Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia, and I’m doing all I can to avoid him.
I know there are some readers of this blog who think I should do everything in my power to seek out the Holy Father and ask forgiveness, for both the thoughts and deeds I’ve commemorated here on Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please. You may be surprised, or perhaps not, to learn that this blog is followed by a whole
flock slew of Christians who write about how God is improving their marriage or revealing the mystical secrets behind tater tot casserole or losing weight through Jesus.
(Dear Christians: Just my opinion, but God may be sending you mixed messages with that tater tot casserole and weight loss stuff).
I’ve never been able to understand why this blog has so many Christian followers. Maybe they’re praying for my salvation. More likely they’re using me as an example to scare their children.
Behold the fate that awaits you if you turn from the path of righteousness: Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please!
Anyway, as I said, the Pope is visiting for a couple of days at the end of the week and, as a lapsed Catholic, the papal visit didn’t register more than a “Gee, that’s nice,” on my own personal Richter scale until a colleague contacted me to reschedule a meeting. Why did we need to reschedule? Because it appears the whole freaking city is shutting down this week, including the public schools, public transport, and entire bridges and stretches of highway.
So I doubt I’ll get much done in this week, except for maybe this blog post about my Christian followers.
Let me start by saying that I am not a follower of Christianity and my relationship with religion is complicated. It began with my parents: my Mom was a devout Roman Catholic and my Dad was an unrepentant atheist. How this horribly mismatched couple ever got together in the first place remains a mystery, but you could probably place a safe bet on the involvement of alcohol. Why they stayed together has more to do with my mother strictly following the Church teaching against birth control and yet feeling a bit more loosey-goosey about the admonition against premarital sex: I was born not quite seven months after my parents married.
After my birth, I went through the motions of being a Catholic through my Confirmation, and then declared that I was an atheist as my mother wept and my father cheered.
Still, while I’ve left the Church, I remain what I’ll call a cultural Catholic, and I identify with that particular experience. If I had to choose sides in, let’s say, a game of dodgeball, I’d be on their team.
While I’m an atheist and have been since early adolescence, in my twenties I married a former altar boy. That’s maybe not too surprising. What may surprise you is that my husband, who comes from a large, Irish-Catholic family that attended Mass every Sunday, rejected the Catholic Church much more emphatically than I ever did. Even though my husband didn’t grow up in a home with a drunk guy shouting from the front porch at random passersby that all priests are “queers” (that would be my Dad), my husband refused to allow our children to be baptized. The atheist in the relationship (that would be me) would have been okay with it.
Don’t try to make sense of my beliefs. It will just make your brain hurt.
My beliefs have made my own brain hurt for a while now, including a few months I worked as an office temp several years ago. Because I was a temp, I occupied a place in the office hierarchy alongside the cleaning crew. There was a guy there who did most of the maintenance: replacing lightbulbs, fixing the lock on the women’s room door, painting the conference room a pale green called “Seedling.” In a
foolish moment of proletarian solidarity, I introduced myself, my small act of rebellion against a workplace that did not acknowledge my his existence, let alone my his labor (perhaps you can understand why my career there did not progress beyond the status of a temp). He told me his name was Arthur. From then on, Arthur greeted me thusly (if the sun was shining).
“The Lord has given us a beautiful day, Karen!”
If it was raining, he would say
“The Lord has given all the plants and trees a good drink of water today, Karen!”
Fortunately, no natural catastrophes struck during my stint as a temp in that office, so I never got to see how Arthur’s Christian optimism would interpret an earthquake or a tsunami. Still, he did relate to me his experience of other divine interventions on his behalf. For example, there was the time he misplaced his brush while painting that conference room.
“The Lord must have been looking out for me, Karen, because he showed me right where it was, on top of the step ladder!”
And that time he parked his car, yet remained inside, fiddling with the radio for a few moments, when a speeding Toyota Camry whizzed down the street. Again, he credited the Lord with his inability to find the Washington Redskins broadcast on the AM dial and avoiding certain death in a gruesome traffic fatality.
Arthur’s need to share his faith with me remains inexplicable, sort of like the reasons why I have so many Christian followers. If I had to guess about his motivations, I think I’ll say that he was dropping what I’ll call “God hints”: little cues in conversation he hoped would start a larger discussion that would open up an opportunity to convert me. Maybe that’s what the Christian followers are doing, too, when they follow my blog. I don’t think I’m out here in the world sending a message that I need saving, but maybe with all the flailing around I do in life, and on this blog, that’s the message Christians hear.
Ahead of Pope Francis’s visit, the Washington Post published a story about all the Catholics, like my husband and I, who have left the Church. Like so many others, we’ve stopped following Catholicism. Yesterday, the paper published another story about how Americans really, really, really like Pope Francis but we really, really, really don’t like the Catholic Church.
I don’t know if the Pope’s visit will be able to bring disaffected Catholics back into the fold. So far Pope Francis seems to be saying the right things on a lot of issues that are important to Americans and American Catholics. I do know that this part of the country where I live is in an absolute frenzy during his visit, and I’m just waiting to come out the other side.
Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia on September 26 and 27. You can find his schedule here.
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