry has been a personal favorite since my week at Bethlehem Farm when Jake Olzen introduced him to me. Since then, I’ve been in love.

I think there is much to learn from him, even when I don’t agree. His love and firm belief in the beauty of nature and his wonderful language, so thoughtful and elegant in spite of his country boy tongue, deliver his message well.

I would recommend reading this book or anything else he writes, particularly his poetry. For my friends who are more theological, the reason I bought this particular book was that I wanted to read his essay “The Burden of the Gospels.” His reflection on what it means to live life more abundantly is thought provoking, though no always exactly in agreement with what we might hear in our classes. But Berry is wise, as he should be in his late seventies, and wonderful to listen to. I recommend him.  

100 Book Challenge—Book #9-10 The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

100 Book Challenge—Book #9-11 The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Yes, I finally gave into all the hype (just in time for the movies) and read the trilogy… which I finished in less than three days. I literally stayed up all night reading the last one because I NEEDED to find out how it would all end.

The first book was wonderful, but disappointing in the lack of character development, although looking back I think I was a little too hard on Katniss, who wasn’t exactly given a lot of time for processing all the experiences she was having. The later books are definitely better at this, as she learns to cope and learns more about who she is.

These books are well written, and I think are a good response to the crap that kids have been reading (Twilight, for example). They also have a message that should be listened to about the state of government. Futuristic novels usually do.

The characters are lovable, the world believable (perhaps because like Tolkien, Collins has written of our own world while integrating strange new things that make it seem almost foreign but familiar at the same time). I truly loved these books and continue to think of them and process them. If you haven’t read them, do. They are REALLY good books.

Side note: The movie was also good. I enjoyed it immensely. However, nothing will ever beat a good book, no matter how good the movie (or cute the actor) is.

100 Book Challenge—Book #8: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

100 Book Challenge—Book #8: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write about this book. My list of “to blog” things has gotten so long, I knew I just couldn’t put it off anymore.

I finished this book at the end of February, and now it’s almost a month later. I wish I could say that I took this long because I’ve been thinking it over, but really I have just been avoiding it. In many ways, this book hit me a little too close to home and reminded me of a relationship in my life that has more or less blown up… similar to Orual and Psyche’s, only Orual is actually right in this case.

At any rate, it’s a well written, thought provoking book (could we expect anything else from Jack?).

Another reason that I had difficulty with the novel is that the gods are the bad guys (or so it seems), which is completely against my life! But it’s a great story on sin and forgiveness and the way in which our own egos can cause us to fall. Then again, that’s what Tolkien would say every story is about… but I digress.

I recommend this book highly, and if you do read it and discover a deeper meaning, please send me your thoughts! I think this book would be good for discussion.