Zeal of a Convert

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Lisa Kramer

Lisa Kramer is a contributing contributor at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

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  1. Avatar Russell Arben Fox
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    Lisa,

    I was born and raised Mormon, married a woman who was similarly born and raised Mormon, and we are both committed to passing along the Mormon faith to our four children. I know that such trans-generational consistency is becoming rare in the United States, but I do not yet know just how rare it is, relative to what existed in the past. (I have a copy of Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s American Grace sitting on my desk, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get around to reading it until summer.) Despite the profound differences in our situations, the language by which use describe your thinking about faith sounds very familiar to me. I believe that if there is anything at all notable about my particular faith heritage, it is that there was never much sense of it being chosen: it is something than I am, not something I embrace. And the truth of the matter is that there is a great deal of my faith’s doctrines and practices which I don’t embrace; that indeed, I reject. But that never makes me think about looking elsewhere for religion, anymore than I sometimes think about being Korean. I’m not; I am who I am. I’m on the inside, and as such, I engage in a constant conversation about my place in the faith, rather than my levels of agreement with it.

    For the 44% without such an inheritance, I don’t know how–other than receiving a spiritual prompting or revelatory confirmation of what church or doctrine God wants you to embrace, something which I’m enough of a skeptic to recognize doesn’t at all happen nearly as frequently or nearly as predictably as many believers might claim–to go from choice to identity. Perhaps it will have to be choice for you. I tend to believe that as we become settled–into a marriage, a community, a vocation–then our sense of what most matters to use in terms of values stabilizes, and so perhaps you may find that the consumer mentality you recognize in your own searching will fade as your roots in a particular place and with a particular person strengthen. I hope so, anyway; besides the fact that I can’t relate too well to a kind of “buyer’s remorse” when it comes to faith, I’ve read enough scholarship to convince me that such an attitude robs one of much of which religion offers. (Keep in mind that President Obama, through his twenty years in Chicago, stuck pretty closely to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, finding a benefit in that consistency even as he apparently disagreed with more than a little of what Wright said over the pulpit.)Report

  2. Avatar Russell Arben Fox
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    says:

    Oh, and by the way, the bread looks delish. I’ve read about half of Radical Homemakers myself; I’ll have to blog about it sometime.Report

  3. Avatar Steve S.
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    says:

    “do you belong to the same religious tradition you were brought up in?”

    Brought up in a mainline protestant denomination, nothing now. I occasionally went to church after I grew up even though I didn’t believe, mostly when visiting my parents, but sitting in a room with people who earnestly profess things I simply don’t believe is not something I’m willing to do anymore.

    “And, if you have converted, have you changed more than once?”

    No, I never went religion shopping, if that’s what you’re driving at. Once I admitted to myself that I didn’t truly believe the religion I was raised to believe I didn’t feel like anything was missing.

    By the way, your story about bread leads me into my favorite pinko, commie, Kenyan-socialist rant. Of all the various ways we are propagandized maybe the worst is the idea that cooking for oneself is an impossibly difficult task. Basic bread, for instance, is ridiculously easy to make, with the caveat that you have to be home for a few hours to do it. The propaganda system, unfortunately, tells us that there is absolutely no time in our lives for anything other than consumption of finished consumer goods, and the expense of a half dozen calories in the kneading process is approximately as pleasant as receiving a Tabasco enema. Balderdash. Cooking for yourself not only is personally satisfying, it will save you thousands to tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your adult lifetime, and you might actually reach dotage with less than $50K of credit card debt.Report

    • Avatar Sam MacDonald in reply to Steve S.
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      says:

      “Cooking for yourself not only is personally satisfying, it will save you thousands to tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your adult lifetime”

      This is definitely true with regard to eating at home versus eating at restaurants… but I wonder if it’s really economical to bake your own bread. Corporate bread from the store is pretty cheap. Economies of scale and all that. We always had homemade bread at home because my mom was thrifty. She still bakes all the time. But she has told me that the idea of doing it to save money went out the window long ago.

      There are clearly still other reasons to do it. But saving cash might not still be one of them.Report

      • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Sam MacDonald
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        says:

        There are several factors to take into account; personal taste, regional pricing variation, and so on. I’m not a fanatic and will buy store brands if there is a loss-leader or a good quality day-old loaf to choose from. But I also keep an eye out for good deals on ingredients and stock up when I can, and my crude estimate for my personal situation is that I spend about half as much on bread than if I bought it already made. But again, everybody’s situation is a little bit different.Report

  4. Avatar Tony Comstock
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    says:

    Not counting dining necessitated by being away from home, I’d be surprised if we eat out three times a year, usually with a visiting relative paying; and I’ve recently commented to my wife, “The more we tighten our food budget, the better we seem to eat.” I don’t have a lot of patience for people who think I’m ‘lucky’ to have a family, a tremendous amount of financial/creative freedom, and health insurance.

    My father was raised Irish Catholic. My mother is an Eastern European Jew. I remember in my youth, religion, like money or sex, seem to be regarded as mostly a private matter. People like to talk about all three today, quite openly maybe too much.

    About a month ago I had the thought my life was deficient in service, and that that was a source of some of my unhappiness. Through my filmmaking I’ve learned that organized religion is often quite good at doing service work and thought perhaps I would enjoy being a part of a faith community. (I could just quietly sit out the god stuff.)

    Your bread looks awesome! Truly. Nothing against doing it by hand, but bread machines are a ridiculously good value. My wife had one for about 15 years before it went tits up. Replaced it with a Sunbeam for about $50. Great for making bread, pizza dough, and lots of other things. About 5 minutes to put the ingredient in and a few hours later dough or finished bread emerges. Highly recommended! (Tried to make it work on our boat this Summer. More than enough solar/wind collection, but the 750 watt wasn’t quite enough to run the thing.)

    Be cautious about getting a bigger house. Consider getting a young dog, let it get older, then get a younger dog. Highly recommended.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Tony Comstock
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      says:

      Bread machines are great. We’re looking at getting a new one soon (along with that beer kit you recommended!) We’re also on the verge of getting out first house, which is smallish with a smallish yard, and south-facing with good solid windows. Small is good, keeps the bills down and the energy costs to a minimum. South facing is good in a place that can get five feet of snow in a week.Report

      • Avatar Kevin Carson in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        You can make good beer without anything much in the way of kit.

        I didn’t even get a lock for my fermenter–just used a 5-gallon filtered water jug with a sock over the top. Out of many batches, I think I had one get infected.

        Just buy the malt syrup or malted grain depending on what method you want to use, cook it up on the stove with part of the filtered water, pour it into the jug and add brewer’s yeast, and let it sit a few days till it stops bubbling. You can bottle it in those two-liter juice bottles with a tablespoon or so of malt sugar to finish it.

        I’ve made lots of beer the cheap way — mostly stout and IPA — and thought it was really good. Brewing’s another one of those things you don’t have to be very good at to have a lot of fun.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Kevin Carson
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          says:

          Just got back from my brother’s house, where he and I are making our first batch of cider: even easier, in that you don’t have to cook anything, though it apparently needs to age a bit more than beer does.

          My brother has a lot of experience home-brewing beer, and even landed a part-time job at a local brewery. I really want to get into cider because a) enough relatives are making beer that I’d like to go in a different direction, and b) my grandpa was an apple farmer, and my dad grew up on the farm. Cider feels like a continuation of family history.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Alan Scott
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            says:

            Mmmm, cider. Lots of it gets made in western NY State. Some of it is turned into applejack via freeze distillation.

            The king of all such apple-derived spirits is Calvados. I’m surprised we don’t have more apple brandy made here in the USA.Report

      • Avatar Sam MacDonald in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        Interesting that people speak fo often of their “first house” now. Nobody intends to stay where they are. That’s not a shot at ED, of course. It’s the way things are. But I grew up two doors away from my aunt. She has NEVER lived in a different house. And her sister only moved two doors down. Again, lots of reasons things aren’t that way anymore. Just struck me as interesting to talk of something as permanent as a house as a “first.”Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        I’ve got a couple of plastic fermenters I will sell to you for half of what I paid for them. These have the hole for a spigot in them.
        And if you’d care for some yeast, I have jars and jars of the stuff. If you’re interested in a particular strain, ask. I might have it, but I guarantee I have something close. Yeast is free of charge; you pay postage.Report

  5. Avatar Tony Comstock
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    says:

    Also, re: Hammocks

    I got one of these in a discount store in STX last Winter; sort of a “at this price I can’t not buy it” purchase.

    It’s quite wonderful. With a little ingenuity I bet you can find a place to hang it in your house. Or walk down the park and hang it between a couple of trees.

    Highly recommended.Report

  6. Avatar Ben JB
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    says:

    Not a frequent reader/commenter here, but the question piqued my interest, so:

    I went to Hebrew school until my Bar Mitzvah, but it was always clear that my family practiced more of the secular humanist, New York, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, strike-oriented brand of Judaism. (There’s a Woody Allen allusion in there, which should cement the self-identification.) And I hope to raise my kids the same way.

    As for conversion stories, I recently listened to an interview with Mary Doria Russell on the NPR show Being in which she talks about her “replacement” of Catholicism with anthropology, and then converted to Judaism.Report

  7. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Lovely post, as usual Lisa. I completely relate to this. We changed churches often and plenty growing up. It wasn’t until recently that my parents began going to Catholic church full time (my mom was born and raised Catholic and my dad just converted recently). I flounder about, drawn to that church and the deep traditions of that church, but incapable of committing fully.

    Homemade bread, however, is divine. We’ve been doing a lot of that lately, and Mr. Comstock has almost convinced me to start doing the same with beer.Report

  8. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    You’ll never find the perfect church. My old man was ordained Southern Baptist. It always struck me odd, that the churches who supported us in Africa as missionaries didn’t have any black people in them.

    Some while back, I said religion was a big nothing, it’s more like scaffolding for the House Not Built With Hands. But it’s your faith, yours alone. Ultimately faith cannot be shared with anyone else.

    The good thing about a church is that it is like a family: it has a place for everyone, from the christening of a newborn child to the beloved dead before the altar. The bad thing about a church is that it becomes like family, with all the attendant troubles and internecine squabbles. If a given church isn’t meeting your spiritual needs, move on. But remember, as with anything else in social life, you get out of church what you put into it.

    Every Saturday night, I would make up five pounds of flour into sweet bread, with cinnamon, dates and raisins. There were two Sunday morning services in my church, between them, people would meet in the gym. During first service, I would bake all this bread in the church kitchen and the smell would flow through the church. I’d cut it up into little squares and everyone would get some, between the services.

    For me, it was a sacred act, making all that bread. So many of Christ’s miracles involved food. In feeding them, my soul was fed. Perhaps what I’m trying to say is this: stop trying to find the perfect church: you’ll get out of church what you put into it.Report

  9. Lisa, I was raised in the Catholic Church. I did all the sacraments and attended 12 years of Catholic schools which was, for me, a very positive experience. For that reason and also because my immediate family and most of my friends are all practicing Catholics, I consider myself part of the Catholic community. That means I go to fish fries and church picnics, prep school football games, etc. At least in my city the Catholic community is a very important institution and one i’m proud to be a part of.

    Spiritually I left the Church sometime in college. I was a history major and I just found too many holes in the story of the Church. Too many traditions borrowed from pagan faiths, too many gospels discarded by the church councils, etc. I floated around for a long time, open to other faiths but finding a home in none. Today I find myself in a very interesting place. I occasionally attend Methodist services with my wife which I don’t mind but that don’t really connect with me. In fact they actually make me miss the Catholic mass which I still appreciate for it’s structure and beauty. I flirt with finding a parish to call home but right now it feels like it would be hypocritical.

    Ultimately, for me, Church is a sunrise over the duck blind or a blue sky over a dove field. If I have a faith it is Nature. That is when I connect spiritually with a higher power and when I am certain that we are not alone. I have stayed true to that ‘faith’ for nearly 20 years and it has never once lead me astray.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F.
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    says:

    My father-in-law is a very hyperactive CFO who works all the time and cannot cook to save his life. When his wife is away visiting family, he usually calls us to come help him make things like soup from the can. I mean none of this as an insult- that’s just how it was in their marriage.

    Anyway, he’s been given an age at which he must retire and it’s fast approaching. Like other go-getter men his age, this has given him quite a bit of anxiety. What will he do with all of that free time??? His wife, quite wisely I think, has got him making bread. They do this together and he is just tickled pink about how easy it is to bake bread. It’s also a fun thing to do together. Me and my wife often cook together and it’s something that brings us closer I think.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Rufus F.
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      says:

      Your old man sounds a lot like mine. I’m sure most of the help he asked for over the years was more a wish to engage with me than any actual need.

      Nothing is less-wanted than advice unsought, but here’s a thought. My old man, another brilliant go-getter, found himself in a similar predicament. He wound up consulting for many nonprofits, doing logistics for solar panel installations all over the world. A small consulting practice might be just the thing for your father in law. In retirement, we must continue to feel useful or we wither and die. I’ve seen it happen.Report

  11. Avatar Pierre Corneille
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    says:

    I was raised Roman Catholic by my mother (my father was Lutheran, but I almost never saw him go to church, except for weddings and the few times, e.g., my first communion, when I saw him go to Catholic church).

    Around 6th grade or so, I became partially a “born again” Christian, or an evangelical (I’m not sure what the difference is), because I became active in my brother’s church (he had converted to some brand of pentecostal) and because my best friend growing up was the son of a Baptist pastor. I say “partially” because I continued to go to mass even as I started attending the Baptist youth group services on Sunday evenings and Wednesdays.

    From my second year of college through my first year or so of grade school, I lost my faith, flirted with a probably very watered-down and Americanized form of Buddhism, and became an agnostic. There was a time after that for about 5 years that I flirted with some version of what some people call “goddess religions,” although like my “Buddhism,” what I followed or claim to follow was probably deracinated from any tradition older than 1960.

    I still am an agnostic, but sometimes I think I lean toward theism. This has been especially true since 2006 or so, when I started reading the works of C. S. Lewis. However, I sometimes lean back to the atheistic end of the spectrum of agnosticism.

    Thanks for giving me an opportunity to say this!Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Pierre Corneille
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      says:

      I was raised without religion under my parents, but was sent to the deep country during the summers for three months — my grandparents were religious fanatics, speaking in tongues, handling rattlesnakes, all day services — the contrast is why I’m partially insane, but I love fresh bread. I converted to Universal Energy and Sexual Joy when I became old enough to have my own pad.Report

  12. Avatar RTod
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    says:

    Great post, Lisa. Wanted to chime in with my experience, since I think I might be the mirror image of what you’re talking about.

    I was born and baptized into an Episcopal family, but one that was so in name only. My parents never went to church. (They were neither season ticket holders nor playoff bandwagon jumpers – we didn’t go on Christmas or Easter either.) The values that my parents raised me with were similar to those that you quote Obama saying he grew up with: an obligation to the community and a directive to strive to be a good and noble person, without any religious attachment. The end product was a young man who was neither a believer nor hostile toward religion. A happy agnostic, if you will. And years later, I got engaged and married to someone who had grown up in the Episcopal church but was also agnostic, and we lived an entirely secular life.

    But along the way two things happened:

    My older sister got married (before I did) and my parents decided they wanted her to have a church wedding (which my sister was fine with). They didn’t want to just rudely show up at their local church for a wedding and then disappear again so they started going every week during the nine months leading up to the ceremony. I believe they had the intention of tapering off afterwards. But instead they found a community, and a calling, that they had never experienced before. By the time of each of their deaths, both had served on the vestry and my father had used the resources of the church to start an ongoing outreach program for at-risk youth. (The church now gives an annual scholarship in his name.)

    When my wife was pregnant with our first boy she felt a calling as well, and started going to church regularly – you know, “just to prepare for the baptism.” Fifteen years later she’s on the vestry of the same church my parents belonged to, and our younger boy is an impossibly handsome young acolyte. As I write this – sitting by the fire in our living room – they have braved the cold and are at service, giving both thanks and ritual.

    So it seems funny to say as an non-believer, but I feel as if my beliefs have not really changed greatly over the years. Oh, they have become better thought out, of course, and are far more nuanced, but the core beliefs remain fast.

    Rather, it seems to me that while I have been well anchored in the faith of my youth, it is those that I love that have drifted away.

    (When I say they have drifted away, of course, I mean only in matters of faith. I wouldn’t trade or change any of them.)Report

  13. Avatar Will H.
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    says:

    Check out the Cornell formula additive to enhance the nutritional value of your bread.
    I’ve been wanting to try adding Evo-Pro to some biscuit mix or something, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.Report

  14. Avatar Dave Trowbridge
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    says:

    Raised a Congregationalist, but we stopped going to church when I was 8 or so. Went through an angry atheist phase, then became an Episcopalian in my twenties and stayed there for 25 years or so.

    Then a spiritual earthquake shook me out of creedal Christianity and I’m now a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I thought I was fleeing Christianity, but have found myself more comfortable in the Christian metaphor than I ever was before.

    Bonus: my wife is a Jew who prefers to worship with Quakers, so Quaker Meeting is a place where we can share our spiritual life without compromising our different paths.Report

  15. Avatar Lisa Kramer
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    says:

    Well, better late than never…

    After spending a glorious weekend baking bread and then a day at my mother’s helping her prepare for a Superbowl party, I then worked a bunch of 12-hour days in a row. The worst thing about that is that I let too much time elapse before responding to these comments – all of which are very thoughtful and very much appreciated.

    Using this group as a sample, that 44% of converts number seems very very low. I guess that’s to be expected with a self-selected group of assumption-challengers.

    Tony: as for the caution about getting a bigger house, would be completely understood if “bigger” meant something other than “bigger than the closet I currently live in.” I live in an alley rowhouse – the full size is under 600 square feet – that was never meant as anything other than a split-level studio apartment, really. But thanks for the hammock link – I’ve always wanted one and until it can be a reality, it’s nice to dream about it.

    You guys got me very excited about the homemade beer. While reading these comments, I said to Jonny, “ooh, you want to try that!” He looked at me and said, “No.” Baby steps. He’ll come around.

    I had many more responses I wanted to add to so many of these comments, but I know this is a dead post by now. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for the great comments.Report

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