Timothy Putnam and the Weightiness of Becoming Catholic

Photo Source: Timothy Putnam, all rights reserved by Timothy Putnam.

Timothy Putnam and his wife, becoming Catholic. Photo Source: Timothy Putnam, all rights reserved by Timothy Putnam.

There is something weighty in the decision to become Catholic. Timothy Putnam

There is something weighty in the decision to become Catholic. Indeed there is. Sing it, say it, live it, my brother in Christ.

Timothy Putnam has “it.” That “it” is a genuine searching willingness to follow Jesus, even when — not if, but when — He leads us down pathways we would never have chosen on our own. It takes a bit more honesty and a lot more faith than most people are willing to commit to Jesus to stand up in front of the little g gods of this world, turn your back on them and walk away.

Faith, real faith, in the Living Christ is the key to following Him. If you don’t believe — really, truly, absolutely believe — that He is God, then you will not follow Him in this costly, unquestioning way of the Way.

Timothy Putnam follows.

He’s the best kind of follower, the only kind, that, when the bills are toted up, up yonder, matters. He’s the kind of follower who does not trim his faith to fit the world. He bases his activities in the world on his faith.

That is, indeed, a “weighty” thing. When it is coupled with the 2,000 year old teachings of the Church that Jesus founded and Peter first governed, the “weight” is the weight of a peaceful certainty that you don’t have to figure it out yourself. All you have to do is follow the path that is laid out for you in the Catechism, and that is explicated for you by the Pope.

Timothy Putnam has, like so many converts, a fresh and unalloyed love of the Church that comes from having been without it. Doing without the Catholic Church while you try to wend your way through the world can be hard going. It is the heavy slog of someone who has to make each and every decision for themselves.

Is it a sin to do this, or that, or whatnot?

We Catholics have that part easy. We can just put our foot down and slide to heaven by simply staying on the highway to heaven that is the Catholic Church.

But everything has a price. The free gift of eternal life was purchased for us by the ignominious crime of Calvary. We did our worst and God did His best and the result was our everlasting good.

The gift of following Christ has the continuous and ongoing price of being out of step with the world. There is no safe harbor for someone who does their best to follow Jesus and Him alone, no group of buddies, no political safe house where you can just do what your gang does and still follow Him.

If you try to follow Jesus, you are always going to end up an outlier. That’s just a fact.

For some folks like Timothy Putnam, it becomes even more fraught. Jesus calls a few people to step out on the ice of life and follow Him on a path the leads away from safe incomes and guaranteed benefits.

If you are single and He calls you to step out in faith into the shifting uncertainties of a ministry, then you risk a little. At most, you risk your own comfort. You alone suffer the loss of income. You alone must step through the chop of starting up, the long hours, the set-backs and the simple fact that faithful ministry does not and never will be a source of wealth.

But if you are the parents of what Timothy calls a “brood” of seven children, then stepping out is “weighty” for real.

I’ve met Tim’s family, and they are beautiful. His wife is as faithful and committed to Christ as he is. His children are intelligent, bright, inquisitive, fearless and good. Of all the things I know about Timothy Putnam, this is the best. He does not fail in his first vocation, which is to be a faithful father and husband.

He is a manly man in the for-real Christian way of being a manly man, which is to say that he loves, cherishes and cares for his family. This genuine manliness is a far cry from the tinfoil manliness of abusiveness and swaggering braggadocio that is being sold right now. One is the basis for civilization. The other is one of the roots of evil and destruction.

When Timothy Putnam and his wife made the decision to give up a job as the Director of Family and Pro Life for the Diocese of Tulsa and take up full-time ministry, it was a weighty decision. It meant giving up the benefits and security of steady employment and just following.

The result was the thoughtful, teachful blog here on Patheos, A Belief Observed. If you haven’t read it, you should give it a look. The “belief” it observes is that of a faithful Catholic father, husband and growing voice in Catholic media.

In addition to this blog and other activities, Tim hosts a great radio program called Outside the Walls.

Outside the Walls airs Saturdays at 4 pm central time, and on Sundays at 11 am central time. It’s on Breadbox Media, which has been endorsed by its local bishop for its fidelity to the Church. You can download it on iTunes, follow it on Facebook, and Twitter,  or just tune in on your computer or radio. You can also book Timothy as a speaker.

Outside the Walls  is a compendium of Church teaching, Bible study and thoughtful discussion about living Catholic in the world today. All this is put together and presented by an actual, faithful, Catholic husband and father who walks the walk.

I believe with all my heart that faithful Catholics need to support and uphold one another. Tune in and give it a listen. Then, tell you friends about it. You’ll be glad you did.

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Saying Good-bye to Old Friends and the Me I Used to Be

Conversion.

Three syllables. 

It’s not even a pretty-sounding word. Kun – vur – shun. 

But when the conversion in question is  a switch from an anti-god viewpoint to an allegiance to Jesus Christ, it has the power to sweep away everything in its path. Conversion means more than reciting a formulaic prayer. It isn’t about anything you do, at least not initially. In the beginning, conversion, at least as it was for me, is just a matter of saying yes.

I’ve tried many times to find the words to describe the feeling of that moment when I stepped from death to life. I have never found them. There may be no words.

I said, “Forgive me.” That’s all. Just “forgive me,” and I felt this Other, this ecstatic love and joy reach out to me. There was a physical sensation of love filling me. I believe now that what happened must have been the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” that I’ve heard about, but I had no idea of this at the time.

I also had no idea what to do. None. I just waited for the new Being who was with me to guide me.

I do remember, as I entered into the life of a practicing Christian, that I thought that I wouldn’t be like the other Christians. I wouldn’t lose the friends I had before I converted. I would be cool. Nothing was going to change. I was going to keep on being the same person I had always been, believing the same things I had always believed. I would be the cool Christian with all her anti-God friends.

I didn’t tell anyone about my conversion at first. I wasn’t hiding it. I was reveling in the joy. Also, I just didn’t know what to do or say. A month went by before it came into my head to go to a large Methodist Church here in Oklahoma City.

It was the perfect church for the cool Christian I was trying to be at that time. It was the sort of place where I could be as cafeteria about my faith as my coolness required and still be exposed to what I needed to grow in grace with time. I didn’t hide my new church-going ways.  But I didn’t advertise them, either. I didn’t hide the fact that I was now a Christian, but I didn’t push it on anyone or bring it up in conversations when no one else was talking about it.

For no reason that I could discern most of my anti-God acquaintances pulled away from me, anyway. Cool as I was, they didn’t want any part of me. I was ok with that. I was still cool and still hanging on to the people who really mattered to me.

I didn’t reckon with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. God didn’t seem to mind if I wanted to begin my Christian life by being cool. He just didn’t pay much attention to it. At that stage, He didn’t seem to be trying to change what I did. He was changing what I wanted to do.

That’s something that you don’t realize when you’re a baby Christian bent on being cool. God doesn’t start demanding more from you than you can do. He begins by loving you and teaching you; by changing you at the core instead of on the periphery where all your coolness is focused.

I was a slow learner and a slow changer. I tried with all my heart to hold onto my old ways; my old friends. When I began to change, I even went so far as to try to hide the changes from them, to somehow slip by without talking to them about it because I loved them and I knew that if they understood that I was no longer who I had been, it would be the end of our friendship.

I still remember the way I cringed inside when an atheist friend of mine looked at me and said, “You’ve changed.” It was both a challenge and an accusation, harsher than if he’d caught me stealing the family silver.

What he was responding to, identifying against my will, was that he saw the spirit of Christ in me. There is nothing anyone should be prouder of than that, but I felt caught. Exposed. I had tried so hard to be cool.

“You’ve changed.” he accused, and in that accusation was his acknowledgement that we were no longer intellectual and moral twins. I had become what he despised. “Changed,” he said. And he was right.

He was the first real friend to fall away. And the least painful of the lot.

I should have learned then, but I didn’t. I was deeply tethered to Christ, and emotionally and intellectually immersed in the Holy Spirit, but even though I faithfully attended the large Methodist Church each Sunday,  I felt no connection with the people there. Odd as this sounds, they were too lukewarm in their commitment to Christ. I wanted — hungered — for someone else who loved Him as I did. I went to that church for nine years and never made a close friend.

Was that why I tried to hang on to the friends of my past life? Or was it something else? In truth, I still struggle to understand myself. I just couldn’t, wouldn’t, see that the friendships I’d had were based on externals and not the deep bonding I craved.

This was wrong. It was cowardly. But it is what I did.

You cannot continue to be who you were before you became a follower of Jesus Christ. There is no middle ground between His teachings and what He requires of you and the intimacy of true friendship with unbelievers. It’s taken me a long time and more than a few heartbreaks to accept this.

You cannot serve two masters. Jesus said that. I am thankful that my attempts at being cool never led me so far astray that I questioned who my Master truly was.

Jesus had me at hello. From the first moment of my conversion, I was totally and completely in love with My Savior. Even though I tried mightily to avoid the consequences of lost friendships, when a choice was forced on me, I always chose Christ. It was not even a decision. I am His. That’s what and who I am.

Abortion and same-sex marriage divide people more than any other issues. That was true of me and that old gang of mine as well. I tried to avoid confrontations with my former pro choice friends, but there’s no hiding such things long-term. God had changed me. I truly was a pro life Christian.

Same-sex marriage took an even deeper toll. My best friend was a gay man. I love him like a brother. He is family to me.

If there was any way that I could keep my friendship with him without going against the teachings of my Church and turning my back on Jesus, I would do it.

But I can’t. And he can’t.

I have no problem as a Christian advocating for human rights for gay people. None. I am convinced and my Church teaches that unjust discrimination against gay people is a sin. If it wasn’t for the battlefield same-sex marriage has become, I think they would find that the Catholic Church, which defends human rights for all people, was their best advocate.

But to many gay people, same-sex marriage has become the sine qua non of their human rights. They see opposition to same-sex marriage as a repudiation of them as people. When their Christian friends come out against it, they feel betrayed and used. Friendship can not survive that kind of breach. So it was with my friend and me.

I found myself at the same pass over and over again. I tried to be cool and keep my old friends, but when I was forced to chose, I always, inevitably, chose Christ. The result of my many attempts to be cool, to hang onto my friendships from the past was hurt feelings and broken hearts all around.

If I have one piece of advice for a new convert, it would be to take the lick of lost relationships all at once and get it over with. Know that your old self is dying and a new self in Christ is being born. Turn your face to your future with Christ. I am not blaming anyone but myself for the mistakes I made, but I do wish I had had a Christian mentor to tell me that at the time. I might not have listened, but … I also might have.

Conversion is three syllables which mean “to change in character, form, or function.” That meaning is a good description of the long-term action of the Holy Spirit on a human soul. You change, not in a moment, but continuously, as God slowly “converts” you into what you were meant to be from the beginning.

Unfortunately, all change also means loss. In the case of a radical re-orientation of how you see yourself and all of creation, the loss will ultimately be everyone and everything that remains attached to your other life before Christ became your life. You can not serve two masters. You will, no matter how you try to avoid it, have to chose.

I think the fear of this is what drives so many Christians to hide their faith. The pain of loss when the people you’ve loved become your enemies is exquisite. This leads to a powerful temptation to go along to get along, to hide your faithfulness under a cloak of not saying much when you should be saying a lot. But you can’t hide forever. God won’t let you. At some point, you’ve got to come out, and when you do that, you will have to chose. Either you will chose to follow Christ and alienate those people who are against Him, or you will chose to follow them and lose Christ.

“Do you love me more than these?” Jesus asked.

He’s asking it of each of us today.

We live in a time when Christianity is being pushed to the corners of life, when our faith is challenged from all points of the compass in so many ways it’s difficult to enumerate them. Those of us who have walked the other side of the street are faced absolutely with the question, “Do you love me more than these?”

No matter how much we try to hide our light under a bushel, no matter the effort we make to be quiet and slide by when we are with old friends, we will, eventually, have to chose.

Despite all my weaknesses and many failings, my answer is and always has been, I chose Christ. 

 

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