Why Single People Should Attend Baby Showers

As a single person, I know the dread that can arrive with any shower invitation. It’s not always envy or curmudgeonry or anything like that. I love my friends and I love their Important Life Events. When my first really good friend, Hutch, told me she was pregnant, I literally jumped on my bed. It was weird. I’d say that general curmudgeonry is not usually the problem with single people not liking showers. (Not to imply that Bridesmaids wasn’t disappointingly emotionally relatable.) Besides problems that I’ve discussed before about showers (here and here), like their penchant for being boring or awkward or lame—easily overcome!—there are occasionally issues that strike a little deeper.

Especially at baby showers, there can be a vibe of “shut up single people, let the mommies talk.” Why would you want to go out and buy gifts and dress up and bring some genuine baby enthusiasm in order to be shut down as having nothing to contribute to your friend’s celebration of this new life? Sure, there are things that single people aren’t going to be able to relate to and it’s stupid to be overly sensitive when you’re clearly not the focus of the Important Life Event…but those things are difficult enough to deal with as you watch friends grow inevitably apart through divergent experience without feeling like the door’s being slammed in your face in the process. I once had a pregnant woman straight up not believe some post-partum hospital practice I told her about because I had never had a baby and none of her mommy friends had ever mentioned it. A lot of people don’t want to go to showers (single women, men of any status) not because they’re selfish or cheap, but because they are made to feel like they have no reason to be there. This need not be.

To be fair, diaper options are not interesting to me and I really don’t want to talk about them for hours. Not everyone has to be a part of every conversation, and not everyone should be. But that doesn’t mean showers have to be painful or totally boring for single people. There are many more inclusive topics to be discussed than baby product debates. Pregnancy and childbirth and baby-raising are some of the most important things; people of every status hopefully have some more or less informed opinions and beliefs about those things. Refusing to hear them doesn’t make sense. And refusing to form them doesn’t either.

It is so easy to disregard people who aren’t like you; to exaggerate the ease or benefits of someone else’s situation and belittle their struggles because they are different from yours OR to contemn the value of their choices when yours have been the opposite. As far as family vs. single life is concerned, this absolutely goes both ways: “Single people!? Psh, what do they have to worry about? Have fun with that disposable income and freedom to travel, take career risks, meet new people, and go on adventures.” and “Married people!? Psh, why don’t you go home and cry to your husband or wife? That one who means you’ll never be alone in any tragedy, adventure, sadness, or joy; and those children who will care for you in old age.” Or the other side: “I just don’t know how I’d get through the day without my shmoopy pumpkinface and purpose-giving angel babies. I’d probably give up and die, ‘cause really, what would be the point of it all?” and “Ha! Do I have kids!? No, I’m not a talking cow for poop machines. I’m haven’t decided to waste my education, lose all sex-appeal, and have no life of my own yet, thanks.”

The thing is, though, that a life can always be reduced to boring, depressing diaper routines or lonely Netflix marathons. You need to be able to find meaning in whatever situation you find yourself in, and to see that same value and meaning in lives that look way different than yours. And we need each other—in our very-differentness—to do that. When I get annoyed by my friends’ baby-restricted autonomy or depressed because I’m single now so I’ll probably die alone (logic), I try to remember these things. I try to remember how the-same I have felt about myself when I’ve been in relationships, or had different jobs, or gotten to travel to interesting places, or what have you. In our different situations, we are not better or worse than each other. We think circumstances can make us feel or be everything we want, but they just don’t—even the big, important ones. All they do is provide opportunities for us to become (at a character level) who we should be and hopefully want to be, most of the time.

When we try to consider who has is better or who “has it all” or if we can “have it all” (especially referring to women choosing or balancing families and careers, like all of those articles flying around awhile ago) I think it’s easy for the values that we’re weighing to get really confused. This conversation can mean a lot of things to different people but, as a Christian, my values don’t always or usually add up to professional success or even emotional fulfillment. As a Christian, the realization of my pro-creational, intellectual, physical-fitness, career, whatever potential is not the primary measure of my life’s worth. From the moment my little baby head was baptized, I have already “had it all.” Anything I work for or attain—my talent, abilities, and potential in and of themselves—are gifts. The worth and value of parents and single people, then, aren’t found in their differences but in what they have in common. With this lens, I look at the challenges of single life and the challenges of family life and see the same thing: an opportunity for sanctification. And in their different joys: the goodness of a life given by God.

Back to baby showers. (Sure, that’s what this is about.) It may seem like I’m getting really intense and moralistic about something that is not very important. And that’s true. But sometimes unimportant things have very important implications. Baby showers: take ‘em or leave ‘em; the point I’d like to make is that if you want to maintain friendships with people you love you have to make an effort and you have to respect their different lives. I realize this more every year as I grow older and watch people who used to be very close become less able to relate to each other. Sometimes this leads to better friendships—in which everyone benefits from the diverse experiences of the group and shares wisdom that can serve as an external check for particular circumstances. Sometimes it simply leads to the end of a friendship.

I’m sick of hearing exclusionary pity-voices from marrieds towards singles, you don’t have problems/you don’t know what love is comments from parents towards everyone, and dismissive, you’re an alien/your life is over now vibes from single or even married people towards new parents. People. Life is always hard and life is always good.

It can be frustrating when there begins to be an effort involved in connecting with someone who used to be just like you, or whose life at least was like yours. There can be true loss involved in even the happiest of changes. Sometimes it’s hard to celebrate with your friends about something that’s taking them away from you. And when your life is changing, it is difficult to see outside of your own important situation, or to value the kind of life you had before when life now seems more significant. But you just have to. And it’s worth it.

I do need to be friends with people who are in the same situation in life as I am; I think that’s important. I need to be close with people who can relate to my struggles and assure me that I’m not crazy sometimes (unless I am). But at this point almost all of my best friends are married, many with children. Sometimes I can’t even imagine what their days look like, but that doesn’t mean we can’t relate. With the good ones, our diverse experience is a resource and not just an obstacle.

I’m starting to lose count of the times I’ve heard single people rationalize their disregard for solid relationship advice because it came from someone who got married young; because they don’t know what it’s like to be single. I mean, yeah. But also, so what? Sometimes an external perspective simply provides an objective opinion; and do you know what’s great, especially when it comes to emotional relationships? An objective opinion. Most people I know, who are my age and single, live in an increasing assumption of certain relational compromises, forfeits, and concessions that feel inevitable. People just take what’s available and see where things go; they don’t make choices and relationships start as accidents instead of decisions to be with specific people. It is possible that someone who has been outside that fight against gravity can see more clearly when their friends are trying to figure things out and when they’re just kind of giving up. You’re not necessarily ignorant just because you haven’t been in the dating trenches for years.

On the other hand, a lack of marriage and parenthood experience doesn’t make you untried or ignorant either. Sometimes unhealthy relationship patterns are easier to spot when you’re not in them. And same goes for positive growth. Friends can tell when a couple is being more patient with each other or generous with their time and energy. They can also serve as a reminder to look up every once in a while from the epics and dramas of infant sleep cycles, potty training, and kid soccer so you don’t become permanently nearsighted. The inherent self-sacrifice of childrearing is a good thing, but it doesn’t automatically make you a saint. I’m sure we’ve all met parents whose kids become excuses for socially acceptable selfishness.

Baby showers aren’t just about a gift scam or playing stupid games or not drinking. If you’re single and you avoid them, it’s important to think about why. Is it the same reason that your friend who you resent now stopped coming to girls’ night or guy time? By their inclusivity, baby showers acknowledge that everybody there, family and friends, are affected by this Important Life Event. If you don’t want to go through the effort of sharing or sharing in the giant big deal of a new life, then your showers are going to suck. Some parents treat babies like trump cards and showers like victory laps. Some single people treat showers like funereal goodbye parties for people they’ll soon stop seeing and talking to. No wonder people hate them. Let’s be better than that.

I have a few more slightly less erudite thoughts on this topic (avoid creepy games; don’t deny the less-fertile their booze; boys allowed, etc.) that I’ll post soon; and then I promise I’m finished with showers (or whateverthehell this ended up being about).


DeAnn Part I: On Being Who You’re Meant to Be, Single or Otherwise


DeAnn birthday dinners started very simply, with brownies and a story that should have ended in the horrible death of an urban legend. That was two years ago—when DeAnn was still kind of new here, so the party consisted of grabbing a beer at a local pub. I didn’t know her that well yet, but I thought that she should definitely get chocolate for having lived another year, so I made some brownies and we sang “Happy Birthday.” She told us about this time she was in England and went dancing with a stranger—being led to unknown destinations, etc. It sounded like the story was going to end with a black market organ harvest, but instead concluded with her infectious smile and a toast to “What was I thinking!?” We all proceeded to tell similar stories of imprudence or danger, with a cheers to “What was I thinking!?”

That was not the first time I had been surprised by DeAnn, but I had one of those epiphanies when you realize that someone inherently transcends the limited impressions you have of them. When you first meet DeAnn she seems exceptionally cheerful, friendly, bright, and devout—because she is. But she is also someone deeply averse to conventionality disguised as piety, who is honest in moments of darkness, doesn’t flinch when you get angry or ugly, and hates safety for the sake of safety—a woman with a strong sense of identity apart from her pretty laugh and smile. DeAnn is nice, but she’s also bold and tough and unyielding (for the right things). As much as anyone else, DeAnn has taught me how to be a single Catholic adult.

DeAnn and I met when I was getting out of a four-ish year relationship. That ex-boyfriend and I started dating right when I graduated from college, so I literally didn’t know what it was like to be single as an adult and it kind of felt like my life was ending. People who live in New York or Chicago are probably thinking I sound insane, but living in Texas, where people get married younger, and being a part of the Catholic Church, which understands every person to have a vocation either to marriage or religious life of some kind (as a priest, monk, nun, etc.), makes you hyper-aware of these kinds of things. And regardless, it’s just hard sometimes not to have a partner.

Watching DeAnn (and other friends who had been in the Church a long time, like Michael) navigate and talk about the weird not-vocation of being single gave me many sign posts and much hope in a sub-culture where you can feel like you don’t have important stuff going on if you’re not having kids or joining an order. DeAnn is a good friend to make during a hard time, but she was an especially good friend for me to make during that hard time because (though she’s honest about how hard it can be to be single) her relationship-status does not define her as it does for so many women—single or married.

It’s easy to think of women who can’t be alone, stumble from relationship to relationship, and only talk about who they’re dating as weak and lacking in identity or a sturdy self-conception; but women who say shit like “you’ve never loved or even lived until you’ve held your own baby in your arms” can be expressing the same thing from the other direction. I mean, that’s different from saying “I never loved as deeply before I…” Love is reserved for no station in life, and every relationship status comes with its own worthy challenges, lessons, and gifts.

Don’t get me wrong; being a parent is one of the best, most important things that humans are capable of doing. However, being so clearly important, motherhood can sneakily become a marker of identity to hide behind rather than a form of identity to live into. That sounds weird. What I mean is that women (or men) can use motherhood (or fatherhood) in the same way that we use careers or clothes or books or music—as crutches we want to do identity-defining work for us, instead of expressions of deep, true identities granted by God and hard-won by character—something that does not depend on our ability to make loads of money, win awards, get a spouse, or bear children. Obviously marriage and parenthood have some inherent character/virtue-developing effort built in (in ways that other things don’t) and I do believe in marriage as a vocation (meaning that many people are truly made to be married and become parents—that they are meant for and formed by that good, serious, sanctifying work). But you can still misuse or try to hide behind the title—which “independent women” and bachelors (and priest and nuns, for that matter) can also do.

I think everybody kind of wants to tell mopey singles or serial daters to figure out who the hell they are apart from the security of a relationship. Get over it. You are more than that. But same goes for people who are in relationships. When you’re feeling lost or small or alone it’s nice to have a bunch of titles around so you can be shielded from dealing with yourself directly. “I’m a lawyer; I’m that guy’s wife; I’m that kid’s father; I’m a folk music enthusiast; I’m a collector of antiquities.” I know I used to find a false sense of comfort in just being someone’s girlfriend (even when I was miserable in the relationship!), as if that said something about who I actually was. It reminds me of a scene my sister and I always quote from the movie Airplane—the plane’s in trouble and the doctor asks a couple women how they’re holding up. The first woman replies, “I’m scared. I’ve never been so scared. And besides, I’m 26 and I’m not married.” And the second woman says: “Well, to be honest, I’ve never been so scared. But at least I have a husband.” Hilarious. When my sister and I are talking about difficult things going on in our lives, we’ll often say “But at least I have a husband” or “and I’m not married!” Because we’re funny. But also because, as much as those statuses provide opportunities to shape who you are, they don’t do the work for you or provide any ultimate consolation.

It took a long time for me to realize that my weaknesses and frustrations aren’t going to fundamentally change in or outside of a relationship. Their occasions and manifestations certainly will, but either way I’m me: with the same ol’ problems to work on and the same ol’ need that no mere person is going to solve, fix, or fulfill.

Anyway; some of that’s related and some of it’s not. Getting to know DeAnn, seeing the ways that she knows who she is when she’s dating someone and when she’s not, seeing how she has an idea of who she wants to be/who she’s meant to be and won’t compromise that through shoddy work or a convenient relationship, has been invaluable for me. We haven’t even talked about all this stuff explicitly; it’s not that she’s always spitting advice; she just lives in a way that expresses this. I have wonderful married and parent friends who do as well, but it’s easier for me to track with DeAnn. She doesn’t think or act snottily like she has everything figured out, but I’m still surprised when she asks my advices or seeks out my opinion because I generally ask myself what she would do when I try to make moral decisions.

When I am tempted to date people who aren’t right for me out of boredom or impatience or selfishness, to hide behind my intellectual interests as a copout identity-marker, to disappear into a social persona rather than truly know or care for people, DeAnn is one of the best exemplars I have for choosing a harder, better, more ultimately rewarding life—to try to actually be the person I want to be, instead of just looking like it—regardless of comforts or helpers. I met her when all of my hopes and plans for the future were turned upside-down and her example has helped to significantly improve the kinds of hopes I develop now. Because, whichever vocation I have or want to have or see other people having matters only in that each might end in the same place. All of our titles and labels and roles are the different paths we take to get there; so they’re important but they’re never ends in themselves.

Anyway, geeze; this was supposed to be about a birthday party. When I toasted to “what was I thinking!?” with DeAnn two years ago I didn’t really think about how I’d be toasting to “I almost died when…” the next year and then “You may not believe this, but…” the next. When I met DeAnn I didn’t expect her to hate safety or tell hilarious embarrassing stories or be instrumental in my learning and being able to articulate all the things I just described. Luckily, our expectations rarely coincide with reality. I’m immensely grateful to know DeAnn and look forward to getting to for many years.

Since I went off on identity and character and singleness and marriage and love, I’ll save the recipes and dinner party-recap for next week. Apparently I’m on a roll, so I might actually tell you about all the things I’ve listed that happened over February. Until next time, here’s a photo of DeAnn talking to MLK at Mardi Dahm:

deann mardi dahm

On Lent: The Difference Between Self-Hate and Compunction and Other Uplifting Topics

Blog, we have a lot of catching up to do. February is almost over and I haven’t told you about various friends’ birthday dinners, Mediterranean toga Valentine’s Day party, Mardi Dahm, one of the best birthday weekends of my life, and various food and drink adventures. The tension between living a full life and trying to write a stupid blog about it (necessitating taking photos and actually writing down recipes) has never been more apparent. But first thing’s first: it’s Lent. My birthday is the day after Valentine’s Day, which happened to be the day after Ash Wednesday this year. It’s been a confusing time. I still don’t know if I’m supposed to be happy or sad or eating lots of cake or never eating. Lent is a weird time to have birthday parties, but Lent is also just a weird time in general. I used to look forward to it; in college I’d probably have said it was my favorite season. I don’t feel that way anymore.

I think I used to look forward to Lent as an outlet for the more morose qualities of my personality. I understood Lent, I thought, and I could really engage with it; I’m bad, people are bad, God’s good, let’s all get real about all that for a minute. But now I sort of dread Lent and just try to at least try to do my best while getting through it. I’ve learned that being morose is not at all the same thing as being contrite or repentant. I can drum up some self-hate whenever, wherever; easy. I find it much harder, however, to muster what St. John Climacus called the “blessed joy-grief of holy compunction.”

The difference between self-hate and compunction is something I’ve only recently started to recognize. It can be a tricky distinction, especially in regard to ascetic practices (ie: certain Saints refusing to eat anything but the Eucharist can look a lot like anorexia to people). But the thing about self-hate is that it’s still totally under your own control. True compunction involves a surrender of your will because you not only feel bad about things you’ve done (the grief), but you use that as a door to change—which involves accepting God’s graceful forgiveness (the joy) and working to conform your will to his. That change takes a hell of a lot of work, but it’s not something that you get to determine the direction of. Self-hate says, “I suck,” period. Compunction says, “I suck because I’ve gotten off track from something good that I’m supposed to be.” Self-hate can’t see beyond the negative self and thus does nothing and takes you nowhere. Compunction works with a fuller vision of who we are—people made to be in a relationship with God—so that even our sin becomes peripheral to the bigger, better story of our redemption. Thus, felix culpa.

Many people view the demands that the Catholic Church makes of its members as encouraging self-hate. I’ve made as many jokes about Catholic guilt as the next guy, but there is more than one kind of guilt. Guilt can bog you down and do unjust violence to your self-conception, OR guilt can lead you to true compunction and the joy of change. Sure Lent can be misrepresented and misused and generally messed up, but I very emphatically believe that Lenten restrictions lead to the good kind of guilt—partly even because they are so out of our control. So, if Lent’s so great, why don’t I like it anymore? Well, probably because those restrictions are so out of my control. Basically: I’m bad at it.

We’re encouraged to take on personal fasts and commitments during Lent, but Catholics at least are straight up not allowed to eat certain things or eat in certain ways on specific days. We don’t eat meat on the Fridays of Lent, and there are two required fasting days—Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) and Good Friday (the day of Christ’s Crucifixion). On those days, adults between the ages of 18-60 are only supposed to eat one meal and two small snacks (that add up to less than one full meal) with no meat and no anything between meals. If you’re sick or pregnant or whatever there can be exceptions.

These rules sometimes seem too specific and not specific enough at the same time. But, I’m also starting to realize that every moral instruction seems that way to me. I either want to be told exactly what to do, or just left alone—and that fluctuates depending on my mood. But Lent doesn’t depend on my mood at all, and it always requires some level of moral discernment. That’s why I don’t like it. (In a way. Yes, I’m being a lil’ hyperbolic.) Even the personal fasts I’ve taken on this year are goading the hell out of me. I guess you can take that literally. I find myself wanting the things I’ve given up (sweets, for one) all the time; not just because I have a sweet tooth, but simply because I know I’m not allowed to have them. Seriously. Like a child. Like one of my favorite babies, Evelyn, who really, really likes electric sockets, clearly only because she’s not allowed to touch them.

On Ash Wednesday my priest compared Lent to the experience of cleaning up an old apartment before moving out. You have to get rid of stuff, find a place for everything, create order out of hidden nests of chaos (like my desk drawers…geeze). You have to deal with the consequences of your own messy habits if you really want to make a fresh start. So, yeah, Lent’s good. Think about how awesome it is to have a totally organized, clean home. Deeply engaging the season is something I should do and need to do and ultimately want to do…but who looks forward to moving or spring cleaning? Weird type A people, that’s who. Not lazies like me. And that’s one of the graces of the season, I suppose: that we’re all forced to do it. And so I try. And sometimes I have a better attitude than others. Like when I got all zealous and wrote this. Back when I at least pretended to be blog-relevant when writing these kinds of posts.

If you’re interested in a less downer discussion of Lent specifically, I wrote an article for the Lent issue of Christian Reflection (the publication I work for). It’s called Keeping Vigil; it’s about becoming attentive to God’s presence in our world and lives during Lent. I don’t think I even sound lazy in it; very positive.

Anyway, I hope Lent is treating you all not too harshly. There are always Sundays. And there will always be Sundays, thank God. Tune in soon for a post on those halcyon pre-Lenten days when I threw some parties. Then also some Lenten parties. And I promise there will be recipes and little-to-no moralizing.

A SOCRG Surprise

So, I have around eight posts half-finished about recent dinners, a birthday, people I must mention, a manly baby shower, and eggplants that I really need to complete and post for your probable/hopeful/demanded enjoyment. However, something occurred last night which needs to be written of immediately. So, here it is.

I’ve mentioned SOCRG before. They’re the Catechism reading group I started a little over two years ago, which has grown and grown and become very important to me and most likely to them as well. Last night was Wednesday night (as you may recall), and thus was also a SOCRG evening. Other SOCRGers have been hosting a lot lately, which has been great, but this week we were back at my house. I decided to make one of my favorite soups in honor of last weekend’s weather (which was tragically a fall false-start—something with which all Texans are familiar). I also decided to be snotty and warn SOCRG that they’d be left to their own devices in the living room if they came at a proposed 6:30pm instead of the typical 7:00pm, which spooked most of them into arriving closer to 7:00pm and avoiding the kitchen like the rabid cook’s den it had become. Just rude of me, I know. Truly uncharitable, as my first thought was that I’m the only one with a regular ol’ 9-5, might not have enough soup time, wah, wah, etc. Take this as a warning: resist self-pity or you’ll feel like a real asshole when something like I’m about to describe occurs.

So, I made my soup—this time with some rosemary, balsamic, crimini mushroom flourish—imperiously directed John to carry it into the living room, opened a beer, and was eying all the bread (and DESSERTS) everyone had kindly brought as we settled from our general milling about and talking to somewhat quieter anticipation of dinner. I did the loud, “okay,” and Miriel made the mistake of helping to shush and gather attention and was duly forced to pray for our meal and time together. I remember noting that her prayer was particularly heart-felt and touching before we all joined her in praying grace. That done, I started turning to the soup BUT was stopped by Ryan saying I don’t even remember what. That’s when I noticed everyone was looking at me with the same knowing look and casually tried to hide behind a door post. DeAnn told me I might want to sit down, and then several members of the group beautifully expressed what SOCRG has meant to them and thanked me for starting it.

Ryan, saying nice stuff.

DeAnn, making me uncomfortable.

Ryan blamed his conversion on it; DeAnn remembered the early days and remarked on SOCRG’s homelike qualities; Andrea and Miriel expressed their gratitude at being welcomed, and finding true community here. At this point I was trying not to cry (which I found later what the major goal of the evening). I mainly succeeded, just barely, much to these kind people’s frustration. Then, Luke read a poem he had written just for the occasion, which was delightful.

Luke, reading his poem.

And the freakouts did not stop there. Andrea presented me with a gift from the group that I very awkwardly started to open while everyone stared at me. She had handmade a beautiful card with herbs painted all over it, in which DeAnn had written the kindest things possible, and everyone had signed.

Looking awkward as everyone stares at me.

Then I rooted around in the gift bag and saw a box with this symbol on it:

I had a distinct fight or flight kind of emotion and just said, “no,” as all the blood drained from my face. They had given me the best knife in the entire world (Wusthof Classic line, all one piece, forged, etc.), that knife’s lil’ baby cousin (of the same quality), a Wusthof cutting board, and a honing contraption. FOR NO REASON. I mean, for lots of reasons they stated, but no distinct occasion. Just ‘cause. They had been emailing and planning it for almost a month—ever since the second SOCRGversary.

Excuse the Instagram pic; this is my only closeup of the knives.

And it wasn’t over. Ryan then stepped out and got his guitar and harmonica. He had written a song about SOCRG. So, he played it for everyone while I tried to control the weird expressions my face was making.

No, I won’t stop holding presents to listen to this song.

It was wonderful. The verses were funny and specific—about our foods and craft beers and things people have said and topics to avoid in the group. My favorite verse goes as follows: “Now we’ve got Thomists and poets, / Franciscans and Koreans, fathers and mothers to be, / And they all disagree. That’s the beauty.” When he got to the chorus, everyone started singing! They had practiced and memorized the whole thing. It was so bizarre. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’m still feeling a bit shell-shocked from it the next day.

There is something about this group that is unlike any other community I’ve been a part of. After we had eaten soup, listened to Clifton’s conversion story, discussed purgatory, tried Andrea’s best-cookies-in-the-universe (chocolate chip with browned butter, Nutella centers, and sea salt), Clifton’s delicious pralines (pecan, bourbon, brown sugar treats), Alli’s epitome-of-fall baked apples, and many had dispersed, a few stragglers and I discussed what makes SOCRG so special. The conclusion we generally came to is that SOCRG is community in its proper place. This doesn’t just mean that we have a proper amount of small group self-revelation or something—though I think we’re right on target for that. It means that the center and lifeblood (literally) of our faith is found in the Mass, and thus SOCRG cannot have a primary or necessary role in our experience of the Church. This certainly does not make SOCRG less important; it just makes it what it is: a community of personal friends joined by affection, shared beliefs, and a communal task. “Church has got to be more than that. As Flannery O’Connor said, if the Church isn’t more than that it turns into an Elks Club; in which case an Elks club would serve just as well.

As an adolescent (a period which I believe for me ended in 2009/2010), my friends were my only understanding of the Church. Trying to separate my faith, or even my personhood, from the people I was close to was a pretty impossible mental exercise that I never even tried. This might sound like a good thing to people who value community, but that’s wrong (wrong, wrong). When the group I was a part of after college disintegrated—moved away or no longer a part of my life for various reasons—I was left with what felt like absolutely nothing (and pretty much was—at this point I was living on the life-saving Moore’s futon). It was like I had never been alone with myself before, and I had to face how much less of me there was than I had believed when surrounded by a variety of shared identities. (This is related to my previous post about what we build our lives with.) Yet, I was also surprised by what remained. When day-dreaming about catastrophe in the past I could never have imagined how much I lost in 2010. Yet, when I had lost it, I survived. I didn’t just implode and die—unable to go on without the structures of relationship I had had before. So, I staggered toward the stuff of substance that remained; which is really how SOCRG started.

Anyway (excuse the most personal post of my life), the point is that that won’t happen with SOCRG. It just can’t, by nature. If SOCRG dissolved this instant it wouldn’t rock any of our self-conceptions. It just doesn’t bear that much improper weight. Despite the clear obsession, celebratory song, etc., SOCRG’s focus is not on SOCRG. We don’t just meet to catch up or eat food, we meet in order to learn and conform ourselves to the teachings of the Church. This happened in each of us before SOCRG was a stupid email subject acronym and will continue long after SOCRG is a distant (hopefully pleasant) memory. The very first time SOCRG even became self-aware was after over a year of weekly meetings. And during our first group-self-aware conversation, DeAnn talked beautifully about the grace God conveys through bringing a group of people together and then inevitably sending them apart again. The work we do is hopefully permanent; the group itself definitely isn’t.

So, SOCRG: thank you. Not just for your insane generosity in giving me the material good I have wanted most in the world, but for teaching me what community actually is: just one of the means of our sanctification. Let’s never allow our meals together to pretend to be anything other than an echo of our true unity in the Eucharist.

Soup recipe to come!

Everything is Important. (So food is important too.)

So, a lot of big huge things have been happening lately, resulting in some big huge thoughts in my head. I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile, taking some things out, not knowing how personal to get all up in here. The internet does not need/deserve my most personal thoughts and experiences. I’m just not ready for that kind of intimacy…sorry, Internet. But, I also believe that what I’ve been thinking about is valuable, and so I’ve hacked out a gory-detail-less, hopefully blog-relevant version. I warn you, it is long and occasionally highfalutin in a way that embarrasses me but I can’t get rid of. Intro over!Despite the flippant tone I often take, food is important. I’ve said that before, so allow me to expand on the theme more than you ever wanted me to. Food is important in the way that all essential human goods are: relationships, language, belongings. These things create life and express love; their simple existence should elicit whooping praise. Reveling in the goodness of good things has been a valuable aspect of my adult life. I feast, in the full theological sense, with my friends at SOCRG and at special occasions like Saayeh’s birthday party. Taking pleasure in good friends, food, and drink can and should be an act of praise; and, as the Mass puts it, this is right and just. If we were truly aware of the value of the world around us, we could be grateful for every bite we eat as an echo of the Eucharist. The value of good things like food, however, cannot just be embraced through indulgence. The Eucharist is something to worship and value and celebrate, but it is a sacrifice. Everything we eat in some way must die for our sustenance. I think all good things participate in that truth, and we need to be aware of how, why, when, and how much we use them because of it. Not to be a downer, but that is what I’ve been thinking about lately. I apologize for the lack of transition between cake recipes and too-real life, but this year has been full of illness and death for many people I love. Suffering is a strange thing and being reminded of both the damage and refinement it can cause has been at times infuriating, frustrating, encouraging, and inspiring.

It makes me aware of how much good I waste. If I truly acted on my belief in the goodness of words, for example, I would probably talk a lot less. I have always been awed by the value and power of words, and yet I so often throw them around—saying things I haven’t considered and callously don’t care to defend. I express opinions I’m not even sure if I hold, dilute the things I do mean by gushing words just to pass the time. And none of that even touches on the words I speak (or don’t speak!) to wound or mislead or any number or other horrible things that also make language important—a good which can be misused and turned to damage. Christ himself is the Word of God, yet James calls the tongue a world of malice because it speaks words. He also calls the tongue a fire, and I like that better. Fire is the perfect image for important things like language, food, and relationships. A fire can do everything from purify metal to cook food, warm a home to fuel a steam engine. But fire can only do those things when it is in its proper form; when it is disciplined by people who know how to harness its power without being burned up. We know this is true, yet we treat things like food and sex like so many matches to play with. ALL THE TIME.

Flannery O’Connor’s book The Violent Bear It Away offers the best representation of this that I can think of. The book centers around two images of purification: fire and water. Characters say things like “even the mercy of the Lord burns” and “be purified in God’s fire or perish in your own.” (Those are paraphrases as my copy is packed in some box somewhere). In her letters O’Connor said that in The Violent Bear It Away, “water is a symbol of the kind of purification God gives irrespective of our efforts or worthiness, and fire is the kind of purification we bring on ourselves in Purgatory. It is our evil which is naturally burnt away when it comes anywhere near God.” Some purification is a cool and cleansing grace, some the searing pain of loss. I think it’s fair to call it loss. Good things aren’t the only things that we can lose. I apologize for my excessive Bibleyness today, but one of my favorite images maybe ever is that of building with materials which can withstand the test of fire.

For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building…If anyone builds on this foundation [Christ] with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:9-16

I think that at some point in every person’s life each of us will (or should) very tangibly, almost physically, discover what this means. Through an encounter with God, who we know as burning light, through the kind of suffering we can’t predict or understand, and through immensely damaging encounters with the unbound fires we set ourselves. It’s strange that such diverse kinds of suffering could be so related, but I do not think contradictory. The most important thing I’ve learned from the times my life has felt burned to the ground is that there is no pain or loss which can truly take good away from us. It doesn’t feel like that; it burns like hell (or Purgatory, I guess), but (if you let it) suffering can be a fire that purifies and even reveals what is good—because good survives. Even when you lose a lot—a relationship, a home, even a life—the good of what was can be kept. Running away from purification will only make it more painful and last longer. The words are easy, the reality is the hardest thing anyone can do.

It’s something that is nearly impossible to do if you haven’t prepared for it. And I guess that’s the point of all this: you prepare for the fire which inevitably comes by building with things that last. Natural goods cannot be treated casually. That’s shoddy work—like trying to make pottery out of papier-mâché. It might be sad and disappointing for your mug to leave the kiln in ashes, but the kiln can’t be blamed for that. What kind of idiot doesn’t work with good clay? (This kind of idiot.) This is the only way I can understand the disturbing teaching that to those who have more will be given, and to those who don’t will have even that taken away. Everyone’s work will pass through fire; those who build well will be rewarded gratuitously beyond even what survives and those who build poorly will suffer the full loss of what has been destroyed.

Obviously these thoughts range far from the supposed point of this blog. But, they actually do relate to food. It’s easy think about things like sex and money as weighty subjects, deserving of our care as we build our lives with them, but food is like that too. Everything is like that. Everything matters. Feasting is only good when it’s really a feast. In the words of the ever wise Benjamin Gibbard (joke!): it’s not a party if it happens every night. When there is reason for celebration, or someone is offering you genuine hospitality, I think that there is something actually wrong with abstaining because you’re on a diet or it’s not the organic stuff you usually buy or something like that. That’s easy for me to recognize. However, there is also something wrong with eating for false comfort or distraction or boredom. The sweet potato chips I may or may not shovel down before I even get home from the grocery store matter. Our culture finds humor in the lonely woman eating ice cream out of the gallon, but it’s the exact same humor we find in the guy looking to get laid after a breakup. Neither of those things are actually funny. The fact that we think one is no big deal because it involves food makes it all the more dangerous.

So, food is important and we should eat like we believe that. This can involve all sorts of social justice issues (who grows our food? how is it grown? what does it do to land and people that produce it? what does it do to us when we eat it?), but I think that it starts and ends with gratitude. Chesterton called gratitude “happiness doubled by wonder.” It’s easy to find a cheap happiness in food. But, the fact that plants grow because of remarkable, seemingly unrelated, things like sunlight and water and that cows make milk somehow out of those plants they eat and that when you churn that milk it transforms into something as gorgeous as butter…is pretty astonishing. Like anything good, I think that when you pay enough attention to food you will be grateful for it, for the people who produce it, and you won’t want to waste it or support methods or companies that degrade it. This is partly why Christians (and others) pray before meals.

That being said, I’ll quote Chesterton again:

The only simplicity that matters is the simplicity of the heart. If that be gone, it can be brought back by no turnips or cellular clothing; but only by tears and terror and the fires that are not quenched.

(Again with the refining fires.) Chesterton’s point is that eating simple or “moral” food will not make you moral. Gluttony doesn’t only consist of eating too much. Happiness, wonder, and simplicity can sometimes look like accepting that high-fructose-corn-syrup-riddled-cringe-fest dessert that your ignorant, low-class, crappy-food-eating friend/relative/acquaintance hospitably offers you.

Food should amaze us, but not so much as love amazes us. So let’s all stop wasting good things now. It will give us more with which to love the people who will all someday, somehow leave us.