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Fish or cut bait, lady: A friendship twist that involves neither fish, nor loaves

Even the most accepting, liberal and open of Christians eventually expect you to join up or explain why not.

It's that fish or cut bait moment.

You've felt it coming. You knew it would, from the beginning. You just sort of hoped it would hang out under the rug, right where you swept it.

You hoped they'd never notice that---in the end---you weren't quite right. You hoped---in the end---somehow you'd be surprised to find that actually, you could join up.

However in the end, you found yourself wondering how in God's name you ended up being the square peg in the round hole. Again.

In a Catholic Church of all places.

Why, you asked yourself, almost daily, did I find a group I really liked at a Catholic Church? Probably one of the last places I could ever, really, join. It's just not me, or my beliefs.

I never meant anything profane. I had honest motives. In the beginning.

When I moved here, in the aforementioned pregnancy-induced psychotic hysteria, I was eager for a few things with regard to friends:

1. To be accepted and welcomed into the community
2. To build my own community of people who care
3. To develop true friendships, full of trust, for longevity

I carefully reviewed my past and the friendship failures and successes, with a lot of emphasis on the failures. Inevitably, it seemed the failures were rooted in either (a) something completely inexplicable, like the Incredible Vanishing Bridget or (b) something completely explicable, like a house of cards crumbling.

In the case of the Incredible Vanishing Bridget---and tell me, you've experienced this, haven't you?---at a local mom's group I met a really cool lady who was friendly, interesting, and most importantly, cracked me up regularly...we became friends...we supported one another in our transition from professional to mommy and back to semi-professional...our kids played together...and one day she simply vanished without a trace.

As my Anne Shirley level imaginative brain is wont to do, I imagined everything from:

She won some contest and suddenly moved to another country.
Aliens abducted her.
Her husband forbade her to speak to any women over 5'5" tall.
She decided her son could no longer have contact with girls.
She stowed away on a cruise liner and got lost somewhere in Alaska.

This was all to distract me from thinking:

She never liked me that well and finally met someone who suited her better.
I offended her.
Something is wrong and she has retreated.

So when the "in a carjacking gone wrong, she disappeared and was last seen in Newark" fantasy got a little too realistic---after all, one day we met for a fun playdate and the next I never heard from her again---I did a bit of checking and found she was right where she was meant to be: in her house, in her town, at her work churning out articles about the best way to cook.

I stopped with the e-mails, and phone calls, and focused on my remaining friends, who were also sort of baffled by her disapperance, but clearly not worrying about it like me.

But I filed away the experience in the "things that made me sad" and sub-filed it under "went inexplicably wrong."

The House of Cards situation is far more common. This is when in truth, I just never quite gelled with people. We hung together like socks randomly tossed in the dryer without a bit of softener, but when push or change came to shove, the aquaintanceship just slowly melted away.

See, in the past, I've tried very hard to be active and find groups that I had a vested interest in, on the assumption that there I would find people with whom I had much in common and could develop lasting caring friendships.

Perhaps my error was treating a group like a meat market and myself like a predator on the hunt for buddies. Suffice it to say, it rarely worked, especially since friendships that are deep and true are rooted in something more than common interests.

Therefore, when I moved, I decided AH HA. I will throw myself like so much random paint upon a canvas and hope something Pollock-y happens.

Initially I tried to re-invent the exact same life I'd had before in my new location. Didn't work. Setting aside the really obvious issues like climate, culture, pregnancy, telecommuting for work, and catastrophic move events, the biggest problem was the military assembly line institute that billed itself as a Montessori pre-school. Patience was so traumatized, she still averts her head every time we drive past that building.

A new neighbor mentioned the pre-school her children attend. The Catholic pre-school.

I nearly offended some people in my concern that this might not be a good fit for our family. "We don't need some cult-like religion stuffed down our kid's throats every time they turn around...and anyway, how much access do the priests have to the kids?" Ahem. No, I'm not proud.

But you have to understand I was traumatized when Baptists tried to indoctrinate me and make me swear to submit, and control my curiosity. And always vote for who the minister tells me to, in other words, Republican.

Now I've alienated Catholics and Baptists. Bear with me, I learned! I reformed! I grew to understand that as with everything, there is never any generalizing or absolutes.

It's okay, you can laugh. I did that on purpose.

So. Keeping an open mind---since that's what us bleeding heart sorts do, and anyway, it was my new "Pollock paint on canvas" MO---I went to investigate the Catholic Pre-school.

I swear angels sang when I opened the doors. It was that perfect. The school is AWESOME! The church is AWESOME! The programs are GREAT! Everyone there is some kind of WONDERFUL!

You can see how I got so involved.

My MO---not having been terribly successful in the past anyway---was shot to bits when I got involved and built friendships in the exact place I might once have sworn would NEVER work for me.

They were happy to open their hearts and doors to me, and I was happy to walk on through. Initially it was because I wanted to get to know the place where my daughter spent so much time, but after a while it was because it was so fantastic there and I liked the people so well. And so we floated along happily. Until recently.

A friend, happily and confidently said to me, "You're going to join soon. I just know it."

And Pandora's box was opened.

I said, "You know, I don't know. I just don't know. You guys, your church, you're all great. But the pontiff up in Rome? Him? And the main contract you have to sign? Not so much."

Please, I was more diplomatic. And more iffy. And much more apologetic. In real life. But that's the gist. And what's more, what matters, is that is the gist my friends walked away with.

I tried to explain, "How could I? While I think here is great, I am not just joining this church. I'd be pledging to something larger, something I am not 100% in line with. It would be dishonest. I'd join----knowing full well I'd be breaking some key tenets. Right up front. You shouldn't do that. Don't you think?"

I expected a total agreement and instead got---which is why I like these people so well in the first place---a very liberal answer about having to know my own mind and heart and follow that. Which, for the record, they seemed to think I could do, as a member.

So the promise of recruitment is blanked out.

I am, officially, an Interloper.

Fish or cut bait, lady.

Except, I still like it there. I still like them. Nobody has said---or actually made me feel---that I am unwelcome.

Still, as my curiosity and beliefs lead me further into deeper exploration, I wanted to lean on my discussion group. After all, they seem open, and asked me to weigh in with information about the Shakers (who I studied for a while).

However, I think you'll find that Sufism and the poetry of Rumi aren't quite a fit into the Catholic Church. No matter how intriguing. No matter how I package it.

And that's me. I just don't fit and stay long-term in any one mindset or place, I guess. My mind stops, explores like a wide-eyed tourist, and then is ready to hop the plane to the next destination.

Not too many religions like that. They tend to want you to sign up to their typically well-set beliefs. Some churches, with similarly curious people, might tolerate or even encourage curiosity and exploration of concepts and philosophies. But to a limited degree, within the main parameters of their own beliefs.

What I don't know is what a "cut bait" choice will bring

What I do know is that I don't think I'll ever be content to fish in the same pond forever.

And I hope this doesn't make me---in the end---the bait that is cut.

By Julie Pippert
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Anonymous said…
I found your post very interesting. I've actually been wanting to join the Catholic church. My husband's family is Catholic, and my family (with the exception of my mother and father) are Catholic. The problem is that this is my second marriage and to become Catholic, I have to have my first marriage annulled. This issue has made me feel less than welcome in the Church. father-in-law brought up a very good point. He said most Catholics are brought up Catholic, so in a sense, they're "brainwashed" (his words, not mine) from the beginning when they're small children. It's much harder to become Catholic when you're older, because as adults we question more. I understand what he was saying. Now, I realize that maybe I was wanting to become Catholic simply to fit in more with my husband's family. I think eventually, I'll find a faith a believe in, and not just partially believe.
Julie Pippert said…
That was my issue, exactly. As I can tell you understand, it's not simple. My main concern was possible motive for joining: as you said it was for you, I believed the desire to be a part of *that place* and *fit in as one of them* was stronger than an actual merging of belief and believer. I come from a very different background than Catholic, and for me, it is needing to find a place that make a space for me, rather than the other way around.
Bea said…
I think you're right about the distinction between joining a Church/organization vs. growing up in one. In North America, at least, MOST Catholics feel that they can exercise their freedom of conscience around such matters as birth control, for instance, without actually leaving the Church. But it does seem a bit disingenuous to JOIN if you're already planning, from the outset, to sign up for only half hte program. But I know that not everybody feels this way - a good friend of mine just became Catholic and she's very happy with her decision without feeling in any way bound to stop living with her fiance or using birth control (to give two examples). Intriguing post.

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