A Well-Timed Warning

At the end of March I purchased G.K. Chesterton’s Conversion and the Catholic Church for my Kindle.

That would have warned my husband, if he were me, but despite not erasing the receipt (so I know he noted it), Dear Husband did not infer the beginning of my research.

Chesterton’s 3 stages of conversion (in my own words)

  1. I’ll be fair and look straight at Catholicism.  I can tell it’s not been treated quite fairly
  2. Wow.  This really makes sense with the way I perceive reality
  3. Crap.  Now I have to Choose or run from The Truth

I find this demarcation delicious (if terrifying at first), especially since I recognized myself in the 3rd stage from the first awareness that I was paying attention.

Correspondingly I am the convert he warns lay people to be careful of when he says,

For the convert’s sake, it should also be remembered that one foolish word from the inside does more harm than a hundred thousand foolish words from the outside. …

There is many a convert who has reached a stage at which not word from any Protestant or pagan could any longer hold him back. Only the word of a Catholic can keep him from Catholicism.

I have met a number of sincere Catholics in recent weeks, and without stretching to say they major on minors, I can at least observe that they emphasize as essential things that are at best important.

This is a big deal because I know I’m a bit bullish (as in bull terrier) and hang on until I am satisfied in a matter.  But I grieve for those who are driven off. Honestly, if I didn’t have this awareness (the quote from Chesterton) in the back of my mind I might have been driven away.

I grieve because I see the same thing happening in my protestant evangelical church, where Precision (which I love, btw) can overrun Love. That every word be 100% correct is important in dogma– if I’m using the word correctly– but please let analogies and poetry be analogies and poetry.  I already understand that God is too much to be contained in one picture.

All through my growing up years I participated in story-telling around the table.  And I didn’t consciously realize how critical and competitive those conversations were until I was 19 and away from my family for the first time:

I told a story wherein I caught an inaccuracy just after I spoke it.  I physically flinched and realized I expected to be corrected.  But my audience was oblivious: the fact was irrelevant to the story, while the telling was interesting enough I could have made the whole thing up and they wouldn’t have cared.

“I can’t get it wrong,” I choked out to my parents late one night (less than a year ago).  “It’s not safe to make mistakes.”

They looked horrified.  “Everyone makes mistakes! It’s okay to get it wrong.”

I shook my head, out of words, unable to say it differently. “It’s not safe.”

I have a *need* to get things right, especially in this season of brokenness (fighting depression) because I don’t have the energy or reserves to rebuild.  To do it over. And I feel undermined both in my own church and by certain Catholics when they nit-pick me.

Perfectionism doesn’t just come out of a “sense of superiority” as I’ve been accused of projecting.

It also comes out of desperate fear.

Returning to Chesterton:

My experience is that the amateur is generally much more angry than the professional; and if he expresses his irritation at the slow process of conversion, or the inconsistencies of the intermediate condition, he may do a great deal of harm, of the kind that he least intends to do.

(emphasis mine)

I love precision. I love the sweetness of the perfect word.  But first let me fashion a chalice fine enough to hold the precious liquid.

Try this image: I can catch an apple with my hands, spaghetti stays in a colander, and rice in a sieve.

For all that there are sincere Catholics who say everything essential, that’s not true. Broth has more nutritive value than rice, but rice will still fill a hungry belly.

So please don’t deny me that.

For this reason I am slow do embrace the dire warnings of random Catholics.  I tend to tune them out.  Politely, I hope.

So much Church teaching has made sense so far that I am slow to take on challenges that could even possibly be explained away by semantics.


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