Don’t live in a pre-furnished house of ideas

Just for fun, one of my sisters posted on social media, “Tell me something about you that sounds like a lie but is true.” The first thing that popped into my head: I vastly prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I knew that would surprise people, and I wasn’t wrong.

There are various, well-examined reasons our family attends a Novus Ordo Mass, instead. But when I said on Facebook that I vastly prefer the TLM, a few people were (as I expected) astonished. Perhaps because I’ve written about feminism and consent and because I’m not a republican, they assumed I must therefore hate tradition and prefer modernism, or perhaps that I have some kind of aversion to reverence or beauty, or that I think the past is just full of garbage and should be erased whenever possible.

These assumptions are, of course, a stereotype, just as it’s a stereotype to assume that anyone who loves the TLM must be rigid and sexist and dour and judgmental. Some people are this way, but some are not. It’s not wrong to notice trends and patterns, but it is wrong to assume that everyone you meet must be part of that pattern.

But I had to acknowledge that I do this to other people all the time. I make sweeping assumptions about people’s worldview based on a few allegedly tell-tale comments or preferences. I assume that if they disagree with me on one important thing, they’ll disagree with me on all important things, and are also moreover probably incapable of basic decency.  I do this even though I’ve been surprised and proven wrong more times than I can count; and I do this even though it drives me crazy when people do it to me!

Well, it’s old news to preach against stereotyping, making assumptions, and slapping labels on people. What I’d like to hear more about is how we make assumptions about ourselves … Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.


Image by A R Driver, CC BY-SA 2.0 UK <>, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

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10 thoughts on “Don’t live in a pre-furnished house of ideas”

  1. I think one of the unfortunate consequences of so much of our social lives going “online” in the last year has been an increase in this kind of “moving into pre-furnished houses.”

    Seeing and talking with people regularly in person tends to increase our awareness of complexity in others, and it lets us work out complexity in ourselves. When you have frequent in person conversations with friends, you talk about your views and opinions in all their messiness, you can change your mind in real time, agree with one point and disagree on another, clarify misunderstandings, and you generally walk away from conversations with the sense of everyone’s complexity.

    But on Facebook, a small number of hyper tribal people dominate political discourse via posts that declare a position rather than invite engagement. Most of the responses are either a) likes or emojis or b) silence, because no one wants to be that disruptive and mean person who publicly disagree with a line of “raising hands” emojis, right?

    When you have no engagement with your friends outside of seeing their decontextualized “likes” and emojis on Facebook, you start to mentally sort them into “The Tribe of People who Would Like That Post” and you, consciously or not, begin to think of them as “My Side” or “Not My Side” accordingly.
    This perception of polarization pushes people to pick “their side.” Then people reinforce their membership in “their side” by posting things they know will get likes from “their side,” which then turns into a polarization feedback loop, by which we form our own opinions according to what we perceive others’ opinions are.

    When people talk in person, it is a lot harder to become polarized, because we have more of a chance to experience the complex contours of our friends’ views, which makes us feel more empowered to have complex views of our own. When we see how unique the interiors of other people’s mental houses are, it makes us feel more free to decorate our own.

    Another thing I think is important to keeping our mental houses from becoming “pre-furnished” is to embrace your local community, including your local parish.

    I had a hard time with this for years. I am very much a liturgical traditionalist. I grew up old school Missouri Synod Lutheran, with a huge, mustachioed German pastor who weekly chanted a Eucharistic Prayer full of Thees and Thous in a booming voice and the congregational singing of 16th Century hymns that could raise the wooden roof right off our little country church. My biggest obstacle when converting to Catholicism was not Mary, but Marty Haugen (Who I later learned was actually Lutheran LOL). I still get a visceral “ewww” at the sight of rows upon rows of those blue plastic hymalette thingies when I walk into a new church.

    But I’ve learned that it is so much more important to spiritually grow where you are planted, especially when raising kids. Rather than driving in a constant search for the “perfect parish”, embrace your local parish, and find opportunities for grace and connection among all its aesthetic imperfections, varying personalities, and messiness. Embracing relations with your physical neighbors and your physical local parish, in all their imperfections, teaches tolerance of your fellow human and fidelity to local community. (There is a passage from Chesterton that inspired me along these lines, but I can’t remember where it is right now.) But that embrace of messy local community, and a commitment of fidelity to one’s neighbors, in all their human peculiarity, I think is vital for fighting polarization.

  2. I’m not surprised at all. I would imagine that the EF celebrated by a humble man of God would be sublime.

    We visited my son and his new wife in Portland OR last week. I asked him to sign us up for Easter mass. His non Catholic wife chose the most magical spot that I’ve experienced in a long time. It wasn’t the EF, but it was solemn, traditional in every way, and in a forest clearing with a grotto of our Lady carved into a sheer wall of rock over 150 feet tall. The Servite order runs the place, and seems to be (at least in that location) predominantly Filipino. It was so solemn and heavenly. Some of the responsorial hymns were in Latin.

    My daughter-in-law and my son sang like they were trained members of the choir. (I got out a few notes but mostly froze because I thought I could wear an Easter dress in the Pacific Northwest.) When I asked my DIL if she had ever sung in a church choir she laughed and told me she is a former drama nerd. My son later told me that she kills it at karaoke.

    I didn’t expect to discover such a thing in Portland of all places. At the parish we are attending now they like to do this audio visual thing on big screens. It just isn’t for me. It’s kind of Protestant-sappy, but the pastor is a stellar man–kind, with the best of intentions. That makes up for a lot. Dare I quote that “kindness is everything” bumper sticker?

    In other news, our former pastor who likes to sing the most sacred parts of the mass traditionally, like Pavarotti, refuses to apologize to us. An official priest from the Archdiocese is trying to cajole him into a mea culpa for trying to publicly shame us (for eavesdropping on the mass from across the street of the parking lot where he was celebrating.). How dare we forget to sign up three days in advance after “tickets” closed and kneel next to a public sidewalk 25 feet away? The audacity.

    Strange times we are living in. No matter how I experience the sacred, I hope it makes me kinder. My belief in Fulton Sheen’s words about the Eucharist making us more like Jesus every time we receive has been sorely tried in the last four years. I still believe it, but wonder if it can also turn us into monsters if our hearts are not in the right place.

    1. Anna Lisa! So good to see you. A married son – how exciting. I’m not sure when those years will start for us.

      We’ve lived in our parish now for a quarter century and it not only feels like home, it is home. But our pastor (who’s been here more than two decades) is retiring next year. Things will be changing. Not sure how much. I always thought we’d stay in this house until we died. I used to quote Frank Rizzo, the former Philadelphia mayor, who, upon retirement, famously said, “Next stop – Holy Sep.” (Holy Sepulchre cemetery). But as our kids get older and the big ones look like they might all be settling further south, I can’t see staying here if grandkids are all several hours away.

      We figure we’ve got another 5 years here and then who knows? That’s when our baby will graduate high school. We’ve begun pricing properties in the Outerbanks of North Carolina, with an eye to possibly retiring there. Our biggest problem is the parish down there is run by priests who think they’re Phil Donahue. We typically attend the Spanish Mass when vacationing because we get angry at the other one – the showmen priests haven’t troubled themselves to learn Spanish and so they don’t bother editorializing during the Eucharistic prayer during that one. It’s a lively, reverent (minus the priest) Mass. I prefer it, but my Spanish no es muy bueno. I’m working on it.

      1. Philly! Great to hear from you!

        Oooooo Outer Banks. Nice. The Netflix series “Outer Banks” was one of my favorite Covid, frivolous, guilty pleasures. I dream of having a beach house on the sand with a Serena and Lily interior in a place like that. Rising sea levels would worry me though. I just read about The Outer Banks in the news having to face that imminent reality. Over here, (where SF just had the least amount of rain in 100 years :/ –the only ocean front property that is remotely affordable is very north of SF, or south of San diego–in Mexico. We just visited Seattle which was lovely but cold and also very expensive. Super-white too. I asked my friend Mark Shea what was up with that and he responded: “Portland is worse”.

        Yeah– 🙂 married son, beautiful wife, both intellectuals and hippies with friends straight out of a Portlandia episode. Very sweet and kind. One of them almost won first place in an international tattoo artist competition. Lol. I’ve been instructed by my son that I can’t refer to her partner as anything but “they”. So hard to remember. I briefly discussed why I could never be a communist with his buddy. He teaches high school history and went to burning man with my son. My kid went from wearing tight Abercrombie polo shirts in college to sporting long hair and overalls with steel toe boots when he chops wood in his backyard. He can work remotely from any place in the world but chooses Portland where he has somehow found himself. His wife is a literary agent for niche, political, socially conscious non fiction, and a vocal advocate for women’s rights. Lol, whose life am I living?

        God must have a sense of humor. I for my part try to remain calm and choose my battles wisely. Thankfully I don’t feel that embattled about much of anything anymore, employing the WWJD litmus test to people and situations. It just makes things so much simpler.

        My other older kids also seem to be finding themselves, and are just plain sassy sometimes. Three of them came up from SB to take care of the youngest three so we could take our Easter trip. Thankfully the party they threw was not a big one, and we, the old f*rts have had our immunizations. The puppy with the leaky bladder, that I got my poodle pregnant with, so my daughter could have a companion in NY during Covid –is now *my* new baby. When I left my dressing room this morning, I found baby Ewok in full sploot position (belly down, legs straight out behind her) on my white, above my means, duvet.

        My fifth kid has turned into a bible thumper. He’s head over heels in love with my former pediatric dentist’s granddaughter. She’s big into her very groovy protestant church where she sings and plays the guitar. He’d jump through fiery hoops for her. She’s adorable and has that blue hair thing going on and a nose ring. As a former 7th Day Adventist she used to think Catholics were all going to hell. She’s very amenable to going to mass with us. I had to laugh because we chatted with Bishop Barron on Ash Wednesday and my friend Deacon Chris snapped a picture of us. She had no idea who the guy “with the pointy hat” is. Her Adventist forebearers must be turning in the grave. She loves the mass and doesn’t understand why she can’t receive communion. My kid wants to marry her but they both just turned 21. The oldest four highly disapprove of this, and look down upon

        My daughter, the NY transplant who hasn’t had to be physically in NY for a year, designs intimate wear at my kitchen table in SB. Last summer, she said said, “Mama, do you want to see what I designed that sold out in two weeks?” I said “sure” and peered over her shoulder at her laptop. My little girl Charlotte who is now 12teen ran over too. The three of us stared at the barely there, skimpy, black, bits of fabric image that had a little skirt of TASSELS. As the thought went through my mind “I’d never wear that” my little girl enthusiastically remarked: “I’d totally wear that.”

        That would have terrified me a couple of decades ago.

        I guess I have run out of space to post a full update on all of them. Life is far from boring, and I’m not sure that I even want it to go back to “the before times” as my kids refer to life a year and two weeks ago.

        1. Over the last dozen years, we’ve had have lots of nieces and nephews move to Portland. Vegans and vegetarians all, most of them work in the legalized weed industry. We may actually visit this summer to attend a great niece’s bat mitzvah celebration that had been postponed due to COVID. Normally, the Portlandians come back to the east coast to visit with all the aunts, uncles, and cousins but the word on the street is that we’re all being invited to Portland for the bat mitzvah.

          Right now we’re in lockdown. One of my sons tested positive for the virus. He’s asymptomatic and has been living and doordashing like a king. We’re fortunate to have multiple bathrooms and so we’ve banished him to one we’ve been calling Molokai. His brothers are calling him unclean, and I’m waiting on him hand and foot because he’s not allowed in the kitchen.

          This whole “they” thing is so strange. I do feel bad for these lost souls and I believe good manners calls for me to humor them in their preferences, but I just don’t think I could do it if it were someone I loved. I remember the first time someone I knew decided to change genders. It blew my mind. I would miss turns. I’d come back with wrong items from the grocery store. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I still don’t think I can wrap my head around it, but now when I hear of someone transitioning, my cynical response is typically, “Eh, I’m not surprised.”

          Anyway, my kids are all good. My daughter has started to attend a church with a lot of military in the congregation and has gone on a few dates with some officers. I’m worried that she’s going to end up marrying some guy who gets stationed in Japan or Hawaii. I think, though, that one of my boys, who has a “not his girlfriend” is probably closer to marriage than she is. Our daughter is enjoying her young, single, skinny 20’s way too much to settle down at this point. On the one hand, I think my kids are too young to marry. On the other hand, I’d love some grandbabies.

          I’m thinking of getting back into foster care, but I’m debating with myself whether or not we’re just too darn old. My husband is supportive, but he knows the brunt of it falls on me so he’s not pushing.

    2. How ridiculous that he accused you of eavesdropping when you were just trying to participate in your own way due to Covid restrictions. Some people will make an issue out of anything.

      1. I should have known 20 years ago when he looked taken aback at the sight of a family of 10. “Disgust” is too strong of a word even if it is the same expression one makes when discovering dog poop on the bottom of your shoe.

        Also, when he chastised me from the altar –for needing to leave after communion on weekdays to pick up the baby and toddler in order to get the middle school kid to school on time.

        Not to mention the refusal of absolution that one time when he tried to explain my mother to me when he hasn’t met her. When referring to his own family, violence is usually the theme.

        Also… for making the term “Ew” into a two syllable word when referring to the decor in his 4,000 square foot residence prior to redecorating and driving the other (handicapped) priests out. Not to mention his public threat of leaving the priesthood if they move him.

        The fact that he is probably a Savant. Totally not his fault. He gives some of the best sermons on Jewish and Catholic history I have ever heard in my life. His fixation on giving passionate, moving! sermons on the need for community while driving half the congregation away, firing people, and making his employees cry, is truly a masterpiece of crazy.

        Maybe the most telling symptom of all? -The fact that he almost never refers to Our Lady unless the day or the verses make it unavoidable. There is no love there. If it’s true that his Mom would roll up the car windows so she could beat them after mass, it pretty much explains most of the problem.

  3. My husband is so good at not stereotyping people, and taking them as individuals, but then he’s probably been mischaracterized his whole life. I try. I’m better than I used to be. Not reading much news or religious blogs (other than this one) helps with that a lot.

    We’ve got a Latin Mass parish about two miles from us. We’ve only been once, when it was an assignment for somebody’s religion class. It wasn’t our favorite. Maybe it was the particular priest but he was really mumbly. And I’m actually pretty good at Latin so I was sort of looking forward to it. The congregation looked like a real mixed bag of people. And there were several other women besides myself wearing pants. Having only known TLM people on the internet, I didn’t expect that. I’d been half wondering if I should buy a skirt for the occasion, but decided I was what I was and went with my own wardrobe, plus a mantilla I’d purchased for the occasion so as not to be disrespectful. I think one of the kids had a track meet right afterwards so we didn’t stay for the parish’s social hour, but I’d have liked to have met some of the other attendees and heard their stories.

  4. I have to admit that I am surprised to hear that you prefer the extraordinary form of the Mass. But that being said, while I am definitely guilty of stereotyping some people (there are some people who across as very boxy), I don’t tend to do that with you because you are so unboxy. Your unboxiness is your best quality, in my opinion, because it demonstrates that it is possible to be a faithful prolife Catholic who subscribes to Church teaching while still dismissing political and other boxes that often seem to go hand and hand with this. But you’ve given me something to think about, and I will try to be aware of times when I jump to conclusions about people and stereotype them rather than being open to their uniqueness. I guess everyone must deviate from the box to some extent.

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