How to win friends and influence people

March 7, 2009 at 4:02 am (Faith)

There have been a variety of people who have influenced my thinking about faith and religious matters.   My parents, of course, and more about them later, but I want to talk about three other influences who didn’t necessarily play large roles in my life, but who nevertheless substantially affected how I think about God, and religion in general.

So I’ve got this brother.  Well, I’ve got two, but I haven’t seen one of them, the oldest, since I was a kid.  It’s not something I can explain because I don’t understand it myself, and I know that’s a deeply unsatisfying non-explanation, but there you go.  Anyway, a long time ago, like maybe twenty years ago, one of my sisters asked this older brother to call and talk to my other brother (are you following this? because, you know, kudos if you are…) since she was worried that he was going down a perilous path or something.  So my oldest brother did call, but my other brother was out, probably doing something naughty, so he ended up talking to me.  And rather than talk about our weird family (although, whose family isn’t weird?) we ended up talking about religion.  The details are fuzzy now, but somehow during the course of that conversation, and I think prompted or inspired by my brother, I arrived at my basic view of world religion, which to some extent I still hold.  Picture a Picasso painting.  In fact, picture this one, which is part of my alma mater’s collection.  This is “The Studio” and is on permanent display on the first floor of the IU Art Museum.


Pablo Picasso, The Studio, IU Art Museum

Pablo Picasso, The Studio, IU Art Museum

So, my 16-year-old self reasoned, God is so unknowable, so immense, we’re only given the grace to see one small part of Him.  In essence, He’s like a Cubist painting.  I can make out an eye here, a nose or four there, but I can only get a sense of the subject, I can’t see the image perfectly.  And other traditions see different parts of the picture.  You follow?  Well, that conversation with my brother has always stuck with me.  Big influence, even from someone I haven’t seen in thirty years.

Here’s another one.  My second grade teacher at Most Pure Heart of Mary grade school in Topeka, Kansas, was Mrs. Schroeder.  She was lovely, and I adored her.  I can remember standing next to her during recess one day as she told me what her conception of Hell was.  (A weird topic for a second-grader?  Maybe, but not at a Catholic school, I guess.)  Hell for her was being separated from Jesus…being alone, without the consolation of God.  Thirty second conversation, three decade impact.

And my final example…As a teenager, I was pretty confused (shocker!) and doubted whether I even wanted to get confirmed in the Catholic church.  I belonged to a great parish though, and one of the priests took me out for bagels at a Jewish deli that I still go to and sat down with me and listened to my worries and concerns, which basically came down to the fact that I thought (and still think, I’m afraid) that the Church is just plain wrong about some things, so why bother signing up?  (Wait, was that lightening I just saw?) So anyway, this priest said to me, “Emma, you are a good person. Your conscience has been formed, and it is a sin not to listen to that conscience.”  I have to tell you that that priest has since left the priesthood, but that comment has never left me.

So there you have it.  Be careful what you say, children (and others!) will listen.

And now I have quoted both Chaucer AND Sondheim in this blog.  I’m doing pretty well, I’d say.



  1. Mike Miller said,

    Was that priest in the Bay? I used to visit both parishes there on a regular basis back then (when we were in high school), so I’d be curious to know who that was. Shoot me an e-mail or something.

    Fr. Jurkus was at St.M when my niece and nephew had their first communion. I grew to rather like him. And I couldn’t believe Monsignor Donovan was still around! He seemed ancient in 1985.

  2. New Mama said,

    I know this is not the point of this blog entry, but I didn’t know about the oldest brother. I’m curious now.

    And I’m really enjoying your blog. I knew your family was very Catholic, but I guess I didn’t realize just how religious you were. I’d love to sit down over a cup of coffee sometime and discuss it in person. I didn’t want to get confirmed, either, and didn’t, and never went back. But I have a few friends (people I respect a lot) who attend mass and get a lot out of it, so what do I know.

  3. Emily said,

    I like the cubist painting part a lot. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that absent family members will always have a presence. It’s good that you have a positive aspect to that presence to focus on.

    My mom used to say what I think is a Hindu saying about “there is one room, but there are many doors” to heaven.

    And it sounds like you feel about the Church as I do about the country – there are things you don’t love, but you love the whole enough to want to make the things you don’t love right…

  4. Amy said,

    I have much heavy stuff to comment on, but I can’t focus right now because I’m too busy being awed by a school named Most Pure Heart of Mary. That’s just fabulous.

    • batsinthebelfry said,

      Uh-huh. And our abbreviation of MPH. Fabulous.

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