Saturday, June 6, 2015

Whitebread Protestants : A Book Review

"Protestants like to think religion is not materialistic. Its theology, spirituality, and liturgy are rooted in concepts and words and any religious practice that involves material objects or invokes the senses is suspect -- dismissed as papist or shunned idolatrous. But the place of food within American Protestant church life calls this anti-materialism into question. There is nothing more material than food ..." (Back Cover) 

Daniel Sack's "Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture" has been sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for me to dust it off and give it a proper review. I bought the book several several years ago for an undergraduate Religion course. The first time I sat to read it I had a difficult time reading the text as the more I learned about American Protestantism the more I realized just how off base it is with true Christianity. I've since reread it many times and I now find it to be a wonderful resource for any Catholic (especially those in regular communication with Protestants). 

The book itself is not that long, hovering somewhere around 220 pages or so, but it tackles the hows and whys of American Protestantism better than most books on the subject. "Whitebread Protestants" is broken into five chapters entitled: (1) Liturgical Food:Communion Elements and Conflict, (2) Social Food: Potlucks and Coffee Hours, (3) Emergency Food: The Development of Soup Kitchens, (4) Global Food: Hunger Politics, and (5) Moral Food: Eating as a Christian Should.  

The whole thing begins with an excellent examination of the history of Protestant involvement with the Temperance Movement and their subsequent changes and reinterpretations of the Bible in order to fit their new concerns over alcohol.Sacks explains the origins of contemporary Protestant "Communion" trends that had previously baffled me (such as using grape juice) and some that I was unaware of (like the use of individual paper cups and prepackaged "Communion" products). Sacks continues on to paint us a vivid picture of mainline American Protestantism and culture all through their relationship to food.   
Throughout the book it is apparent that American Protestantism has been (and continues to be) committed to ignoring tradition and changing theological interpretations in order to justify preconceived notions and social anxieties. And, again and again, we see case after case of American Protestants not only changing their own minds, but expecting the rest of the world to fall in line with their new personal revelations.

We see the story of a people banishing doctrine in favor of "community" (perhaps to validate their "personal interpretations") that ironically uses church practices like Communion to separate the community and emphasize personal worship. It probably shouldn't be surprising then that they feel the need to augment their desire for "community" and "fellowship" with shallow attempts to forge ties through Potlucks and "community" events. While these things are always nice to have in a community, it's best to keep in mind that religion is delicate. It is not unlike a house of cards. If you start removing a piece here and a piece there it will either collapse or need to be rebuilt to accommodate the changes. Sacks does a wonderful job putting this into perspective as he traces the struggles and changes of "Whitebread Protestant" religion and culture. For as much as we hear their religions are supposedly based on a "deep personal relationships with Jesus Christ" it was intriguing to learn that the focus is more accurately about "relationships" with one another than the Big Guy Upstairs. 

After reading this book you'll have gained deeper insight into the hows and whys of "Whitebread Protestants" and, if you're like me, with every page you'll see just how much they miss the mark. While frustrating at times (through no fault of the author), this book has helped me to grow deeper in love with Catholicism and to more clearly see the necessity of stability and tradition in Christianity.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Battling Trolls: Apologetics and New Evangelism

St. George battles the dragon.
As Catholics we are called to make "disciples of all nations" and since most nations have now heard of Christianity it is our duty to go deeper and dispel the lies surrounding the Church and her teachings. In the modern world evangelism is no longer a one-size-fits all effort. You no longer have to travel to remote villages in order to engage with people who grew up differently than you. For many of us, all it takes is hopping onto a computer or flipping on our phone. International and interfaith communication has literally never been easier than it is now. 


Of course with increased access not all voices are helpful. You're probably well aware that religious sites (yes, even this one) receive its fair share of trolls and occasional death threats. And while it can be spiritually and even emotionally exhausting dealing with these people, we must remember to remain calm and patient. We must wade through the badgering with perfect resilience and view every interaction as what it really is - an opportunity to teach others about the True Faith.

So when you are faced with the persistent troll, remember, they are people too. God created them and no matter what they say to provoke you, you must never stoop down to their petty methods. 

If is Smells like a Troll ...     

It can be difficult to determine whether someone is truly a troll or if they are just ignorant. Not every creature that smells like a troll is a troll. Some people just smell. 

If you engage in Apologetics and interfaith discussions with others it is important to remember that not everyone is a troll. Sometimes people ask questions because they are genuinely curious. They might use the same tired fall backs and phrases that we all know "whore of Babylon," "adding to the Bible," "Sola Scriptura" etc. and while it might seem that they are barraging you with endless questions, a closer look will likely reveal genuine interest. With my whole heart, I really do believe that every man and woman in the world was meant to be Catholic. When non-Caths come and ask questions it might very well be because they feel God calling them towards the True Church but their hearts are filled with fear. 

Don't give them another reason to resist. Please remember to be kind and patient. Don't give answers for things you don't know. It's okay to be honest and say "I don't know" if you don't. It would be better to admit that than to give false information. 

It's Not a Contest... 

New Evangelism and Apologetics are not about "winning" or "losing" arguments. They are really about listening to the concerns of other peoples and calmly dispelling them with arms open and ready to accept anyone-- because you never know where converts will come from. 

New Evangelism and Apologetics are about shouting the truth over the cacophony of lies in the world. They are about dispersing seeds in the hope that something will take and grow.   

Keep in mind why you are doing it and pray that God guide you in your endeavors. 

May God keep and Bless you now and forevermore! 
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Checking Your Connection

Image comes from Creative Commons.
It’s important to build our relationship with God in many ways - through forms of prayer and service. Prayer is like communication. There are many different ways to communicate (written letters, email, Social Media, texting, Skype etc. and face to face conversation) and in the same way there are many forms of prayer (repetition, reading scripture, contemplative, expressive praise and worship, charismatic etc.).

 A lot of people have developed an annoying habit of constantly checking their connection, worried they might have lost a call or missed a message from a friend. Our connection to God does not depend on a tower or a satellite. Our connection to God is constant. He always has a new message waiting for us, we just have to take some time each day to check it.

We don’t need to ask him “Can you hear me” because the answer is always yes. He can hear you and He’s listening. I don’t want to discourage you from using technology. It really is a marvelous modern miracle. But we need to be careful with the way we use it. We need to find some balance in our life and remember our connection to God is more important than our WiFi.

“And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [your] mind, that ye may prove what [is] the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” 

It can be easy for us to get lost in documenting life and forget to actually live it.

The Bible is full of people well-connected to God. It would be hard to imagine Noah or Ezekiel stopping to talk on the phone. The thought of Jesus playing Candy Crush is ridiculous and not just because it is anachronistic. The only connection they worried about was God.

Growing up, my mother always had a rule, no technology on the Sabbath. We could have chosen any day but with homework and daily life, Sunday seemed to work the best. We quickly found that without the television or radio or phones and pagers, we were forced to actually spend time with one another. Our cabinet of board games was soon overflowing and we can now boast of library with literally more than a thousand books. But more than anything, our No-Tech days gave us hours of all that time that you think you “don’t have”. It gave us time to sit together and pray or read scripture or even just impress each other with political and philosophical debates.

When we removed ourselves from the world, we found a whole new world of opportunities presented themselves. We learned how to connect with one another and more importantly, we strengthened our connection to God.

You don’t have to completely cut technology out of your life in order to be a good Christian but you should be mindful of how much you use it and how you use it.

 Especially during Holy Week we should all take a little bit of time to focus on our connection with God. Your signal is strong and constant. He’s just waiting for you to check in.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Still Alive ...

Image is Creative Commons.
I haven't been very active on this blog. I've been busy with work and life but in the next few months I'll be working towards revamping it. I'm currently working on reformatting it and I will hopefully have a real post soon.

-Pax et bonum