Monday, October 28, 2013

Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt by Kyle R. Cupp

About 4 weeks ago, I finished reading Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt - A Story of Belief, Uncertainty, and Boundless Love, by Kyle R. Cupp.

The book is very well written. For me, there were several "Ah, I understand" moments. There were also moments where I found myself saying out loud, "Come on Kyle!" I laughed a few times, and I cried a few more.

It has always been my intention to write about the book, but family and church responsibilities, surgery, and my own uncertainty (no pun intended) regarding how I would present it here caused a considerable delay.

Book reviews are not really what I do. To begin with, although I have always loved to read, I don't consider myself well-equipped to critique someone else's work.  No doubt (also no pun intended) as soon as I hit the "Publish" button on this post and begin to re-re-re-re-read what I have written, I will find multiple spelling and grammatical errors. I'll begin correcting those, all along wondering if I've made the points I set out to make or second-guessing various portions of what I've written.

Also, book reviews are usually brief (and a little "cold" in my opinion) which is also not something I'm generally comfortable with.

But what I do write about here is Faith, my life, and especially how Faith affects my life, and the lives of others; with special emphasis on the effect (for better or worse) my life has on others. 

There's another reason that this will not be your typical book review. I have "known" Kyle for several years. He is a member of my parish, and a staff member there as well. We've chatted (and sometimes sparred) many times about various political, religious, and even nonsensical topics. I read most of his blog posts, and we're connected on Facebook and Twitter too. I believe that this relationship is as important to discuss as the content of Kyle's book. In fact for me, they are inseparable.

So with these things in mind, if you're inclined to indulge in more than the average "get to the point" book review, I encourage you to continue.

How Do You Know?

More and more, I find it interesting that we perceive that we know someone when in fact we really "know" very little about them. As I stated earlier, "Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt" was not my first reading of Kyle's writing nor knowledge of some of his "beliefs".

My discussions with Kyle, coupled with his blogging and social media posts over the past six years or so had led me to believe that I "knew" him. But truthfully, during the past year and a half to two years, I began to wonder, "What's wrong with Kyle? Does he really believe some of this garbage he's posting, or is he just trying to spark a good debate?"

Garbage. That's a tough word to use about someone's writing. To be clear, it wasn't Kyle's style and surely not his lack of ability with words that sparked my ire. It was the content itself, the ideas, inclinations, and innuendos that were increasingly creeping into his posts. No, not really. Thinking retrospectively now, it was really my response to my own failure to properly ascribe Kyle to the appropriate "category" which I have set up in my mind so neatly and carefully.

I'm not sure if everyone does this categorizing thing, but it comes pretty naturally to me, and I can't remember a time in my life that I did not do it.

Oh, and I'm almost always right too. Like with Ray Boltz (a favorite Christian music performer, husband and father who later "came out"), Mike Warnke (a favorite Christian comedian and author whose work was based on his life's experiences as a Satanic high priest who later confirmed most of his testimony as an "embellishment"), and of course Fr. John Corapi (just listing him here in this context will make some people mad) - and these are just a few on a long list of "my failures" in this regard.

Communally Personal

But this thing with Kyle seemed worse. I mean, I actually "know" him. And there's more! Kyle's Catholic...a Catholic writer...a Catholic writer from my parish...who works in the parish office no less! I mean, this is personal.

I believed (still do) that someone who professes to be Catholic and writes about the Faith (or faith in general) should be careful so as not to mislead others or cause others to develop a void in faith where there was nothing previously lacking.

I became aware that there were considerably more of my fellow parishioners who regularly read my blog than I first thought. While I am always honest, I tend to be mindful of that when choosing my words, hoping not to be misunderstood. With Kyle writing considerably more than I do, coupled with his visibility as a parish staff member, my anguish for my fellow parishioners only increased. (Yes, I can be quite cerebrally dramatic.)

You see, a book about having doubts and trying to overcome them is one thing, but a book about "dwelling" in doubt...well, it was a bit much for me. Thoughts of Kyle substantiating doubt in a manner which could lead one to believe that it is okay to remain comfortably in doubt with no intention of an "assent to the truth" and of a celebration of sorts of this disposition were racing through my mind.

I decided that I would not read the book. I made this decision precisely because I like Kyle. I know many of my own weaknesses. I did not want to be further upset with Kyle for not conforming to my way of thinking.

No Joke

So can you imagine how distraught I was when the parish electronic newsletter came out announcing that the parish Book Club would be taking up "Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt" as it's next assignment? can't.

I'm pretty sure I vocally exclaimed one of my favorites, "You've got to be kidding me!"

But it was no joke. There it was. Certainly this would be seen as a parish endorsement. Soon, we'd have a parish full of doubters. As if we don't have enough Catholics going through the motions now. Sheesh!

I've never participated in the Book Club before, but I just could not imagine that they've exhausted the great Catholic literary works or theological commentaries.

But there it was. Oh, it made the parish bulletin too - and I think a parish announcement as well.

Yes, this was now causing distress for me with regards to other persons in the parish office. And don't my priests watch for this sort of thing?

And receiving a few personal e-mails and telephone calls from other concerned parishioners and acquaintances only confirmed that I was not alone in my thinking.

This was no joke. Now I HAD to read THAT book.

A Good Time to Read

Several months ago, I woke up at 4am. Unable to go back to sleep, I decided to begin praying. This happened a few days in a row, and before I knew it, I had developed a new habit. It seemed like a pretty good one, and so I stuck with it.

I decided to get in about thirty minutes or so of Kyle's book daily after my prayer time. I purchased the digital version for my Kindle, so it was easy and convenient to read in my dimly lit living room.

Convenience though, turned out to be a good time for me to read. During my prayer time, I do a lot of personal reflection. I think it was good to go into reading each day knowing just a little more about myself.


From the very first chapter, there were some unexpected feelings for me.

The first was a sense of deep pain as Kyle shares a heart-felt conversation with his wife, Genece. The pain was for Genece. I hardly "know" Genece, although she too of course is a member of my parish, and we're "connected" on Facebook.

Genece posts far less than Kyle, but what she does post, coupled with what I have witnessed at our church, give me that perception of somehow knowing something about her.

Minimal as that may be, it was enough to hurt for her and what I thought she must have been feeling during that time.

But I also began to feel for Kyle. I could sense his own hurt. At first, I thought it was only the hurt he must have felt as a husband can only feel for his hurting wife, knowing that it is he who has caused the pain. Soon though, I sensed a pain beyond that; a personal pain that I perceived Kyle was also experiencing.

And not that I think I "needed it" at such an early stage, but by the close of the very first chapter, I realized that this book was not going to be Kyle's attempt to persuade me or anyone else to negatively re-assess our own faith. It did make reading a little more "comfortable" - or at least I thought it would.

Stained-Glass Lives

Kyle describes a childhood which is theologically confusing, to say the least, his father being Budhist and his mother, Catholic.

Kyle experiences further confusion brought on by his parents divorce, changing schools and friendships, substantially different religious experiences and expectations, and experiences of two households that became increasingly "incompatible".

He uses an analogy for his life as that of a stained-glass window which shatters. The pieces of broken glass on the floor are representative of his life and his inability to properly put all of the pieces together.

Personal experiences (although extremely different from Kyle's) help me to relate to this analogy very well. I see how it fits in the lives of many people that I love, and I suspect that it most likely fits in some way or another with each of us.

Kyle was connecting.

Laughing, Crying, Come On Man!

Kyle shares several stories from throughout his life.

Most of his college-life stories or depictions of himself kept me laughing.

His personal presentation of the loss of his children, Francis and Vivian brought me to tears. Tears for the children, for Genece and Kyle, and connected in a way that brought tears for some of my own losses as well.

Honestly, I'm not much of a philosophy fan, so knowing how much Kyle loves philosophy, his assertion that philosophy "really screws up your head" gave me an exceptional chuckle.

And although I was glad to see Kyle assert more about what he believes than what he doubts, there were certainly times throughout the book that can be depicted as "Come on Kyle!" moments.

These are moments when as a Catholic reader and believer I just want him to go a little farther. Times when he begins to share something about his Catholic Faith and then seems to regress with statements like "some days I feel more kinship with atheists and agnostics than with my fellow Catholics." or "I have deceived myself too often to stake my faith on something as unreliable as certainty."

But these statements no longer make me mad. They challenge me...personally.

Communities of Faith

This is the title of Chapter 23. In it, Kyle asserts that communities of faith "exist to nourish and nurture the life of faith that underlies all true relationships." He goes on to say, "This ought to be the purpose of religious communities."

It is here, and in his epilogue in which Kyle states, "I am a man broken, beyond repair, but not beyond hope." that solidified what I had already been feeling throughout my reading experience.

I never really "knew" Kyle. And frankly, there are many other people in my "community of faith" that I "know" even far less.

Now in reality, we will really only develop a small number of real relationships within our communities of faith, but we ought to do our best to develop those with which we can.

From the Catholic perspective, more than any other that I am aware of, we are all especially connected with one another through Christ. I came to understand and regret just how undeveloped my relationship with Kyle really is.

I'm not talking about developing a relationship where we or our families "hang out", but one by which I go beyond "I really like Kyle" to one in which I can say that I love him. He is a brother of mine through our connected relationship with Jesus and through our Catholic Faith.

Perhaps if we all begin to look deeper, to see the brokenness that we all share but share in a personally different way, we can begin to help each other heal.

We may not be able to put the pieces of our shattered stained-glass lives together, but we can at least bind each other's wound when those shards of life's glass cuts us.

Maybe I can stop focusing on myself or fooling myself into thinking that I'm focused on others. Maybe you can too.

Who knows; maybe we can help each other move through those times of doubt and begin living more and more by faith.

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