Going Catholic?

It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you – try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself!
– Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation, chapter 14, p. 107 (1949).


I am a Protestant (though Lord knows what it is I am protesting) but the most influential theologian in my life has always been Thomas Merton, a Catholic. after that comes C.S. Lewis, then Kierkegaard, then the English Puritans, then Pascal. Other giants still roam the land of my mind but these are the true heroes of faith – and they tower. And I know them so well that I do not really even need to carry their books around with me anymore, or not often.

Today I once again tip my cap to my Catholic brethren who don’t just drop food on doorsteps, they actively feed people – usually about 200 or so people, a day in many a California community 365 days a year. I saw this first in San Rafael at St. Vincent de Paul in 2010, and I saw it today at the St. Francis kitchen here in Santa Cruz where I had, arguably, the best big bowl of split pea soup I have ever had, served up with some fish and a fresh salad,

I have thought of becoming a Catholic. The door creaked open when a close friend, Miles Saunders, switched over years ago. I have great respect for Miles and it was not a decision made lightly.

MY Protestant friends might be aghast at this, but I find myself more and more protesting current Protestantism with its self-absorption, consumer/marketing mentality and anti-mystical bent. The cult of personality and the pragmatism of “ME” and “betterment” has eclipsed the Glory of Christ, the mystical union that is the Body of Christ and various giftedness (now we give ministry callings by profession or social standing) and we have new ministries the Bible never mentions and ignore the ones it calls out loudly.

And then there is always Merton. Beyond Merton, as a writer there is Walker Percy who has influenced me as a fiction writer, and Flannery O’Conner too. Really, we have Lewis and then Beuchner for some whimsical shots. But for the long ball we are notoriously thin.

The Catholics have their problems too (theologically). Make no mistake. I am a very good New Testament student and decent with the Old. But in worship they seem to intuitively know to sing, do liturgy to God, and emphasize the Eucharist. All these things are God-centered. Once you do all that there isn’t a lot of time left over to talk about US.

We Protestants have seemingly endless amounts of time to talk about ourselves and very little time to talk about God’s glory, or nature and just revel in it. Personally I feel this is a big mistake.

But this is dangerous to say. 

I got kicked out of a homeless program in Portland basically because I was theologically and biblically educated. While I was generally quiet, occasionally I could not take absolute silence. On one occasion a guy was teaching a “sex” class (to a bunch of essential 25 year-old ex-tweakers who were decidedly NOT going to listen to a word). Worse, he was teaching flat out bullshit about dying with ANY unconfessed sin resulting in Hell.. My “patowan” (Robert the Gangl) saw what was going to happen about 2 seconds before it did.

“Mac NO!” he yelled out.

Too late. SPACK! (sound of the guys brain material metaphorically impacting the blackboard behind him from a single clean shot to the forehead).

Had to be done.

But to his credit, this man came back the next week and said to me “I went and studied my Bible all week long and met with my pastor and I had it all wrong. I really appreciate your challenging me on that point.”

Well you can see why they had to get rid of me. You cannot have a guy who reads Greek, has a college degree (I was the only one to my knowledge in the building who did), knows theology and the Bible AND who has a biblical sniper rifle slung over his shoulder walking around the halls – even if he is a sweetheart of a guy, open, and a servant. Nope…

You get him in a room with four other Christian guys and put him in an impossible situation when he is sick and weak – one that will surely end in his leaving. But it will be his idea. 

Fortunately for me, no one around here cares about stuff like that at all. I would have to be in a shelter that was “Christian” in order to be persecuted. No around here I get yelled at for laughing and I am just not going to take that seriously at all.

“Oh I see…If I was raging it would be okay or wanting to fight right?” I announce. “No, I think I will laugh as much as I want to and if you have a problem you can come talk with me personally,” I say (because they never say this to my face.

Ironic huh?

No here it is the law of the jungle, and I am one of the Big Men who nobody wants to tangle with (they have no idea that I am non-violent and how much more toughness being THAT takes than violence).

I like the cleanliness of that. I do better with those in the world than those who are religious.


But I have ego too. (I suppose this comes as no real surprise to the reader). I had asked some local leaders for some small monies to dole out for bus passes and other small aid to people here as I cannot aford it. No response. This started to make me angry until I realized that was just ego.

No. I need to let go of that. I need those guys (why is it always “guys”? sheesh) because I am gonna have to go to them later and be an advocate for someone here for a used bike, or a bus ticket to another city, or to fill up a refrigerator full of food (and have it delivered) from a food pantry…and only they can make this happen. I gotta take my ego out of the equation. It doesn’t matter what they think of me (or how they want to fix things in me that are not actually broken).

And in the meantime I will just work 10% harder to make just a little more so I can buy those couple bus tickets (bought one today). I gotta believe (and do) that God will cover me in these small things.

Now I am off to my storage unit…Will report on that tomorrow.

For those of you who pray – keep doing so for everything. For those of you who do not, follow your own tradition. It is helpful.  


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Miles
    Aug 30, 2014 @ 19:42:32

    Since you are essentially living the life of a mendicant (Buddha and followers, Jesus and disciples, and Francis of Assisi) and have the monastic gift of poverty, may I suggest “Shorter Christian Prayer” which is the lay Catholic’s Liturgy of the Hours. It is essentially praying the psalms through as the prayer of Christ every four weeks and announcing the Kingdom of God. It never ceases to pray for the poor, the meek, the lowly, the brokenhearted, day or night. Consists of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer & Night Prayer. If you can’t obtain a copy, I likely can.


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