Tag Archives: Catholic Schools

Glo Column July: The Greatest Investment

book     A few years ago, I was on tour with my first book when I was asked to speak at a small parochial grade school just south of Indianapolis. The audience was a group of junior high students who were thrilled to learn that I was not some 80-year-old, gray-haired nun waxing poetic about some long dead saint from Terre Haute, but I could also speak fluent Classic Rock as well.

After a half-hour chat about the book and answering questions about what it was like to be a “real” author, a boy near the back raised his hand. I expected him to ask one of the typical questions I usually receive at this type of thing such as: “Have you written anything else?” “Who were your favorite authors as a kid?” “Are you famous?” or maybe, “What is your favorite Zeppelin song?” but instead he surprised me by asking, “What was the most important lesson you learned in college?”

It was an inquiry that put me back on my heels for a minute. My first instinct was to talk about my craft and how my education helped me improve my writing style or balance my life with the demands of academia (keep in mind I was 30 before I pursued a college degree,) but something in the back of my mind told me he needed something more…profound. In that moment, I decided to shoot from the hip and give it to him straight and this month, instead of my usual humor, I’ve decided to share that answer with you, dedicating it to every reader who is going back to school this semester, or contemplating an education in the near future:

The most important lesson I learned in college is that a college education is a venture in the only sure thing there really is in life…you. Let’s face it; there really are no guarantees. None of the major milestones we achieve are a one-sided proposition. We may grow up, learn to drive and buy that first car, but it will break down, may be involved in an accident and will ultimately need to be replaced. You will get jobs and you will lose jobs. You will buy a house only to have to replace the roof, furnace or call in a plumber on a Sunday morning for an outrageous fee. Some of you will get married but unfortunately, statistics say approximately 50 percent of you will end up divorced and I promise you your children will not do everything you expect them to so the only thing you can control in life is you and that begins with your college education.

You see a college education isn’t just more of the same old grind. It’s the time in which you see how everything fits together. Until now, you have been immersed in theory, but college is all about practical application and gaining experience in those areas that you are passionate about. If you are like me, you may have asked, “When am I ever going to use…?” but I assure you, there was not one class I took in college that I did not use in the real world. (Aside from Algebra, of course.) College helped open my eyes to the world in a whole new way, made me a well-rounded, confident lifelong learner and gave me a transferrable skill set that will help me land on my feet no matter how rough the road gets.

But it only works if you devote yourself to it, remain committed and have the right attitude, because you are the only sure thing you have. Your success or failure rides on you. Not your major. Not your professors. Not your advisor. You. I make very few guarantees in life, but I promise you this: your college education will be the greatest investment you will ever make and the one thing you can truly bank on, or your biggest financial mistake. The choice is yours. Which will it be?

Good luck to everyone going back-to-school this year. My thoughts and best wishes go with you. Stick with it, never give up and know that I am rooting for you!

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: “My Mind Is Clearer Now”

jesus-christ-superstar-1974-film-soundtrack        Taking part in the 8th grade spring musical was something I’d looked forward to since I was six-years-old. Ever since I saw the “big kids” put on The Music Man, I became enamored with the idea of being on that stage and singing my heart out in the starring role.

Over the years, there had been quite an assortment of offerings: Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Godspell, and The Wizard of Oz. Although the class didn’t know what it would be until late February or early March, it was widely suspected that ours would be Annie.

Then came the announcement: Jesus Christ Superstar.

The idea of doing some religious show was about as appealing as root canal surgery. I had already suffered through countless Christmas pageants, endured Mass at least once a week for the last eight years – I got it – I’m a Christian, did we really need to drive this point home in the final quarter? Not only that, but as I understood it, JCS was an opera. Did the powers that be actually think 60 eighth graders had enough talent to pull THAT off?

I have to say that they had more faith in us than I did.

“They can’t be serious,” I told a friend of mine after we heard the news. “Are there any girl parts in it?”

She informed me that the main roles were Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene, but that our teacher said he was willing to cast some girls as apostles. Considering that the girls in our class outnumbered the boys by a fairly large margin this wasn’t a progressive decision, but a practical one. Still, why choose a musical that was predominately male in the first place? I didn’t want to be an apostle. I didn’t want to be a member of the chorus and given all I had heard about her (supposed) dubious reputation, I sure as heck did NOT want to be Mary Magdalene!

I wasn’t the only person who was unenthusiastic about this and when it became obvious to the teacher that he might have a mutiny on his hands, he told us that he would rent the tape so that we could see it for ourselves and then decide if we hated it. “I have a feeling that you are going to change your minds.”

The next day, we all gathered around the rolling TV cart to see what it was that our teacher had gotten us into. The movie started and as I suspected, something reminiscent of The Ten Commandments came on the screen. However, unlike Cecile B. DeMille’s classic, it was accompanied by a searing electric guitar lick. What the heck is this? I wondered as a tribe of hippies jumped off a bus and began putting on costumes. One guy had round John Lennon-style sunglasses. Another donned a hat that looked like the Taj Mahal. There was the man who sat on a throne like he was some kind of a king and another guy who quickly separated himself from the group. He must be Judas, I surmised. By the time the chorus members began their strange huddle dance around the central character, we were all bopping our heads in time with the music. (Some of us were even playing a little air guitar, but I’m not naming names.) Finally, I heard the familiar fanfare that everyone knows and saw Jesus rise out of the crowd. Oh, I am so in, I decided. This is going to be the best play ever!

JC Gethsemane           There was only one problem. I still didn’t want to be Mary. I wanted to be Jesus. When I heard Ted Neely wail “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy?” during Gethsemane, I wanted to sing it. It was so primal. So Robert Plant-esque. Still, even if the teacher was willing to have a few girl apostles, I knew it was unlikely that he would go completely off the rails and cast me as the Son of God.

So I set my sights on Judas. Although it may seem a bit strange, I really identified with that role. I’d never given Judas’ story much thought before, but having watched the movie, I now thought that there was something oddly human about him. Here was a guy who was excited to be part of this movement, but when things seemed to be spiraling out of control, he tried to stand up to his friend and reel Him back in. I didn’t get the impression that he wanted Jesus dead. In the movie, it all seemed less calculated than that and a bit more naïve. Maybe he felt that if Jesus cooled his heels in prison overnight, it might end his delusions of grandeur and then their group could get on with doing good works. I don’t think he honestly thought it would end the way that it did. But then again, the road to Hell is always paved with good intentions, isn’t it?

Despite my spiritual epiphany while watching the tape, there was no way that the teacher was going to let me be Judas either. “Come on,” I pleaded. “Don’t you think I would make a fantastic demented apostle?”

“Well yes Julie, I do, but you still cannot be Judas,” he said. “Why don’t you audition for Mary Magdalene?”

         Because I don’t want to act like some kind of Jesus groupie, I thought to myself. I didn’t tell him this of course, and naturally that is the part I ended up with. I liked the songs well enough, but this was the first time I’d heard whispers that there was something else going on between Mary and Jesus and I didn’t like it. It flew in the face of everything that I thought to be true.

“I don’t know about this line ‘I want him so,’” I commented during a rehearsal. “It sounds like she is in love with him or something.”

“She was,” he said simply.

I’ve never found an official reference to that fact, and believe me when I say that I did a LOT of looking after that statement. Turns out it’s a pretty popular notion and maybe it’s not that far-fetched, but it seems like a flawed theory. Regardless of her position in Jesus’ life, it’s clear that she is an important character in the story. So important that someone felt compelled to try and diminish it by labeling her a prostitute-turned-Christian. Though it still pained me to act as if I were “gaga” over God…I tried to sing her part with as much dignity as a 13-year-old can and in the end, I enjoyed it.

It’s interesting how an event I didn’t want to take part in became one of the most profound religious experiences of my life. Maybe it was my connection to the rock and roll-style or a more poetic interpretation, but Jesus Christ Superstar changed my life forever. I’ve seen it several times and take it personally if it is not performed well. I have been lucky enough to see Ted Neely in the starring role and to meet the late Carl Anderson (Judas). Not only that, but it is the show that led to my own lip lock with the Lord (in the form of Sebastian Bach) in his SUV in 2003.But that’s another story for another day.

Maybe there is a little bit of the “rumored” Mary in me after all!

 

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Who was Jesus Talking to?

JC Gethsemane

Although I have a lot of fond memories from my sixth grade year in Catholic school, one stands out above all others. We had just finished a unit on Hebrew history, culture and traditions and to celebrate the completion of this unit, our teacher decided to host a watered-down Passover meal and invited one of our priests, Fr. Rick to join us and to recite the words that Jesus said during His Last Supper with His friends.

As we passed the loaf around, ripping small portions from it to eat and sipping Hawaiian Punch from minuscule Dixie Cups, Father offered his knowledge about Jewish customs and asked us what we had learned. Near the end of the event, Father said that he had a few minutes to spare and was willing to open the floor to any faith-related question that we might have since it was pretty rare that we ever had the chance to grill a priest on religious matters.

Now as you might expect from a group of 11-year-olds, most of the theological queries were a bit…shallow. Some kids wanted to know if Father was expected to wear black all of the time. Another kid asked if he had a curfew. Some wanted to know if the Pastor of the parish could “ground” him for coming home late or if he could get in trouble for eating dinner with a woman without a chaperone. Worried that I may never have another chance like this again and with time running short, I tentatively put up my hand.

“Yes, Julie?” Father asked.

“Well, I kind of have two questions,” I told him.

He nodded. “That’s fine, go ahead.” I’m sure he was bracing himself for more of the same kinds of things he’d been asked before.

I took a deep breath. “If Jesus was Jewish and the Jewish people do not believe that the Messiah has come yet, how could Jesus believe in Himself?”

The room fell silent and Father stared at me. “Uh-huh…and your second question?”

I sighed. “OK…if Jesus is God and God is Jesus, exactly WHO was Jesus talking to in the Garden of Gethsemane?”

I felt like the world’s biggest blasphemer, but once the words left my mouth, there was nothing I could do about them.

“You’re a very deep thinker, aren’t you?” Father commented like he was amused.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

For the life of me I cannot remember how he addressed these two critical issues of faith, but I do remember my parents’ reaction when I told them what went down in religion class that day.

“You asked a priest WHAT?” My mother cried at the dinner table. Needless to say she was not a big fan of my calling into question the very foundations of Catholic belief. My dad, on the other hand thought it was great.

“What did he say?” Dad wanted to know. Although he was a man of faith, he always encouraged my questions.

I cupped my chin in my hand and thought about Father’s rationale, which was about 10 years beyond my comprehension…at least. “He had a big ole explanation for it,” I commented, “But I don’t think he really knows either. I guess it is just a question of faith.”

I looked so sad that my father tried taking a crack at the answer, but his logic didn’t make any more sense than Father Rick’s. No matter how many ways he tried to tackle it, it was a concept I couldn’t wrap my brain around. After all, I was baptized and initiated into a religious organization and I understood that part of the process included the acceptance of certain established tenants as one’s own.By believing Himself to be the Messiah, wasn’t He going against the grain a little and running the risk of being excommunicated from the Jewish faith?

As for the other issue, the one about the garden, well…that one was even harder to figure out. Both Father Rick and my dad tried telling me that Jesus was talking to God the Father as if that explained everything, but I wasn’t satisfied.If God and Jesus were one in the same then the whole thing seemed like a pretty pointless conversation. Looking back on it, I guess I was seeking an explanation on the Holy Trinity, not a bunch of biblical mumbo jumbo.

It would be another two years before I “got it.” I saw Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time and fell in love with the song “Gethsemane” in which Jesus flatly says that He wants out. He doesn’t want to die. Though it doesn’t stray too far from the Biblical account, it is devoid of the Shakespearean language and showcases a guy scared out of His wits. This was God trying to talk Himself out of it, wondering if it would all be worth it, asking if submitting to an all-too-human and grisly death would be enough to save these people from themselves and what would happen if it wasn’t? Suddenly, I no longer wondered who Jesus was talking to. I just knew. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show stopping number solved a mystery my priest and my father couldn’t  explain and gave me an answer that my way-too-human mind could get behind. Although it would not be the last time I would question the faith, it would prove that God will provide the answers in a way that speaks to you when you just “have to know, have to know, my Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: All in a day’s work

God-creating-the-galaxy-via-Shutterstock     I was in fourth grade when I discovered that perhaps the Bible wasn’t exactly…true. I’m telling you, for a kid like me, that was on par with peeking behind the curtain, seeing the secret behind the magic trick, spotting the wires or seeing a ventriloquist’s lips move. It was BIG.

Like most kids, I was raised on the concept of a “wham, bam, alacazam” God who could do anything with the snap of His fingers (well, I assume that He has fingers…the jury is still out on that one) and I heard stories about His creating the world in six days before taking Sunday off, how he put this apple tree in the middle of everything and told the kids not to touch it and how some talking snake convinced them otherwise, and I wholeheartedly believed it.

Then there came a day when I started picking at holes in the story. I had so many problems with this tale, I’m not sure where to begin. First of all: the talking snake or The Serpent, since a lot of people want to act as though it fell into a one-of-a-kind species. Where did it come from? If God was responsible for everything in this garden, did He make this snake and if not, then how did he get in? Why can he talk? Outside of Disney’s The Jungle Book, I don’t happen to know a lot of “chatty” snakes. After Adam and Eve get in trouble for listening to the snake, God tells the snake that he will have to crawl on his belly from here on out. So….did snakes have legs and feet before? If so, how many? The Good Book doesn’t go into all of that and in my opinion, those are some pretty important details to leave out. Did God also take away its voice box while He was at it? Does this account for the lack of snake/human interaction throughout the millennia?

Next: I had an issue with God’s version of “natural family planning.” If the whole tale begins with two people who are essentially responsible for putting God’s divine plan into action…what was the logic in giving them three SONS?? I mean, I am not a fan of incest or anything but there is some reason to believe that if you had a son and a daughter at least at some point there would be a diluted gene pool but even at a young age I knew this family couldn’t get very far with three boys. (Not to mention with one going around killing people.)

I will spare you some of my other problems with the “accepted” version of events and explain that naturally I was thrilled when my  religion teacher basically told us that you can’t believe everything you read. OK, she didn’t put it that way, but she did open up the concept of “symbolic interpretation” to me and I was extremely happy at the thought that somewhere along the line, someone took some literary license with the words.

I was so jazzed about this that I came home and announced to my parents that God did NOT create the world in seven 24-hour periods because TIME wasn’t invented until the fourth day. I was ecstatic when I told them that no one ever said it was an APPLE tree that was Adam and Eve’s downfall and that maybe the SNAKE wasn’t really there…it was just used as an example of evil entering the world and man choosing to exercise his free will over God’s instructions.

Needless to say, my father, who was a scholar of both faith and logic was thrilled by my being able to wrap my head around this heady concept while my mother, who preferred a more literal interpretation of the scriptures was mortified. “I guess I just believe that if they said it happened in seven days, I believe it.”

“Yes, but what is a day to God, Mom?” I asked. (My father beamed with pride.)

Dad brought the message home by telling me that my mother was not wrong in her convictions and that even if it took “billions and billions” of years (please read that in your best Carl Sagan voice) for God to create the process that lead to our evolution, He still did it in less time than we could. I could accept that…this is not to say that I never questioned the existence of God, but this knowledge of symbolic interpretation made the entire Old Testament a lot easier to swallow.

My mother didn’t buy it however, and the following Sunday we were at Mass when our priest stood at the ambo to give his homily and opened with with his thoughts on Genesis. “We are told that God created the world in seven days,” he said, leaning into the microphone and offering a Cheshire Cat grin. “You didn’t really believe that did you?”

 

 

 

 

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