I apologize to the “burnouts” and those who wore “Rush” t-shirts as fashion statements growing up. I judged you. I should have been judging me. In that era, if I rocked, it was to the Doobie Brothers without even knowing what a “doobie” was. I preferred soft rock; Kenny Loggins and the like.
The irony is, that with my few remaining hairs turning gray, I’ve become a headbanger. I am not sure when this conversion in me came to be. While my wife and kids listen mostly to the beat of a song, I have always focused on the lyrics to songs on the radio. Now, it really is “all about that base” for me.
I do recall that, earlier in my career, I shared a lab/office with another chemist who would tell people “if Aerosmith is playing loud, don’t bother Dr. Webster.” She knew it meant I was having a rough day and, I didn’t realize at the time how prophetic this message really was.
As I have noted before, a few years later, I took two of my daughters to a Miley Cyrus concert, before it was wrong to take young daughters to a Miley Cyrus concert. This was a transformational event in my life: while I was thinking I deserved a “Father of the Year” award for this experience, my 5 year old at the time, Grace, was “rockin’ it” in the aisles. Later, after being asked one too many times to change the radio station in the car to “Radio Disney,” I took my girls with me to see a Led Zeppelin cover band playing at a local summer festival. I decided it was my job to teach them what true rock was and to hear “Stairway to Heaven.” Ironically, I am not much of a Led Zeppelin fan, but “Stairway to heaven” is a cool song. The girls lasted 1-2 songs before wanting to leave because the music was “too loud. I thought the band was just warming up. Ok, another failure at Dad 101.
I laugh at the notion that the “deadbeats” of the 70’s and 80’s are now my “philosophers” in my 50’s.
Oddly, this notion of music recently came to me after trading a few emails about RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. My friend asked me how I would answer the question, “What does being Catholic mean to you? To be honest, at first I was stumped. Easy academic answer, but a hard answer in self-reflection.
My Vicar once reminded me, “being a deacon is not about what you do, but who you are.” We all know guys get it wrong from age 18-50. We are socialized to ask, “what do you do?” when meeting new people. Even if asked “tell me who you are,” we would answer with our career choices. Our business card has been our “identity” for too long. Ignatius pointedly reminds guys like me that.
You see, as Tommy Shaw of Styx would note, I spent most of my adulthood being an “angry young man.” I really was “fooling myself.” I was raised in a time and a place where secular culture ruled my life without my knowing it. My family went to church every Sunday and I was faithfully dragged to CCD every Saturday morning. I thought this made me pretty good. But unfortunately, I learned to sing Kumbaya but not how to pray. I rail on the fact that the CCD program of the 1970’s has led to much of what is wrong in the Church today. My generation of Catholics was lost to their faith and in this, our children have been robbed of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.
I was raised to think I could balance living in a secular world with a faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps many can, but I cannot. I gave into secular values while thinking I was still a pretty good Catholic. I believed it, and in that, I was fooling myself. This “balance” even eventually led me to deacon formation. I was faithful, seemingly devout and still, never realized how angry I was. A couple years later when I realized while training to be a spiritual director (irony again noted), how much anger I had in me, I still didn’t know why I was so angry. I didn’t have the tools I needed to address this in faith until I learned about the “two kingdoms” in Ignatian spirituality. I finally realized how I was living in the wrong one. I fooled myself into thinking I was in God’s kingdom, but after realizing I existed for the worldly kingdom of Greg, I wasn’t so angry anymore. I had the self-knowledge to leave my anger behind. Yet, like any alcoholic, I still crave the drink and somedays, I give into the craving. However, I’ve learned that I have a God who will walk with me through this, not one who is looking away disapprovingly. More importantly, I’ve learned that Catholics walk with each other on these journeys. Jesus didn’t sit at the table to condemn but to lead us to loving a better way.
So, what does it mean to be Catholic to me? It means striving for the right kingdom. It is not singing Kumbaya but caring enough to actually feel others’ hurt. It is remembering we are in a community of faith and knowing abortion or euthanasia is wrong not simply because it is murder but, because it is our denying the human dignity of another. We are fooling ourselves believing it is “my” choice and not God’s. Human dignity is also our basis in dealing with homosexuality and other relationships in our lives. Our call to respect and love each other means respecting everyone’s human dignity. Respect for human dignity is not condoning the sin. Being Catholic is having faith enough to believe that helping others find Jesus is the answer to sin in this world. It is recognizing that we are all broken, and God is calling us to live another way. It is knowing that I need to deal with my brokenness, that plank in my eye, before looking elsewhere.
My identity is not “chemist” or “deacon” but simply “Greg.” It is my seeing “Greg” as a sinner trying to get it right and, most days coming up short. Greg’s “identity” ought to be “Husband of Tammy, father of Sarah, Grace and Emily, Father-in-law to Andrew and Colby, Arthur’s grandpa and best buddy with Benzie, our crazy Welsh Terrier.” One who needs to pray more and eat less.
Lastly, what does this have to do with headbanging?
It is reminding “Greg” to let the emotions rip instead of boxing them away as he is fooling himself into thinking he can do. Life is to be lived and, living is not kneeling before man. I read on the Internet once a claim that “you fill up my senses” by John Denver was “the greatest song written” relating to Ignatian spirituality. Gag me. To any man of my generation, the greatest song relating to Ignatian spirituality is Styx’s “Angry Young Man.” After realizing this, each morning I try to “blast my senses” while in the car on my commute to work with this song. It is a self-imposed CPR for life, using my radio speakers as the defibrillator paddles. Sorry Miley, I need Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung to get my blood flowing and to live again. After this self-calibration, I see the world through my Catholic lens. No longer do I see the world through my “cynical eyes.” What I was on the verge of stressing about simply moves on. In fact, no longer am I fooling myself if I don’t believe Jesus has a better way, or kidding myself that I can balance secular cravings and Christian values.
In doing so, Ignatius has led me away from being that “angry young man” I was for too many years. In faith, I need to…
”Get up, get back on your feet,
You’re the one they can’t beat and you know it
Come on, let’s see what you’ve got
Just take your best shot and don’t blow it”
Being Catholic is to free ourselves from seeing the world through my “cynical eyes;” at least as long as my head is banging and the speakers are obnoxiously loud as I go dredging off to another day at work.
My future again “looks quite bright to me!”