To quote Percy's novel (1971): "Our Catholic church has split into three pieces: 1) the American Catholic Church whose new Rome is Cicero, Illinois; 2) the Dutch schismatics who believe in relevance but not God; 3) the Roman Catholic remnant, a tiny scattered flock with no place to go. "
How I hate the suburbs. There are too many whites (sorry, but for me it’s true). It’s so ridiculously superficially Protestant. And where it’s not Protestantism in the shallows, it’s completely God-less. And yet it still manages to be conformist. The religion practiced in the suburbs is consumerism. If you are able to buy the newest SUV model from the most popular line, it is because God is blessing you. If you lose your job, you’re a sinner and God is punishing you. Convenience is sacred. Living in the suburbs (and adolescence) drove me into Catholic apologetics. How else to deal with the horror of a belief that people who suffer are accursed by God? Or that people who are living in poverty are simply not working hard enough? That’s some cold re-tooled Protestantism at work, and I say that from knowledge that the people I have encountered who have most strictly held that view are also Evangelicals.
Ah, the Evangelical Protestants. The teenagers would “fellowship” during the week, throwing pizza parties, eating Doritos, reading some Bible verses, and singing some awful Praise and Worship songs. I hate pop-inspired Praise and Worship songs, as should anyone who has any aesthetical taste. It’s a sugary derivation of white rock from the 60’s and 70’s, and I also hate white rock. As I quoted Balanchine below, I don’t think this is the way to “find” God. This is the “Me and God, My Buddy and Me” crowd, and I don’t know what God that is. (Or maybe it’s because they would then get in their really nice cars and drive away – what? “God has rewarded me by giving me an expensive car from my parents!”)
At Texas A&M, the Evangelical groups got together and celebrated this thing called “Resurrection Week” during Holy Week. Is it crass to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord before Easter Sunday, and to do so during a solemn week for Catholics? Could it be inappropriate to have a barbecue on Good Friday?
I’m building my little black ball of hate, because it reminds me that it makes complete sense why so many cradle Catholics who care about their faith and are stuck growing up in suburbia take refuge in Patristic studies and Newman, Gregorian chant and the Council of Trent. There isn’t much that is magical or fantastical about the suburbs, and even the fairy tales are watered down nowadays. It’s hard to see God in all things when every thing looks the same anyway, and in any suburb in the country. At least a young Catholic can try to have a “life of the mind,” a shelter from the depressing environment around him or her.
But there is also the power of art, and those who live in the suburbs have more access to it (at least through purchasing power) than most. Balanchine, flaws and all, was viewed as a demi-God by people not only because he was an artistic genius but because he had a philosophy on life that depended on self-abnegation to a higher vision, continuously, in the present, NOW! The audience could believe in a Higher Power when watching/experiencing his ballets not because he used overtly Christian themes (he really didn’t), but because of Balanchine’s devotion to beauty and the mystery of individual longing. His work is a reminder that it is the person and the experience melded in this moment that matters, that a person committed to the present is a person who can show the truth that belongs to eternity, because God can be experienced in each moment of our lives. We worship the living God Who seeks to transform us in every moment, not the god who is our pal, or the god who wants us to sing praise songs to him twice a week and do whatever else we want the rest of the time. As A.V. likes to say in his frequent sermons, the problem is us.
I don’t have a solution that would create a thriving Catholicism in suburbia – there’s probably not meant to be one there, if Catholicism is meant to thrive anywhere other than in the souls of believers. Perhaps I’m suspicious of traditionalist Catholics for the same reason I was suspicious of my Evangelical classmates – their outward behavior emphasizes the externals. I can only do whatever it is I do, in this moment, now, and pray to God for it to be something.