Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Plug and Play Faith

A common acronym among computer tech support people is RTFM. It stands for "Read the F***ing Manual" -- something which most clients, including myself, almost never do. We want to be able to turn our devices on and have them function properly without a lot of programming and effort.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has found the switch from analog to digital TV frustrating. We used to be able to turn on the TV and get an acceptable number of channels immediately, even without cable. No programming a remote control and, in the case of my FIOS control, reprogramming it and reprogramming it ad nauseam. Most of the extra channels I have now are not worth the effort or added expense: shopping, endless evangelical Protestant preachers, B-grade movies, reruns, last year's soccer...

The only thing worse is the portable digital TV I just bought. It can't even find the digital signals for any but a couple of constantly changing channels. I did read the manual and it was worse than useless. It said that I had to take the device outdoors or use it next to a window and far from any other electronic device. This TV is a prissy, finicky piece of junk compared to my old analog one whose worst sin was guzzling batteries.

Change is not always better. It can complicate our lives and make us frustrated. We don't always embrace it willingly.

It is the same with faith. We Catholics like our faith to be "plug and play" too. If we wanted to flip around a written manual, we would have become Episcopalians. One of the beauties of our faith is that we can learn the basics through repetition; we can feel comfortable during Mass with our brains and mouths on autopilot for most of the liturgy. Church is a place where we can relax from the stress of a constantly changing world.

This is why the revised Roman Missal will not go over well. The new responses are awkward. They are imposed from the top and change language that most lay people (and clergy) are content with, while leaving untouched the phrases that are already being changed by popular consent in many parishes because they need to be in order to keep up with modern sensibilities, e.g. the relatively common practice of dropping the unnecessary gender-specific "men" from the Nicene Creed as in "for us men and for our salvation".

Most of all, however, it means CHANGE and it will require us to reprogram our brains and tongues and be vigilant instead of relaxing into the sea of familiar phrases that allows us to tune in to the Word beyond words. As I read about the changes, I feel blessed to be worshipping in a Spanish-speaking community that will not be affected by these revisions. At my age, I don't want to have to memorize a whole new set of responses.

And now we have the new emphasis on the statutes in the RenovaciĆ³n. I suppose we must have statutes to keep the institutional Church happy. I didn't read them beyond one quick preliminary scan when I was coordinator a year ago, neither do most coordinators. Nineteen pages of church legalese is still 18 pages too many. We all learned our job by watching the previous coordinators and either learning from them or trying to avoid their mistakes, along with the occasional correction delivered at the monthly meetings.

I can't tell you what the statutes say and I don't care. Life is complicated enough as it is and, in any case, they don't address our real problems: barely catechized adults who have such an ingrained sense of powerlessness and low self-esteem that they don't volunteer for anything; teenagers who speak a different language, don't want to be there, and sit sullenly throughout the meeting; inadequately supervised and disruptive toddlers; how to balance and evaluate the endless requests for financial assistance and private prayer sessions with the limited resources of the group; and the tensions that spring up between members when things get out of balance and people feel that too much is being asked of them or that so-and-so is not pulling his/her weight...

When these things arise, I don't look to the statutes for answers (which would probably require the gift of interpretation anyway). Instead, I pray and seek the advice of my brothers and sisters in the Lord, especially those who have been in the Renewal for some time. It's quick, it's direct and I don't have to fumble or get frustrated. That is how our faith lives should be.

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