My experience with Christianity is limited. I attended an International Christian School (this one, actually) as a child, and as a child, I was certainly a Christian because, well, that was the only religion I knew about.
I also had a childish idea of what it meant to have faith and “be saved”. I remember asking my dad once if he asked Jesus to be his lord and savior and he said no. I freaked out a bit in my mind because I thought he was going to hell.
Once I moved to the US I gave up any association I had with Christianity. It wasn’t intentional, I just wasn’t exposed to it very much and I felt… fine.
I accepted that people went to Church, but I didn’t understand why. I suspected they did it out of habit. A few evangelical friends tried to explain God to me, but it just didn’t make sense to me. I wasn’t an atheist, but if God existed, he didn’t feel relevant to my life.
Over the past few years, however, I’ve been reconsidering my position as an agnostic.
Since I dropped out of BUD/s a few years ago I’ve felt a bit…lost. Becoming a Navy SEAL was my only goal for many years and when that went away, I really had no idea what to do with my life. This is apparently so common for young people now that there is a term for it: the quarter-life crisis.
I’ve been aimlessly wandering since then. I lived abroad, tried starting my own company, moved to Portland, moved back home, and now I’m here in DC. I wasn’t unhappy per se, but it did feel like something was missing, that perhaps there was something greater than myself that I just wasn’t seeing.
I believe that thing is God.
My Goals for this Month
I am dedicating this month to practicing and studying Christianity, specifically, Catholicism. I chose Catholicism mostly because my good friend, who is a devout Catholic, has told me a lot about the Church and I consider him to be a model human being.
So how bad could Catholicism be?
The Catholic Church is also the longest surviving Christian institution, which leads me to believe that they are doing something right.
There are two qualities or traits I hope to acquire or improve upon:
The first is love. This is hard to define, but the Greek word agape describes what I’m seeking. I hope to learn to see the good in other people, and to learn to be good to people.
This is important to me because I constantly commit the fundamental attribution error, which leads me to attribute others’ actions to their character, rather than their situation.
A driver cut me off? Well clearly he is some sort of maniac or a—hole; he isn’t just trying to get to work on time so he can provide for his family.
It’s much more difficult to love him and to want to be good to him when I think that way.
Plus, there are apparently tons of benefits to being compassionate (which I closely associate with love).
The second benefit I hope to attain is clarity. While no can know what their life will look like in the future, I hope through practice I can at least figure out what direction I should move in or perhaps what values I should internalize. Or, short of that, I want to be more comfortable with not having clarity.
Becoming more loving and attaining clarity are not trivial goals. I’m fortunate the Church has been working on a solution for over a thousand years.
How am I going to do this?
First, I will attend Mass every day. I’ve been to Mass a few times before, but of course, I was bored because I didn’t attempt to benefit from it.
Mass is an opportunity to worship God and be reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice for mankind. The interesting thing will be to see how I benefit from this reminder even if I don’t “believe” in the story literally. One of the hypotheses of The Ancient Wisdom Project is that we don’t need to believe in religion to benefit it from it, we just need to practice it. So, I will attend Mass and interpret Christian teachings in a metaphorical way.
Second, I will practice the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Saint Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and he developed the Spiritual Exercises in order to grow in union with God.
Father Kevin O’Brien, a Jesuit and Vice President for Mission and Ministry over at Georgetown University, wrote a guide to the Spiritual Exercises, which I am using as my manual to the exercises. He describes the purpose of the exercises as follows:
Thus, the purpose of the Exercises is very practical: to grow in union with God, who frees us to make good decisions about our lives and to “help souls.” Ignatius invites us into an intimate encounter with God, revealed in Jesus Christ, so that we can learn to think and act more like Christ. The Exercises help us grow in interior freedom from sin and disordered loves so that we can respond more generously to God’s call in our life.
Sounds good to me! I’m especially excited about the “make good decisions about our lives” part.
Stoicism was very accessible as it was very rational and oriented towards the individual; I predict I will have a significantly harder time understanding the rhythm and language of Christianity and the Church. Even some of the preliminary reading is difficult to embrace. For example, when it says to love Jesus Christ, what exactly am I supposed to do? I didn’t know Jesus. Do I just say I love him out loud or think it?
It’s possible that 30 days won’t be enough time to truly “get” Christianity. In theory, religion should be a lifetime practice. I suspect that some things need to be practice for years, not just a month, before they are truly internalized and understood.
Regardless, I’m excited (and nervous) to see how I can benefit over a 30-day period.