You won’t know about me without you have visited the blog of Ms. Elizabeth Scalia during the last week of April or the first two of May. Elizabeth was away from her terminal — initially in order to travel to Rome for the beatification of John Paul II, later to nurse herself back to health after picking up a nasty case of pneumonia. Rather than let her tillage lie fallow, she turned it over to a hungry rookie — me. I found blogging to be such a romp that Elizabeth prevailed on the good folks at Patheos to set me up with a blog of my own.
In that sense, Diary of a Wimpy Catholic is an Anchoress spinoff. God willing, it’ll fly like The Jeffersons or Mork and Mindy, not sink like Maud or Joanie Loves Chachi. But before I start jumping sharks, I’d better pause to explain what I mean for this blog to be.
The title, many of you will know, is a reference to Diary of A Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney’s insanely popular series of graphic novels for preteens. (Or maybe I should say the books are about preteens; I’ll be turning 40 next year, and I’ve been known to body-check hockey moms on the way to the display table at Barnes & Noble whenever a new installment comes out.) The hero, Greg Heffley, is actually an antihero –a chronic shirker of work, an exploiter of his best friend, Rowley, and a tormentor of class brains. The essential amorality of Greg’s worldview has chilled certain critics — but amazingly few of them. With real genius, Kinney has suburbanized and domesticated Greg to the point where parents can forget he has more in common with Sir Harry Flashman and Eric Cartman than with Tom Brown or Butters.
Me, I require no such beguiling – I like antiheroes in general, and Greg Heffley in particular. Though the humor often relies on the contrast between Greg’s expectations and life’s realities, he’s too shrewd to need that much deflating. Trapped between a slacking brute of an older brother, a father his own with inflated expectations and a mother designed by Sikorsky himself, he doesn’t need Denis Leary to tell him that life’s life’s going to suck. He knows it fairly well already. That he’s shown no sign of slipping into gothhood attests to a certain scrappiness. Life may suck, but it’s still life. Better to snatch at crumbs than starve.
Greg’s relationship with the world is a little like mine with the Catholic Church. After burning through my convert’s zeal in the space of a year, I looked around me and realized that life in the Mystical Body of Christ is okay — a few things are very good, and a few very bad. But on the average, a post-conversion day rates a solid B-minus, which is pretty much what the pre-conversion days rated.
That may sound like a big, fat “duh,” but for me it came as a surprise — a rather liberating one. People who write about the Catholic Church tend either to love or hate it (or, more likely, they love their peculiar vision for it — traditionalist or progressive – and hate whatever stands in the way of realizing it). They write with such intensity, positing such extremes of good and bad, that I find myself wondering what planet they live on. I couldn’t hack it as a polemicist or an apologist; if I had to go around all day feeling enraged or exalted, I’d drop dead from nerves.
It was just when the bloom started coming off the rose that I found the Anchoress blog. I trust most of you will know exactly what I mean when I say I fell quite in love with Elizabeth’s authorial voice. It has a gritty authenticity I’ve found in few other places in the Catholic blogosphere. That’s not to say her style is in any way unpolished, or that her manner is anything but ladylike, but both clearly belong to a person who is unafraid to do the undone thing. Elizabeth can speak Church-speak and cite encyclicals with the best of them, but far more than most, she writes with the street savvy that can only be won through personal experience.. She may write with the team — her thinking is entirely orthodox, as far as I can tell — but she speaks for herself. Many Catholic writers default to the first-person plural; Elizabeth writes from the “I.” That’s gutsy.
I want to do the same thing — write about the life of faith from a distinctly (and distinctively) personal perspective. Don’t worry — dispatches from my navel won’t account for all my posts, or even for the majority. Its contents just aren’t that fascinating, even to me, and in any case I look forward to trying my hand at punditry and cultural criticism. But even on subjects of general interest, I’ll be writing from a personal slant — that of a Catholic convert who gets touched by grace, but very rarely; who believes that God is, but finds Him very far away; who detests his sin because he fears the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, etc., but still can’t help recalling some with a smile.
My writing won’t be to everyone’s taste. No one will mistake it for the broadcasts of Mother Angelica. If you’re one of those people who gravitates toward red-hot culture warriors, I doubt I‘ll make your list of favorites. I make no bones about my ambivalence toward much of what I’ve seen and learned in the Church. Getting to work through that ambivalence is one of the perks of writing, and to my own ear, my voice is at its most authentic and convincing when I address it head-on.
One thing I will not do is misrepresent Church teaching — at least not on purpose. In Rome, Elizabeth told a gathering of colleagues that the Catholic blogosphere needs clarity. Indeed. If the Church teaches X, it does no good for a blogger to pretend she really teaches Y, just because he might prefer it that way. There are, I understand, certain questions about which teachings have been defined infallibly and which still afford the believer some wiggle room, but I freely admit to being out of my depth in most of those debates. If I ever blog on such an issue, I’ll probably present both sides (or all sides, if there are more than two) and let some of you theology whizzes hash it out for yourselves. Might be quite an education for me.
Though I can be as earnest as the next thinking and feeling person, my humor can get pretty tangy.. It is not, however, cruel. There’s a real difference. To name two vastly more talented people, I’m a lot closer, in tone and technique, to Stephen Colbert than I am to Maureen Dowd. Judging by the number of people who protested when Matt Emerson endorsed Colbert as a stealth catechist, I expect that to cause problems. All I can say is, without license to crack myself up, I’d see no point in writing. If you read something you don’t like, you know where my combox is — tell me so. You probably won’t change my mind, but at least you’ll have had your day in court.
So you’ve been warned. Hopefully, you’ve also been enticed. Now that my colors are nailed firmly to the mast, let’s try to have fun with this.