To My Readers

First of all, let me apologize for calling you all a niche market. When I wrote that, I knew all but a few of you in the abstract — many of you, as you said yourselves, had been squirreling yourselves away in Lurkland. Now that we’ve had this chance to meet properly, I’m blown away. For one thing, every one of you knows how to construct a paragraph. For another, you all seem like very nice and down-to-earth people. Not one of you is strangling on an idee fixe, or has an axe to grind. Some day, you’ll all have to tell me what in hell you’re doing on the Internet.

I was pleased to see a few priests out there in the audience. I may be off the reservation in many respects, but I’m thoroughly Catholic in my knee-jerk reverence for anyone in Holy Orders or religious life. In my mental universe, all of you are super-highbrows, used to bedding down for the night with Apologia pro Vita Sua. If you’re reading my crap, then, well, maybe it’s not all crap after all.

It was also nice to hear from some non-Catholics. In this, the age of the New Evangelism, there seems to be a backlash against “false ecumenism”; apparently, Catholics are letting down the side unless they’re kicking the other guys in the groin with all due charity. Well, setting good theological boundaries is fine, I guess, but so’s finding common ground. If that common ground can’t include the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the primacy of the pope, let it be something more humdrum, like the agony of doubt, or of an inflamed eye.

Thank you, everyone, for your spiritual direction. (Here I applaud the restraint of my Episcopalian reader, who did not promise to leave the light on for me.) Riding out my indigestion of the soul will take a while — maybe a long while — but I have no intention of throwing in the towel at any time in the near future. I entered the Church at what the Chinese would euphemistically call an interesting time. Convinced Catholics complain, reasonably enough, about aggressive New Atheists and sensationalistic press coverage of the clerical sex abuse scandals. But pity the poor seeker who enters the Church just as the call goes out to restore Catholic identity! Barely has he had the chance to wash the chrism from his hair before his new friends are screaming at him to quit being a relativist and man the barricades.

I’ve formed a love-hate relationship with that kind of militancy. One on hand, it’s a headache. Catholic anthropology aside, I like to think of myself simply as a human being who’s trying to build a pleasant life for himself. I don’t ask much — just a career, a family, some nice vacations, maybe some sane and reliable friends. Being morally and emotionally bludgeoned toward radical witness isn’t quite what I’d bargained for. Despite squeezing in — so to speak — a two-part philippic against anal intercourse, my RCIA instructors never covered cultural counter-revolution.

On the other hand, well, interesting times are interesting times, aren’t they?. Not long ago, Alice von Hildebrand critiqued Christopher West’s presentation of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. In a bid for the attention of a society starved for sensuality by its Puritan heritage, West praises Hugh Hefner as “tarnished gold.” With a straight face — one doubts she has any other — Hildebrand writes back that the very mention of pornography “triggered an expression of horror on [deceased husband Dietrich von Hildebrand's] noble face.” Intellectuals can debate the merits of these writers’ respective positions, but this man on the street sees slick marketing in a death match with old-fashioned frumpery– and can’t tear his eyes away.

But when I try to write about this stuff, I find I have to handle the material with tongs. Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said about great minds discussing ideas, mediocre minds discussing events and small ones discussing people? I have a small mind, but a very active one. If minds were dogs, mine would be a Jack Russell terrier. Put it down to an underdevelopment of imaginative sympathy, but the person I find myself able to write about most confidently is…myself.

Believe me, I’m as sick as anyone of memoirs from undistinguished people. A few months ago, a young writer friended me on Facebook, asking my help in promoting her self-published memoir. Following a link to the book’s website, I was aghast. Judging by the promotional material, the book was exhibitionism, pure and simple. Anne Lamott remembers crumpling when an editor scolded her: “You think that everything that happens to you is interesting.” I got the sense that this author thought that events in her life weren’t merely interesting, but epochal. As I begged off the project, I hoped I’d never be too guilty of the same crime.

But for some reason, you, the good people who make up my readership, seem to like my personal reflections and anedcotes. (You were all too nice to say, “Meh” to my punditry, but I’ll say it for you.) Since I’m both a crowd-pleaser and a me-pleaser, I’ll happily keep it coming. Also to please us all, I’ll dedicate myself to quality control, keeping pieces short and sweet, easy on the angst, with a insight-to-confession ratio of .500 or higher. God willing, the finished product won’t read like Eat, Pray, Sneak a Smoke and Swear it’s the Last.

  • Marie Bernadette (@MbernadetteE)

    So, so incredibly glad to hear you’re not leaving us. I’m a bit of a lurker – commenting on blogs hasn’t been the most fruitful experience of my somewhat young life – but I thoroughly enjoy reading your writing. Witty with a dose of wonder, and good for the soul, despite whatever differences we may have.

    And while you have the absolute right to formulate your writing as you wish, a little angst isn’t a bad thing. Keep the revelations coming.

    [First, I'm delighted to have you for a reader, Marie Bernadette. Second, I shudder to recall what happened the last time a somewhat young woman with a taste for angst told me she liked my writing, even though she often disagreed with it. To save time, could I talk you into going ahead and slitting my throat now? I promise, I'll keep writing.]

  • Julia K.

    I missed commenting on your last post, but suffice to say that I love your blog. Please keep it coming. I’m Anglo-Catholic lurker and read about two dozen religious blogs, most of them Catholic, and yours is one of my favorites. It’s certainly the one I feel most comfortable with and respected by.

    Don’t feel pressured to explore hot topics, or to necessarily agree with the bishops when you do. You can make your blog whatever you want it to be. As long as you write with charity – even, and perhaps especially, when you’re pissed off – people will come away from it having learned at least charity.

  • Fr. Austin Fleming

    I’m catching up on your page and just read this post and the one it’s based on. The powerful combination of your insight, honesty and fine writing is a rare find online. Keep it coming!

  • Robster

    Glad you’re hanging in there. Just went to a men’s retreat this past weekend (which I enjoy) edat a well-known “liberal, progressive, cutting-edge” parish I used to go to. I left because while it did great at community, I found its orthodoxy suspect. Nonetheless, it still has its attractions. I’m still on the mailing list, anyway.

    I’m in the choir of a more orthodox parish 16 miles away. A sunday or two ago, the deacon gave a homily upholding the controversial sexual moral teachings of the RC Church. Something you would never hear about in the liberal parish. Which is the authentic Catholic parish?

    Such is the state of confusion and ambivalence in Catholicism today. A great illustration is Bill Donohue, founder of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights. I applaud his org.’s efforts to point out hypocrisy in treating Catholicism in a way they wouldn’t dare do to Judaism or Islam.

    However, I find Donohue’s personality a bit too strong and pugnacious. Heard him on EWTN Radio once, and a swore he was so mad he wanted to punch someone out! Afraid he might slug Raymond Arroyo just because he was nearby! His org’s doing a good job, though I suspect it of leaning a bit too obviously right. But his personality is a bit embarrassing.
    Hope this has some coherence. Sorry if I ramble.

    [Funny you should mention Donahue. I find myself warming to the old rogue, but for a strange reason. With his lumpy figure, thinning hair and balls-in-a-vice voice, he's the very picture of Everyman. I'd bet his socks don't even match. Now, vanity comes in many varieties, and I can't imagine anyone casting himself before the world via TV without a hefty share of it. But Donahue gives the impression of being above the normal kind. ]

  • Bonnie

    Dear Max,
    I entered the Church when you did. I consider myself (maybe wrongly so) Orthodox. I love your writings. I look forward to them. Much food for thought, and always a dose of reality. I thank you…..Bonnie

  • Alisha

    Yay! I’m so glad to read this! Just out of curiosity, how do you feel to be lurked at by so many? Freaky? Flattered? Lol.

    [More than anything, I find myself wanting to hear from you all more often. It helps to know who I'm writing for and what your interests are. Otherwise, I'm writing for some generalized reader whose portait I've constructed in my head. Or worse, I'm writing to piss off and alienate really nasty characters I've seen in other writers' comboxes.]

  • Steve Martin

    Just happened by.

    You’re an excellent writer, Max. I will be back to peruse and take a longer drink.

    Thank you.

    [You're very welcome, Steve, and thank you, too. When I saw your "King Tut" routine at the age of seven, I was hooked.


  • Marie E

    I love your reflections (though sometimes I don’t agree). But you’re a terrific writer and add light to my Catholicism. And, um, make me laugh out loud.

  • Chris

    Another lurker who looks forward to your essays. I’m a cradle Catholic, and I think we view the Church as a parent. We rebel in adolescence (and some never get over that), and with age, begin, like Mark Twain, to notice how much more intelligent the old girl is becoming. For coverts, like you, I suspect it is more like a marriage. There’s a point where the romance fades, and you realize that you’re not perfect and your spouse isn’t either. The honeymoon is over, but the marriage is beginning. It’s not suffused with rosy light–but it’s a lot more interesting!

    [If that's true, Chris, then we converts see the Church the way Jesus sees it -- as a bride. In a homily a few Holy Thursdays ago, my pastor asked us to put ourselves in Jesus' shoes in the Upper Room by telling us to imagine ourselves "as a bridegroom, preparing to marry a woman you knew would betray you." To this day, whenever I have these doubts, I imagine Jesus muttering to himself, "Oh, boy. There goes Lindenman again, ready to step out on me for a Mars bar." It's a sobering thought.]

  • Fr Brian Flanagan

    I am so glad to read your response to your readers. You have many more than you suspect, we just don’t usually write you. Thank you for your honesty and writing about all the messiness that is involved in being human and a true searcher of the Truth. God’s continued blessings upon you and your continued posting. Fr Brian

  • Penumbral Catholic

    While I do not doubt that that the Church has something to say, I am sure that she must find better language to say it. Thank you Max for your perceptive and honest commentary – perhaps it is people like you who will help the Church into a new and more humble way of speaking and acting. Looking in from New Zealand every day.

  • Robster

    Re vanity, see Mark Twain’s story, “The Esquimau Maiden’s Romance,” particularly the discussion regarding slop-tubs and Vanderbilt.

  • DWiss

    Very nice, Max. Glad to know that you’ll still be writing paragraphs that I have to read twice to fully understand.

    I’m still suggesting a motorcycle to help smooth out those spiritual bumps in the road. It works, even though theologians have ignored the technique for 2,000 years, 1,900 of which are excusable.

    Write on, Max!

  • Margaret

    Wow- what a relief! Thanks for keeping at it! And I am also glad that there is someone else out there that has to read some (most) of your paragraphs twice. And remarkably, I am not annoyed that I have to look up half the people you mention or references you make. I really enjoy your writing- thanks for the many laughs and new insights for my very small brain. But most of all, thank you for assuring me there is room in my beloved church even for me -M

  • jp

    Wohoo! Great news, Max! :)

  • Chris K

    It’s very reassuring to hear that you want our feedback. I think of blogs as virtual homes, and think it rude to comment on the blogger’s taste in decorating. But thank you for having us over, and as I enjoy my tea, I am confident that even in the event of a stroke or head injury (God forbid) you will always be a fantastic writer.

  • Holly in Nebraska

    Ditto. And I sympathize with some of your readers:

    A cry from the lefties was heard:
    “Dolan’s at it again! What a turd!”
    ‘Twas to Max’s delight.
    He blogged through the night.
    But I can’t understand a word.

  • Tim

    I find that your lengthier posts are what distinguish you from the other Catholic Patheos bloggers. While short and to the point (“red meat”) posts are good and all, I hope this isn’t the end of your longer ones.

    [It ain't.]

  • Elissa

    I have admired your writing since you were first linked to by the Anchoress. Your essays have often been ones that I have pondered long after reading. I confess to being a selfish lurker but I am very glad to hear that you will be continuing your writing.

  • Melody

    “…apparently, Catholics are letting down the side unless they’re kicking the other guys in the groin with all due charity.” That made me laugh, but it’s too close to the way things are right now for comfort. I’m glad your site is more about honest reflection (and some humor) than groin-kicking. I’m taking Lent off from getting involved in pro-wrestling/ice-hockey matches, but I’m still going to lurk around the places where it’s a little more peaceful.

  • Alana de Kock

    Hi Max
    I have responded to your articles before once or twice and I am really glad to se that you have not stopped writing. I read you from South Africa and always look forward to your next blog. Now the thing is that American Catholosism is very different from what Catholosism is here in SA, in the way it is lived out I mean. It is amongst us bolshy Saffers, common to disagree with our bishops statements, and the Cardinals, (we only get one). The trick is to do so intelligently and without vitriol.

    You are my favourite US blog writer, so; hang in there, keep thinking, keep discerning and keep writing. Oh and please could you stop pretending that you are not an intellectual…it is so very dull!

    [Thanks, Alana. Tomorrow, I'm posting a rather long piece about my own travels -- specifically, to China. Didn't one of your bishops recently get in trouble for speaking too candidly to the international press?]

  • Marissa Nichols

    Yes, keep it coming. I loved the Bassett Hound post (and I don’t even like dogs anymore). That, and you’re another Januarian….you’re therefore more than qualified to reflect on the world in writing!

    [How can a person stop liking dogs, just like that?]

  • Jedesto

    Max, it’s nice to know that there are other lurkers who neglect saying “Thank you for your blog, Max!”. I don’t mind if you think I’m in a niche, it’s really my 6th-or-so “Faith” childhood: baptized age 10 (days), confirmed age 13, married age 27, aggiornamentoed — hopefully for life — age 42, anointed for the first time age 80, discovered your blogs last year age 87; some niche, Huh? Thanks for your gift of articulating our ever-young Faith so well. I’m telling all my friends to read you. Blessings!

  • FoolishMortal

    I am a first time commenter (I think), long time lurker. I may have commented before, but I think that with my double bypass heart surgery (in January) my brain was deprived of oxygen for a while and my short-term memory is kind of fuzzy. I also have 9 coronary stents…but who’s counting anyway? (Not me!) I am sitting here typing, by the Grace of God, and I have learned that I don’t have time to waste, so I pick and choose my activities, whatever they may be, very carefully. Like when it comes to candy, I hold out for Godiva Chocolate over let’s say…Skittles (vile tasting things, I think). Yeah, Disneyland over Knott’s Berry Farm, definately, and when it comes to blogs, I only read the best. So please don’t deprive me of what I consider one of the many good things in my life–your blog! Thanks for the laughs, and the cool words I have to look up in the dictionary once in a while. =:o]

    “I am but a feather on the breath of God.” ~ Hildegard of Bingen