A New Faith

So today I had like $300 in my bank account. To some, this might not seem like a lot of money. But after being unemployed for a while and chipping through my savings, I feel like Trump (except his hair is better and I make an effort to think before speaking).

But it’s weird isn’t it? How priorities can change. Now that I’m actively earning money it seems like so little. But when I was flirting with bankruptcy, it felt like so much. To the point where being back to that number today makes me happy. I feel like I’ve replenished my savings a little bit, though they were admittedly meager and I have a ton of student loan debt. Some credit card debt too, but I promise not because of any shopaholic tendencies. Just life expenses like food.

And to be honest I don’t know if I know how poor I am. I’m fortunate to have parents who let me stay with them so the house I live in is nice. I also commute to work with my dad now that we both work in the city of Pittsburgh and he drives a Lexus so that’s also nice (because it has heated seat warmers). And I feel like I am finally managing to save a little which is not just nice it’s wonderful. I feel like I’m always breaking society’s rules because my life has none of the details of a worldly success story, yet I’m happy as a clam. I’m just content with my little life for right now. And for once instead of looking to the future or comparing myself to others or making plans of any kind I’m just at peace. Yet there’s also an uninvited but not unwelcome element of joy in it. So that’s pretty wonderful too.

I think the word for it is faith. I just have a faith I didn’t have before. That if God could get me out of what he got me out of in the past year, then there’s really nothing He can’t handle. And even though I have no idea what’s coming, I think everything will be okay. Because somehow everything turns out okay in the end. And if it’s not okay, it’s simply not the end yet. And I hope I can hold on to this new faith, because it makes all the difference.

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The Pitt 

So today I was faced with an interesting choice. Now that I’m much better at navigating Pittsburgh via public transit I know that from the stop near my office there are two bus routes that take about the same time to get back into the city. The first goes through a fairly poor rundown area before hitting the downtown. The second goes through the prestigious University of Pittsburgh. And the campus is impressively beautiful.

Guess which place my preppy white girl outward appearance fits in better?

I know the anticipation is killing you, but it was the second one. And that makes me kind of sad. Because while I’ve taken both ways, the first time I took the first way I was taken aback. Because suddenly I was launched into a world that was primarily African American and included many people with disabilities, the elderly, and had a strong presence of single mothers. One in particular who had a broken foot and was carting around her work bags and her kid on this broken foot of hers still haunts me. Because that would be damn hard. I don’t even know if I could do it. And while I hate the notion that just because I grew up with a nice, middle-class family I don’t know what suffering is (I know well enough, believe me), it would be hard to bear that particular cross. And I’m grateful that I had a really supportive family to go through it with me, because that lady was all alone with her child.

But fortunately since this is Pittsburgh, there is something sort of genuine about the people here, what you see is what you get. There’s this like prevailing blue-collar honesty, a sweet simplicity that’s hard to describe. Just know that it is the opposite of superficiality. And the people had a little community. A lot of them knew each other. And what could have been a really depressing scene (one that my more elitist but sometimes well-meaning professors and teachers would teach me to automatically pity if not outright condescend) was turned into something almost sweet. Because there’s nothing like being cared about, knowing that people have your back through thick and thin, not because of what you do for them, but because you are friends and neighbors. That is the power of Pittsburgh. And I’m sad that, being raised up and down the east coast, that I haven’t experienced anything like it in other places.

Because other places have turned their back on it as something outdated in this dog-eat-dog world where you are number one and everyone else is number two (extend the number two metaphor as far as you want). And that’s too bad. Because now there is an absence of this type of community, an absence that the world is in mourning for, whether they admit it or not.

Because the truth is the best things in life aren’t things. What makes the experience worthwhile isn’t “finding yourself” or accumulating lots of material goods or even being the best. It’s serving your neighbor. And in a community like the ones I’ve described in Pittsburgh, you get the joy not only of serving your neighbor but in having your neighbor serve you too. I’m glad they keep that tradition alive. And I’d love to see it come back to life around the world.

Tale as old as Time

So today I got to thinking (have you missed that hook? Because I sure have!) that the movie Beauty and the Beast can be used as a perfect metaphor for why I find it so difficult to defend the faith sometimes. Just to be clear this is not an admission to shortcomings in Catholic doctrine- quite the opposite in fact. I find the truth of the Gospel and the rich mysteries of the church so compelling, in such perfect harmony with natural law and what I’ve experienced to be true, that it breaks my heart when others don’t see it too. I guess I should explain that a lot of my debates have been with the well-informed, well-educated, and extremely skeptical (bordering on the cynical and apathetic for some- but not all). They are extremely comfortable in the realm of what can be proven and submit to human authorities like doctors (either of medicine or in the realm of academia), scientists, philosophers, public figures/celebrities and the like. And this path can only get you so far. Herein lies our metaphor for Beauty and the Beast. (I’ll bet you’re really curious now but bear with me I’ll explain in full.)

In Beauty and the Beast the prince and all the other servants of his castle are plunged into a spell when he fails to be kind to an elderly woman seeking his help. (Let’s compare this loosely to the fall of mankind from our spots in Heaven into our earthly exile as punishment for our own sin.) So with our first comparison in place, it’s time for another. In today’s modern age something weird is happening. As our culture becomes more and more wealthy, materialistic, and atheistic we are encouraged to live our curse (if you will) to the fullest, instead of dreaming about the day when we will be free of that curse- which is always the day (if you know your fairy tales) when you fall in love, when you get what your heart desires most of all, above all other things. So what this means for debate is that when I come from my perspective of freedom and restoration or, to continue our metaphor, being “human again” I’m met with arguments of how great it is being a chair or a table. How living in the enchanted castle is pretty sweet (at least it’s rent free!) and having the beast for a master is not so bad. It’s a denial that will ultimately keep them from the thing their heart wants most of all, simply to have the freedom to love and be loved in turn.

To drop the metaphor now, an atheist can tell me that this life is all there is and accuse me that my belief in God is just my way to shield myself and deny the cold realities of life. An agnostic can tell me that they are “spiritual” and like the light, generalized feelings of love, but that the deep, ritualistic and sacrificial love of religion is not worth pursuing. A cynic can tell me in exasperation that I’m neither smart nor discerning and that I believe a pack of lies. A hurting soul or a person with a bad experience of the church can simply let their actions speak and walk away. A person trapped in sin can simply never come at all, believing the lie that they are unworthy of love in the first place. And all I can ask any of them at that point is that they look past the tables and chairs and try, for just a moment, to believe with the heart of a child. To embark on the greatest adventure of all, what I think should be the very definition of life in the dictionary: the process of learning how to love. A difficult, arduous, exciting, romantic, and ultimately worthwhile pursuit because, whether we are willing to admit it or not, whether we have discovered it yet or not, the path of love always leads us to the thing our heart desires the most, above all other things: God.

Hefty, but true. Because when we really try to walk down that path, begging through prayer for the graces to do what we cannot do ourselves, that enchanting transformation begins to occur. Our eyes begin to see, our ears begin to hear, and our hearts begin to soften, and eventually overflow with love. And the further you walk down this path the more you get to experience the greatest gift of joy and freedom possible while still in exile: the opportunity to share everything you have discovered on the path with your neighbors. This is the simple truth of the gospel, the moral of the greatest story ever told.

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