The Problem with Catholics

We spend the weekend in beautiful Sebastopol, CA, this weekend. It reminds me of the Napa of my youth, still feeling like a small country outpost. It’s a cute little town with a hippie vibe — think organic clothing stores, sensible shoes and crystal shops.

As we wandered through Main Street, we stopped in to a local bookstore to find air-conditioned respite from the 90 degree heat outside. I also love wandering amid books, looking at the various titles and reading the reviews and recommendations of the staff. It’s rare for me to leave a bookstore without at least one in hand — either for myself or as a gift. Even with my ubiquitous Kindle in tow, there are some books that I think are worthy of shelf space in our home.

One particular author whom I’ve been following lately has been Franciscan spiritual leader Richard Rohr. I heard him in a podcast On Being and I started following his daily meditations that he sends from his Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is a prolific writer and I love his approach to Christian contemplation.

I went to the religious studies section of the bookstore, which is unfortunately in the same aisle as “self help.” (More on why that is unfortunate some other time). There were about five shelves dedicated to “religion,” with three of them focused on Buddhism, a smattering of Hinduism and Judaism. Of the Christian-based books, there are probably five titles. One of them was “The Evangelicals,” which seems to be more about the religious right and politics than about spiritual development.

Now you have to understand that, on the Sebastopol Visitors’ Center Web site there is a navigation item called “Faith and Spirituality.” This is not a town that shies away from topics of religion.

I came away wondering why there wouldn’t be any of Richard Rohr’s books, much less a little more about Christian spirituality.

First let me say this: I am NO AMBASSADOR for Christian thought, myself being a recovering Catholic. I have moved far away from the Catholic Church and cringe at its history of the treatment of women, minorities, and just about anyone aside from the patriciarchial priests. 

My question was, what is it about Buddhism that has captured the imagination of the Western world, and what are we getting that we can’t or don’t get from Christianity?

One of the reasons I really enjoy reading Richard Rohr’s writing is that he is not beholden to the power structure of the Church. He is able to address today’s issues in a meaningful and relevant way — with a voice that has been utterly lost in the judgmental fire and brimstone language of today’s Christians.

It’s one reason why I find Pope Francis so refreshing. In fact, this week, there was a Reuters news story about a sign he has posted outside his modest apartment — which he has chosen as his primary residence over the opulent setting of previous popes.

“No Whining — violators are subject to a syndrome of always feeling like a victim and the consequent reduction of your sense of humor and capacity to solve problems. The penalty is doubled if the violation take place in the presence of children. To get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations. Stop complaining and take steps to improve your life.”

There is a certain relevance to life right now that I find Richard Rohr and Pope Francis both capture. I don’t anticipate I’ll start going to church any time soon, but I am finding a certain degree of inspiration from these two spiritual leaders that faith can still have a place in my life. I don’t know right now how that will manifest. I may still end up with a “cafeteria style” spirituality, taking a little bit from different faith traditions that inspire me.

Stay tuned.

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