Ignore the title for a moment. Take a deep breath...close your eyes...and think about the word....DISCIPLINE.....think about what your first reaction was.
If you're like me, your first thoughts aren't good ones. You start thinking of your kids and how you may have had to put them in time out or scolded them. All these negative thoughts start filtering in. You may have even allowed your mind to float to a time in your own childhood where you endured "discipline."
Believe it or not discipline is not supposed to be a negative word. It simply means to be taught. That's right "to be taught." Now do you feel a little better. And the word disciple means "a follower."
I've mentioned that I'm from Mississippi. I grew up in the Bible belt as a Catholic, which is not fun. The phrase "Are you a disciple of Christ?" came up more than once and I was never (as a child) sure how to answer that. Usually I just gave the person asking a confused look and a hesitant "yes."
I recently have been reading this book about self-esteem and children from the early 70s. In the book there is a chapter about what discipline is and the author mentioned what a disciple was. Then I had one of those light bulb moments that Oprah always talks about. I started reading the chapter not from the prospective of a soon-to-be parent but from the prospective of a follower of Christ. That's when everything about that phrase came into focus.
I think that when I was asked the question "Are you a disciple of Christ?" it was a loaded question. I originally thought that it meant "Are you a Christian?" but really the phrase means something entirely different to me now. What it means is "Do you follow the rules of Christ?" Discipline or teaching is establishing rules which the followers or disciples follow. The reason why the question is so loaded is because if it's coming from a Protestant it usually means "Do you follow the Bible?" because that is where their "rules" come from.
I get really upset with many Protestants because they don't follow any kind of tradition. They feel that the Bible is "perfect" and everything in it is "factual." I have to remind them that the Church was around before the Bible was. That still doesn't matter to them because some Protestants believe that God literally wrote the Bible. For the record, God did not prick his finger and write the Bible in his blood. He spoke to people who then in their own imperfect ways preached the messages. Later these messages were written down. So nothing is "perfect" about the Bible or we would include the gnostic gospels in the Bible.
The Bible is up to many different interpretations or how people view how the rules are. In the book, the author talks about how families establish rules and that each family has it's own set number. Some families have few rules, and some families have many rules. So too do all denominations have a few rules and others have many. Some write them down and others do not. Take the Catholic church. We have a hierarchy. The Southern Baptist Convention has more of loose group or coalition. The Catholic Church has published a huge book called "The Catechism of the Catholic Church" which is a list of all the rules. The SBC has more of an outline without any particular publishing of rules for its followers.
We also are disciples or followers. All denominations claim to follow Christ's rules, but as I mentioned it just depends on what that denomination thinks those rules are. So I suppose really if you want to come down to it that person was asking me "Do you follow the SBC?" and no I do not. I do, however, follow Christ.
And this is where I diverge from conservative Catholics. Because if a Catholic came up to me and asked the same question "Do you follow the teachings of the Church?" I would say "no." Alright, don't get pissed off just yet. Bear with me. Take a deep breath. And for those of you who are Protestants don't get all victorious with me yet.
I follow Christ's teachings. Christ didn't teach about many things that the Church teaches today. There is nothing written about birth control in the Bible and there wasn't really any form of it in the early Church either. Only recently has it been a topic of hot debate. And there are many issues like that that are similar. I really don't understand why birth control is such a hot button issue. It's not like you're destroying anything. Why isn't smoking a bigger issue? There is nothing in the Catechism that says "don't smoke" and there are no ecclesiastical letters about the issue. But smoking kills more people than birth control does. And personally I think that Christ would find the promotion of smoking more horrific than birth control because it kills and we're "not loving our neighbor" if we allow the smoking ads to continue.
And that's why I have a problem with blindly following the rules of the Church. Some are too strict and others are too lax to what I believe Christ would have felt. You ask a Catholic American "Are you proud to be an American?" and they say yes. You ask "Do you support the troops?" "Yes." "Do you support the war?" and then the answers diverge because of political reasons. If I told a person that it did not matter to Jesus the political reasons behind war, that Jesus did not even believe in self-defense. People would think that I had gone off the deep end. Jesus never defended himself from being killed. He never ran away. He did not strike anyone. Yet we go to battle in poor defenseless countries like Afghanistan because "we have to defend ourselves." Defend ourselves from what? Poor people who are already oppressed. Oh, I'm sure someone is thinking about Bin Laden. But trust me we didn't have to invade the country and kill thousands of people to go after one guy. Even if your not a pacifist like me, you can still see how stupid that was. Even the Vatican agrees. Although their official position on war is that it is justified as a means of defense. But even I think that is stupid. Gandhi, Jesus, and Martin Luther King Jr showed me that you don't have to win battles with arms.
So does that make me a Cafeteria Catholic? Which by the way, is a horrible term. I agree that some people want to live in the world, and not follow certain rules because the rules don't follow societies norms. But please, the Catholic church doesn't entirely follow Jesus's rules either. Smoking and war anyone?
The Church also flip flops on issues. Take modesty for instance. Traditionally women are supposed to wear dresses or skirts that go past the knees, shirts that go down to the elbows, and collars that are only two finger widths down and no lower. We're also supposed to cover our heads. And no one does that anymore. No matter how conservative your church may be; I haven't seen anyone following those guidelines accept St. Peters in Rome. Why is that? Why can't priests who encourage people not to take communion because they support abortion not turn people away from Mass because of how risque their apparel is? It makes no sense to me.
Nor does the fact that in the past the Church also told women that they could not practice any form of birth control including the NFP method. That's right ladies. The church said you could not control when you had sex in order to have some control over how many children you had. Now you can as long as it's NFP. I've read JPII's letter. I still don't get it. I've even had some conservative friends ignore the letter because they consider NFP to be a form a birth control. Which NFP is a form of birth control but other forms are "horrible and unnatural." Hummm....
So you see I am a disciple of Christ and I believe that's more important than following the Church's rules. When I die, the Pope isn't going to judge me. God is. I'm more worried that I didn't try to help the innocent and the poor than if I used NFP or not. So I guess you have to decide. Do you follow Christ or the Church? What is the more important focus of your life: living a modest faith filled life or following everything the Church says down to the letter? Because I don't think that you can have your cake and eat it too.
Yes, I'm a Catholic. I'm a Catholic because I believe in tradition and in the Eucharist. I'm not a Catholic because of hot button issues, which is what I feel that many conservative Catholics think means to be Catholic.