a touchy subject, who is holier than thou?

4549193615_81d22effef_bI was always told in the scheme of manners the things you should refrain from discussing at a dinner party are religion and politics. How about on blogs? Today might be the day for some rule-breaking as the topic of religion is on my mind.

We’ll start with me.  I am born, baptized and all that good stuff a Roman Catholic.  To me the church I was born into was quite different from the one which exists today.  Maybe that is because my first parish was a Jesuit one called Old St. Joseph’s on Willings Alley in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia.  It was and still is a beautiful church with an amazing history steeped in the very formation of this country given it’s location.  We have a family pew there.  If I am deadly honest with myself the last time I felt at home in a Catholic Church was that one. It was a church where both the beauty of the actual building as well as the disposition of the priests really made you believe.

We moved to the Main Line when I was 11 turning 12.  There we joined a parish called St.8279630940_c744af500a_b John Vianney.  When I was young, the pastor there was this amazing man called Father Ignatius Reynolds.  My great-aunt Josie had sung at his ordination mass as it turns out.  I liked him and his teachings, but was turned off to an extent as a new kid there when I had to go to Sunday School at the then parish school.  There I learned the cruelty of children of “good Catholics”. One of the nuns who taught us was completely senile.  The kids were merciless  with her. But then again, so were some of the kids with others.

Believe it or not, in 7th grade I was bullied in Sunday School of all places. The girl had a fairly pleasant sister, but she was the kid who had the less pleasing personality in the family and at that time she was mean as spit and a bully.  It wasn’t much fun to be bullied in Sunday School.  I  learned to stand up for myself when I realized no one else would and thankfully when I told this girl to buzz off, eventually she did.

The fact that this Sunday School was attached to a Catholic Church which did nothing to control some of the kids did in a way create an issue for me with the Catholic Church. Next issues for me would be when I got a little older.

When my parents moved from suburbia back into the city decades later they had their records transferred to a new parish close to them.  My records were to stay put as I was still on the Main Line.  But then I realized mine hadn’t stayed put.  So I called up the rectory and spoke to Father Lexus (what else would you call a priest who you had seen driving a Lexus?).  Father Lexus said to me “well I don’t know who you are”  I asked him with all due respect if he could possibly know all of his parishioners because not only was he new to my parish, he had another parish, which made him responsible for what is known as a twinned parish.  Father Lexus told me he would have to interview me and then decide.  Talk about a turn off.  I had been confirmed in the parish, him appointed about two seconds to the parish.  But hey, unfortunately with most affluent parishes, it is always all about the money.  As a fairly ordinary person in that regard, I was in a sense forgettable.

4630768420_7412f21d05_bThen an amusing thing happened after that.  I was on a train bound for NYC with a friend for a party and this little man in full clerical black robes to the floor glides by on the aisle.

“Who is that?” my friend asked.

“Cardinal Bevilaqua.  I think I will go say hello.” I replied

So I went up to speak to Cardinal Bevilaqua.  After all how often do you get to converse with a Cardinal?  He was a very pleasant man.  Of course because at his core he was a priest, he asked me what parish I belonged to.  I told him honestly I did not know and recounted a gentler, more polite version of the Father Lexus story.  Miraculously, a few weeks later, I started getting donation envelopes and parish mail again.  I was back in.  No great surprise there as he had appointed Father Lexus to my parish in the first place.

As a Catholic, and a resident of the Philadelphia area I will admit there have been many challenges to faith over the past decade or so.  Look at all the pedophile priests, one of whom the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and then Rome released from priestly duty and put back into my old neighborhood unsupervised for years.  Eventually he was one of the ones who went to jail but what kind of church puts a person like this BACK into a neighborhood full of children in the first place? And what kind of man who called himself a priest ever drove an old gold tone convertible Rolls Royce occasionally?

And then there is the whole Pre-Cana thing.  Back in the day, it meant that you were counseled prior to marriage by the parish priest who undoubtedly baptized you and knew your family. Times have changed, priests are fewer, and the Catholic Church also has turned this in to a warehouse money-maker.

7397697016_1bafcdb312_bWeddings and funerals are BIG business – don’t get me started on the story of a friend who had to pay off her parish so she could have the music of her family’s choice and not the church’s at a family funeral. Or the other friend who buried a family member out of a church close to where they lived in Philadelphia who had the priest who conducted a funeral mass like “INSERT NAME HERE”  and said during his sermon “well we don’t know where [X person] is now.” Uhh we’re Catholic, this was a good man, so Padre how about trying heaven because if you as a priest can’t summon up the concept of heaven well Houston we have a problem, don’t we?  I am to this day, incidentally, honestly glad that the family was bereft enough that they did not actually comprehend what this priest had said.

But back to Pre-Cana.  If you want to be married in the church you are supposed to go to Catholic boot camp.  Now it is not being counseled by your parish priest it is instead teams of married couples who probably know little to nothing about you overseen by priests who know little to nothing about you. Rah rah go Catholic!   But you have to go through this process which includes a “Marriage Preparation Course” get a certificate and whatnot while trying to keep family members from going off the rails while you plan a wedding.  And oh yeah, you have to pay for this inconvenience. No wonder so many couples are stressed out when planning weddings, right? And don’t you love the concept of people who have zero commonality with you other than Catholicism telling you how you are supposed to enter your marriage and live your life?

6915491828_589cb3898f_bAnd then there is the whole thing about divorce.  You are supposed to get an annulment if you were married in the Catholic Church.  I still wonder to this day when a friend of mine’s mother in law got an annulment so her remarriage would be recognized if she annulled her first marriage like it did not exist did that make her children from that marriage illegitimate? After all she was getting her Catholic get and *poof* making the marriage disappear in the eyes of the Church, right?  People I know who have gotten annulments who are more my contemporaries age-wise have spent oodles of money in the process and it took forever, like you were being punished for getting out of a failed marriage.

I will admit freely I am a haphazard church goer.  Maybe it is indeed because of the rigidity of the “You.Must.Go.To.Church” of my youth.  Maybe it is because of the occasional Catholic guilt I get from my mother as an adult about not going to church regularly.

But contrary to what some uber-Catholics might think it does not mean I did not know who I am, or what my faith is because I do.  I just sort of figured God is all around us so would he really judge so harshly if I wasn’t an every Sunday church goer?

I had bits of this discussion with a younger priest (as in not older than dirt) I met while going through breast cancer treatment.  His name is Father Denny and he is the pastor at Our Mother of Good Counsel in Bryn Mawr.  He reminds me of the priests I knew and admired as a child.  He is a remarkable man and one of the reasons I liked him so much other than he was there for me to occasionally chat with when I was going through something difficult (breast cancer), he is also a gardener. If you live on the Main Line and you are looking for a priest who actually walks the walk and doesn’t just talk the talk, he is your guy.8279607406_30986ba04e_b-1

I have friends of many different religious persuasions. Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Baptist, Lutheran, Quaker, Greek and Eastern Orthodox, and so on.   I have watched them struggle with their religions and churches, sat on the sidelines while their churches had some amusingly juicy scandals from time to time as well.  I also have friends who became ministers or who were off spring of ministers and rabbis.  These people in particular are amazing – they live their beliefs, they don’t foist their beliefs onto you and they are Godly and accepting for lack of a better term.  Really good people.

Now to where I am going with this post.  I might not be a devout Catholic, but I know that is what I am.  I  have no issue with people practicing and embracing  mainstream religion (although I prefer religion in moderation).  Where I go off the rails is with the super evangelical and so-called “born again” Christians. Off shoot religions. And these are the people who never in any way shape or form can ever truly respect you are not like them as far as religion goes and they love to recruit new blood and foist their beliefs onto you.  I have a huge problem with people who try to foist their religion on you.  It’s not right and I do not know that God.

In any event,  have noticed an alarming and disturbing religious trend in this country and in this state over the past few years.  It may partially be like a knee jerk reaction to politics to an extent, or a reflection of the economy, but in a lot of cases I see people struggling to define themselves who in their quest for that fulfillment are getting sucked into groups who I find disturbing and almost cult like.

I know people who were born into traditional religions who have become “born again”. At first I was happy for them because it seemed they had found peace or whatever.  I even went to bible study with one of them to check it out and to try to be supportive of a friend’s new religion choice.

What I found wasn’t so holy or spiritual, it was kind of disturbing. And cultish.

I entered this room of mostly women. There were some men.  There was all this singing and evangelical tent preaching hand waving and I found myself struggling, but tried not to judge.  Then there were these weird God discussions.  I kept waiting for the bible study format I was familiar with to appear – you know when they discuss actual bible passages and go over bible passages they were supposed to review from the previous week?

I looked around the room at the people.  One woman I recognized.  An older woman who at one point had lived in my old neighborhood.  She was born Jewish, married I believe a Catholic.  She then became a Jew for Jesus and then joined that cult-like Church of the Saviour in Tredyffrin Township.  Ironically, in spite of all her attempts at piety, she was one of the nastiest women I had ever met.  She never did anything to me, I gave her generally wide berth – but I saw her do things to people which blew my mind.  I also once witnessed her go into a racist, profanity laced tirade in front of a police officer when she had caused an accident that was so astounding I seriously thought she needed an exorcism.  (She was practically foaming at the mouth while spewing her vitriol)  And there she was reinvented once more, this time a born again Christian.7397665310_cd68d37125_b

After the bible study I remember asking my friend about people in the meeting.  Some had given off weird vibes.  Ends up a few were recovering alcoholics and whatnot, but instead of going to traditional AA and NA meetings, they were part of this group.  There was also someone with serious emotional imbalances who was a danger to themselves and others unless medicated, but this group thought meds wouldn’t help him but Jesus could heal the person so they prayed over them.

I never went back to another meeting although I was asked.  I was polite, I was not critical or judgmental.  But as time has passed this group has sucked this person I know in further.   Now it is at the point where these born again people have replaced a lot of their long-term friends.  They go on these trips to see all these Christian speakers.  Now I thought the Catholic Church liked to make $$, well you have seen nothing until you see all the little nickel and diming that all adds up in the realm of being born again.

These born agains follow people like Joyce Meyer and Sid Roth just to name a few.  Joyce Meyer is one who has been watched for years and in 2003 watchdog groups called on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Meyer and other TV preachers. Every summer Joyce Meyer does this evangelical conference in Hershey PA that people do bus trips too. She is like this multi-million dollar brand and didn’t people learn from the fraudulence that was Jim and Tammy Faye Baker?  If Jesus walked around with bare feet and plain robes giving things away, how is it these people are raking in the dough and claiming to live in God’s image?

And let’s talk about this new image of God for a moment.  Was the God you were raised to believe in an angry judgemental deity? Was he homophobic and intolerant?  I have to ask because some of these searching off shoots of traditional religion do just that.  Take the ever charming Westboro Baptist Church which in a twisted sick move as per the Huffington Post praised the death of those Arizona firefighters recently and said they would picket funerals.

Truly, I try not to judge where religion and religious beliefs are concerned. However I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the fact that some of the born again Christian beliefs some people are turning to is kind of scary.

What scares me is that these groups have turned some people who used to be very much live and let live into incredibly intolerant beings.

How is worshiping that brand of God productive or positive? How is going from believing in an all-embracing God to a judgmental deity a good thing for anyone? And how is it positive in the way they try to control everything that goes on amongst their members lives? If you know people who are part of these groups, you know the deeper they get into the group the less time they have for people in their lives who aren’t part of that group. Almost cult-like in some cases.

Extremism isn’t good for the soul. Be who you are.

And do I believe in God or a higher power? Yes. Perhaps I am more spiritual at times than religious these days, but that is o.k.

Anyway some may not like this post.  Some may find it irresponsible or wrong, but I think we need to talk about these things.  Discussion is not wrong.

living history at historic goshenville

On Saturday June 2nd in between the rain showers, I went to Historic Goshenville in East Goshen to check out the Living History Day.  What a fun historic site! 

This site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

As per a website called Living Places:

The Goshenville Historic District is significant for religion and community development within the context of early Quaker settlement and community development patterns in Chester County. Goshenville literally grew up around a Quaker meetinghouse after being settled in the first decade of the eighteenth century. It also was developed in response to the needs of the largely Quaker agricultural community surrounding it. As a village, Goshenville supplied basic needs of this community – places for worship, cemeteries, a blacksmith/wheelwright shop, a post office, a school, a mill, a general store and a grange, all situated along an important transportation route. It would also offer area residents with the services of a doctor, lawyer, and several trades, as well as the local seat of government. Large Quaker families, particularly the Garrett family, heavily influenced its development. Significant for religion, Goshenville is the story of Quaker religion, tradition and history and its influence on its community development patterns and architecture……Quaker Settlement and Development as part of the 40,000 acre “Welsh Tract”, the area that became Goshenville began to be settled in 1683. In that year, Edward Jones and 17 Welsh Quaker families left the then frontier outpost of Edgemont south of the district and entered into the undeveloped wilderness of Chester County. They settled around what would eventually become North Chester Road. “Goshenville” was derived from the Biblical name “Goshen”, a promised land named by the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Then part of Westtown Township, Goshen Township – a name adopted from Goshenville and the only municipality in Chester County with a Biblical name – was organized in 1704. It was split into East and West Goshen Townships 1817. North Chester Road, which connected the village to the city of Chester to the south, was laid out in 1693 and in place by 1699. It was extended north to Frazer in the first decade of the eighteenth century.

Read more HERE.

The event I went to had a focus on the Civil War, and women on the home front.  The volunteers were pleasant and knowledgable and there were even demonstrations.  My favorite were the sewing ladies.  What I found so amazing was that East Goshen Township as a municipality is so invested in the local historical preservation.  As opposed to where I moved from (Lower Merion Township) they don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk.

Being around historic Goshenville in part reminded me of one of my favorite historic sites, Harriton House in Bryn Mawr.  Harriton is a little slice of heaven thanks to decades of hard work on the part of her curator and Executive Director, Bruce Cooper Gill.

The event was enjoyed by yound and old, and it was a terrific learning experience!

For more event photos, kindly follow THIS LINK.

a community garden grows

This post isn’t about Chester County.  It’s actually about something going on in Radnor Township. 

It’s about a community garden.

And that’s a good thing.

A few years ago, a group called Greener Partners showed up and asked Radnor if they could farm some public land at the Willows at Skunk Hollow.  At the time, I thought this was a mistake, because they were farming the land for their pricey subscription CSA – their shares were around $700 – $800 per family if memory serves.

I had tried them on for size with friends one of the first years they existed and the share was $500 for the season. And we spent most of the season NOT getting the produce that was on our produce list.   I mean I like Bok Choy and all, but when I got a list saying I was getting specific veggies and I would get 3 giant heads of Bok Choy instead, it got old fast.

Skunk Hollow at the Willows Summer 2010 (Greener Partners on site)

Greener Partners, was able to use 2 acres of land at the Willows and to use the Willows Cottage in essence for free or darn close to it. It went under the guise of Saving The Willows Cottage, but for free use of township, therefore public taxpayer owned land for in essence a private enterprise kind of smelled.  I thought it should be at least in part a community garden where people could have shares.  Instead it was an odd kind of arrangement, complete with housing their farmer close by.  Yes, their farmer.  And all the farmer did was complain.  Was the farmer really a slacker?  Not sure, but under his farmitude, the Skunk Hollow Farm was a weed pit (see photo I took in 2010 at right – those weren’t veggies, those were weeds.)

Around this time (or maybe slightly earlier) Greener Partners was also out in Willistown – again on in essence non-profit land.  Don’t know whatever happened there. In 2011 CSA shares at Greener Partners were $750.  Pricing is similar for 2012.  They seem to be out of Chester County and seen to have crept over to the other side of Montgomery County around Collegeville and they are still around Media.    Save your money with these people.  I believe in organic farming and CSAs and farm markets, but not these people.  Greener Partners was founded by a guy named Jason Ingle, whom I believe is also a former venture capitalist. He was part of that Radnor Hunt area dust-up a few years ago with M. Night Shyamalan and his fencing.  I at least agreed with that.

So why am I telling you about these days gone by?  To set the stage.  Last summer, Skunk Hollow at the Willows was a shambles.  Weeds and thistle and all sorts of stuff had invaded the 2 acres left at this point utterly untended save a few pathetic tomato plants.  It was amazing the disarray.  I mean even if Greener Partners was leaving, they should have in my opinion left the land at least tidy.  If you are even a temporary steward of public land, treat it with respect, right?

So one of my friends, Sara Pilling, a wonderful lady and talented gardener had an idea.  So she planned and measured and drew up plans….for a community garden in Radnor on the site of Skunk Hollow Farm at the Willows.  I used to hear about the plans for the garden when she took turns with my other friends driving me to radiation treatments for breast cancer.

So to speed the story up, Sara got approved for the garden (see YouTube below from Radnor Patch )

Shares of the garden new for 2012 went fast.  So now Sara and many other volunteers and future community gardeners are hard at work.  They have cleared the weeds and been working diligently.  What a bunch of volunteers have already accomplished versus what Greener Partner’s farmer and Greener Partners was supposed to have done at the Willows is amazing. And there is a new sense of community being fostered along with this garden.

(Sara also founded Common Ground community garden in Garrett Hill at Radnor United Methodist Church.)

Sara is a very modest person, a true Quaker and hates when she gets public props.  But I am going to do it anyway.  I have learned a lot from my friend and I am proud of her and the volunteers who have now brought two community gardens to Radnor Township.  (Read all about it in Main Line Media News today too.)  

I think this is something other municipalities should pay attention to and create within their own borders.  Especially out here in Chester County.  I have seen some small community looking gardens here and there, but I think this is something municipalities should encourage and should also sponsor these gardens.  Not pay for them, but to allow the space if there is an interest.  It is a good thing economically, and surplus can go to local food banks.

Of course one other thing that community gardens accomplish is that they literally build community.  That in and of itself, considering the world in which we live, is priceless.

Besides, digging in the dirt is just good for the soul.   I did some of that today myself.