Friday, August 26, 2005

Cultural Differences

OK, so the good ol' Catholic guilt has caught up with me, and I'm feeling kinda bad about starting up a blog to share my Benedictine journey and I start right off with poking fun at a less-than-ideal law enforcement situation. But then, as I thought about it, it does actually kind of fit.

It's all about culture. Coming from Washington, DC, I can't even imagine that even being in the paper (complete with the guy's address), let alone the fact that there are five cops out there with nothing better to do than chase down (at a low speed) someone on a scooter. But in my new rural small-town home --- that's just how things are. It takes a big shift of perspective to get used to the cultural differences between two geographical areas.

There are also cultural differences between two lifestyle choices. And, in some respects, the cultural shift between religious life and "normal" life is even more significant -- at least people can understand the concept of cows, even if they haven't had to smell them on a regular basis. But .... not having a cell phone unless you really need one? Not having your own personal TV, computer, car? Eating dinner around the dinner table ... together? Carpooling? Sharing resources as needed? Not having the biggest, the newest, the best? And, of course, everyone's automatic fixation ... no sex?

I offered (rather sheepishly now, in retrospect) my misconceptions and stereotyped generalizations about a small-town police force in the previous post. But it's not just me. There are plenty of misconceptions and stereotypes out there about people who feel called to this sort of life .... and I'm getting reacquainted with many of them as I begin teaching and get grilled by my kids.

Of course, with the kids, they have no concept of "nun" so they give more of the curiosity questions .... Can you drink? Did you have a boyfriend? What do you do? Can you see movies? Do you have to wear those wierd clothes? (That last one as I'm standing in front of them in a pair of khakis!) Do you have friends who aren't nuns? Can you get kicked out? What would they do to you if ____? Can you get married?

With the "grown-ups", though, there's a little more potential for the pointed comments and/or judgements. "Oh, don't worry, dear, you'll find someone." Or they see you as a target for everything that they don't like about the Church, and "Why would you want to do that?" Or you suddenly become the ultimate authority on all things church-y. Or, as the holy pious one, you cause a scandal by occasionally hopping off the pedestal you never even wanted to be on in the first place. Or, of course, the perennial sex issue.

I've been fortunate. I had very positive responses from all my friends and family when I decided to enter. However, not everyone's that lucky. I know several people who were practically disowned by their (very-Catholic) parents, parents who wouldn't even come to the various entrance ceremonies; I know others who, every time they talk to their family, get grilled on "So when are you going to leave?" or are told all sorts of stories about very successful ex-nuns.

Imagine .... [insert dream-sequence waviness here]

You've just met this guy. He's absolutely fantabulous, and you're giddy about the fact that he likes you. The two of you go out for a while, but you haven't really told anyone about him yet because .... well, you don't want to deal with comments, questions, or anything else. And besides, well, people don't talk about stuff like that. Things start to get serious, though, and once the proposal is offered and accepted, the guy can't be a secret anymore. If nothing else, think of the logistics. You're getting married. And you hide that .... how?

So you tell your friends, and you show them the ring, and you maybe even introduce them to the guy. But even before they've met him (or even know anything about him) .... "You're getting married? Why would you want to do that? You don't have to get married, you know -- something will work out eventually. Are you sure? Really sure? OK, well, if you're sure.... just know that you can always get a divorce. Hey, did I ever tell you about Suzie? They just had an article in the paper about her -- all she's been able to do since she got divorced. Do you really want to get married? I don't mean to be pushy, but ... have you really thought things through? Married people don't have any space to themselves .... OK, then. But just know that we won't think anything less of you if the two of you split up."

It's a life commitment. Just like marriage, there are a lot of unknowns. Just like marriage, you can never really know for sure. But just unlike marriage ... you have to defend your choice.

And I'm realizing now how bitter this all might sound, and really I'm NOT a bitter person. Like I said, I was (and still am) very fortunate in all the support I got from family and friends. Perhaps it comes at the end of two weeks of nun-questions from my students. But I don't mind those -- it's educating them about vocations, and for so many people who didn't know that there was such a thing as a young nun .... or maybe it's from reading other people's journeys, and hearing the comments that they're receiving.

I guess it's just like what I'm coming to see as the goal of my Social Justice class .... just tryin' to raise awareness, open some eyes.

I'll hop off the soapbox now .... besides, I have to go fix my scooter's tires!


Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Great post! My experiences telling folks have been fairly good to, but still. Sometimes you just want to shake them by the shoulders. Your analogy was spot on.


By the way, I have a friend who's favorite pasttime is reading the police beat section of small town newspapers. Maybe there's a reality show in the making there?

8/26/2005 9:39 AM  
Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

Hi Steph... I found you through Susan Rose's site!

I'm not a sister (literally or in the vocational sense) but I congratulate you on your journey.

Quick question - I see that you've moved to Indiana to live the Benedictine life. Are you by any chance in Ferdinand? I've been to the Sisters of St. Benedict and it's a beautiful place, if one is going to become a sister that's a good place to get inspired. (I'm down the road in Louisville.)

:-) eve.

8/26/2005 10:02 AM  
Blogger HeyJules said...

This is going to be so much fun for me to read. I'm not catholic but have always wondered why women decide to become nuns. I can't wait to see your journey unfold.

8/26/2005 12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Steph, Thanks for the comment on my blog the other day... I love discovering new blogs--especially ones about discernment and vocations to the religious life! This post rocks! I read it to my mom.... slowly breaking her in to the idea that I'll likely join up someday too. She's surprisingly cool with it all. I think it helps that she came to visit when I lived with the Grand Rapids Dominicans last year for my volunteer service. The misconceptions do boggle the mind, though. Especially from Catholics who are either not converts (as I am) or who have been in the church much longer than I have.

8/27/2005 9:19 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

What can I say, I love playing Devil's Advocate. Really, sometimes people don't make sense. And it's one thing for them to ask true information-gathering questions, but sometimes ..... I just have to wonder!

But it's all in the spirit of how it's done. I'd rather be asked the question and be able to clear it up than to let the misconceptions continue to linger.

And Lorem, I am part of the Ferdinand group. And, if I may say so myself, if you thought our place was beautiful whenever you visited before --- you ain't seen nothing yet. We just finished restoring the monastery church, and it is utterly indescribable relative to before. The Loovul paper even had an article last Monday (8/22) with way-cool photos from the church dedication.

8/31/2005 11:50 PM  

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