I am an unfundamentalist catholic parent

Cindy Brandt is a self-proclaimed “unfundamentalist Christian”. She started an online community for other parents who view and live their Christianity through a lens other than black and white certitude. In an article for Huffington Post she describes the

10 Signs You’re An Unfundamentalist Christian Parent

The article had me nodding in agreement over and over. I proudly proclaim that I am an Unfundamentalist Catholic Mom and Grammy! Hubby and I both love our faith, but have rejected the dogmatic, judgmental, self-righteousness of certain fundamentalist forms of Catholicism.

Here are some of the signs from Brandt’s article that resonate with my own Catholic experience.

faith is fluid and evolves

I came to this realization in my thirties. Certitude in belief can be comforting. Apologetics, with its black and white answers simplifies defending your faith. But, it can also make faith mechanical and soul-less.

Faith needs to be wrestled with before it is fully embraced in mind and heart. And the wrestling never ends. Yes, this is dangerous. Brandt readily admits that leaving room for doubts can lead to “moments of weak faith and perhaps even loss of faith”.

I’ve experienced this several times in my life, even recently. I cling to the belief that faith, like love, goes through a “romance, disillusionment, true joy” cycle. Faith can, and often is, strengthened through the dark times of weakness, questioning and doubt. (That’s not to say that the dark times don’t suck!)

reject hierarchical parental authority

While Brandt is referring to the parenting style of many fundamentalist Christians, more and more Catholics are also rejecting this style of leadership in our church. We need to promote a church of adult believers, not child-like blind obedience. We need servant leaders, not bullying father figures.

promote gender equality…fight against homophobia and racism…

Gender inequality, homophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination may have been part of the fabric of history but they have no place in today’s Catholic church. These are issues we’ve discussed with our children many times, and continue to do so. We refuse to defend the teachings and actions of our church if and when they are discriminatory.

build a larger table not a higher fence

This is a great image and motto. (And, no, we’re not talking about a certain President-elect.) Some continue to promote a smaller, purer Church. Would it really be a better Church if all doubters, questioners, and lukewarm Catholics were finally shown the door?  If you insist on booting out all the sinners, you’ll find precious few saints left.

Despite woundedness for some of us from the religiosity of our past, we still find beauty in rituals and desire to cultivate spirituality in our children.

This past weekend, we celebrated the baptism of our two newest grand-babies. The celebration took place in our home parish, where all our children were baptized. The wee lads were wearing the baptismal gowns worn by their parents. The sacrament was lovingly celebrated by a kind, hospitable, big-hearted pastor. No lectures. No hoops to jump through. Just a wonderful warm welcome into the Body of Christ.

love in the family and between families


“A Big Heart”

In addition to the small circle of the couple and their children, there is the larger family …Friends and other families are part of this larger family, as well as communities of families who support one another in their difficulties, their social com- mitments and their faith. AL,196

The English title of Amoris Laetitia, the post-synodal exhortation by Pope Francis, is On love in the family. The basis of the document are the two recent synods on the family. Bishops, consultants and lay observers gathered from around the world to discuss modern realities facing families and how the church can help them.

But, perhaps it is time to move beyond the model of the church (and her male leadership) as an all-knowing body to turn to for answers to life’s questions and crises. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that, for most families, wisdom and support is more readily found among family and friends; in the love between families.

Last week-end, hubby and I spent a glorious evening with our faith community of friends. We are part of a Marianist lay community that has been meeting in one form or another for almost 40 years. Our life journeys have intertwined through university years, to newlyweds, and the parenting years. Our children are all adults now, and many of us are grand-parents.

We sat on the deck, enjoying the first warm evening of spring. Good food, good drink, good conversation, good friends…a touch of heaven! Talk came around to how our community was truly church for us.

Over these many years, we’ve celebrated the joys of family life, and found support for the many struggles and challenges. We talk of faith easily and naturally. We sing and we pray from the heart. We swap stories of parish and diocese. Many of us have had close ties and connections to the local church. Some still do. We never did “suffer fools gladly”, and do so less and less as we age.

Our faith community and many other long time friends have been both gift and life-saver over the years. Weekly Mom’s and Tot’s tea-times, rowdy multi-family dinners and gloriously chaotic weekend family sleep-overs; these are the “big heart” moments that fed and nourished us.

It is natural to look to peers for support. Newlywed couples seek other couples. Young Moms seek other young Moms. Empty-nesters seek other empty-nesters. Families facing health crises seek others travelling the same difficult journey.

We look for mentors among those who are further along in the family adventure. Mentors can be found a generation or two ahead or simply a few months or years. Parents of a three month old or a toddler can be great mentors for friends with a colicky new-born.

We see our children forming these same bonds of friendship and support. After long work-weeks and sleepless nights, they will schedule family time with their friends despite the extra work of travel or hosting.

When family life is discussed in the church, well-meaning souls wave the Catechism of the Catholic Church while deploring the present state of families, blaming it on a lack of catechesis. The simple and obvious solution, then, is to provide more adult education in parishes – preferably from the “official” teachers in the church.

Debate the theology of family all you want, but experiential wisdom will usually trump ivory tower pronouncements. Black and white rules no longer speak to many of us who are living in the messiness of the grey in-between. We learn more from personal stories than doctrinal diatribes.

Families are often best qualified to minister to other families. Churches could support this ministry by encouraging and empowering existing family networks and small communities, and provide opportunities for encounters where none exist.

love is patient

Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. (Pope Francis, AL 92)

I know how to love deeply. My life is over-flowing with family and friends whom I love, and who love me in return. I can sit down at this computer and spout profusely on the beauty of love; on the other-worldliness of love. Yet, it’s the earthiness of day to day love that tests me.

I am not a patient person. I do not suffer fools gladly. On a really bad day, fools are all persons who are not me. And, God help them if they cross me!

Pope Francis addresses the issue of patience in Amoris Laetitia, On love in the family. First of all,

Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. (AL 92)

These are welcome words and important to keep in mind. A dear friend, who was a priest and bishop, used to preach that “being a Christian does not mean being a door-mat”. And, yet, how often were we taught to “suffer patiently”, or to simply “offer up our sufferings in prayer and sacrifice”? Bullies should not be ignored. Bullies need to be challenged, whether they come from within the family, school, work-place or even our churches.

So, patience is NOT merely suffering in silence.

Patience, according to Francis, is also not simply tolerating, or putting up with someone who annoys us.

Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like. (AL 92)

I might feel proud of myself for smiling sweetly and keeping the nasty retort in my mind and off my lips, but this does not change my attitude toward the other. Keeping outward signs in check is easier than changing attitudes.

Recognizing and accepting the right of others to think, act, dress, and speak differently from us takes an enormous amount of effort. It takes us out of the present (annoying) moment of encounter, and nudges us to look at the bigger reality. It challenges us to go beyond tolerance. It challenges us to put aside superficial judgment and open our minds and hearts to love.

Unconditional love.