Beyond Parochial Faith

My memoir, Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses is now available at 

Six years ago, a woman rang my doorbell and said she walked a mile to tell me that my book, God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky: Cherishing Christianity without Its Exclusive Claims, had a profound effect on her. Its subversion of common Christian belief seemed undeniable but left her bereft. She asked me to write a sequel for persons like herself who wonder, “If not Christianity, then what?”

Beyond Parochial Faith offers some answers.
My fire-of-purification story traces my evolving views of religions and spirituality, culminating in faith I call “secular.” It weaves together strands of my life—alcoholic husband and mid-life meltdown, judgmental siblings and prudish aunts, Carl Jung and Father-Son myth, the Goddess and the historical Jesus, lord-gods and sexual abuse, atheists and naïve seminarians, Teilhard de Chardin and quantum theory, Benedictines and Somalis—to support my faith in an inner realm called “God.”

Reared in Catholicism, I developed doubts about doctrine and tried atheism. Countless books and experiences later, I attend Mass with Benedictines and remain a friend of atheists while rejecting both literal religious belief and scientific materialism.  My critique shows how sexist God-talk is connected to the #MeToo movement.

Hundreds of authors unmask patriarchy in Christianity, evincing hunger for spirituality free of religious indoctrination. Some stay in the Catholic Church to urge reform from within. I do.

I hope readers of my memoir gain a fresh perspective on their own relationships and their own interior lives by observing mine.
I hope you see that a deep spiritual life does not have to be connected with religion. I hope you draw courage to question doctrines that make no sense to you.

Visit my website to order and learn more.  You can also order from my publisher.

Why "Parochial" Faith?  July 11, 2019
On my way to being interviewed on the local radio station, KASM, I found myself on a gravel road that couldn’t possibly be the right way. I didn’t know the way, though I’ve been on that radio station countless times over decades.

I even brought students there one time. We were ushered into the studio while some tape was playing, so we were gabbing animatedly—my voice as loud as any. The announcer told us to quiet down, then said it more insistently, and finally roared, SHUT UP! Just in time for his mike to come on and our time on the radio to begin.

But back to this time and my floundering on the way to the station. I was getting panicky. Imagining the announcer having to fill in with some other content and wondering what change in the road I’d missed. Twice I stopped the car to ask for directions. But I got there in time.

Brad Mielke asked great questions. Obviously he'd studied information on Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses because he dug right into religion and spirituality. I expected we’d focus on my German/Catholic upbringing and local history.
“What’s wrong with calling God Father?” he asked.
“Nothing, except it’s not enough. What’s wrong with calling God Mother?  The Church doesn’t allow that. We never hear ‘Her’ or ‘She.’”

“I read that you grew up in a “blanketing Catholic climate,” he said. “Why the word “blanketing”? Did you mean ‘smothering’ or ‘isolating’?”

“I thought of using the word ‘smothering’ but it’s too harsh. ‘Blanketing’ also suggests warming and comforting. I’ve moved beyond the parochial faith of my childhood but my upbringing gives me stability and security that I think a life without religion might lack.”

On my way home I reminded myself of more ambiguities. As “blanketing” has more than one meaning, so do the words “parochial” and “confession” in my title—Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses.

My childhood faith was parochial in being narrow and limited, also parochial in the type of grade school I attended. A confession can be exposure of some kind, in my case personal secrets. A confession also can be a formal declaration of faith such as the Confessions of Augustine of Hippo. Mine is not a formal confession but I hope parts of my book set readers thinking hard about their own beliefs.

My rattled mind on my way to the station gave me an “in” to talk about the distinction between rational knowing and intuitive knowing. To talk myself out of panicking because I didn’t know the way, I reminded myself that I have the tendency to experience rising anxiety when I’m in the car alone trying to find a place. I know this about myself intuitively, without external, rational proof.

Scientists’ rational minds may know there is no God because they see no evidence of God. The same scientists may know without doubt that God exists through their intuitive experience. Intuitive knowing leaps to conclusions without external evidence that can be tracked. Intuitively we know people are likely to behave in certain ways.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience William James quotes intuitive believers in God. One said,
God surrounds me like the physical atmosphere. . . . I have the sense of a presence, strong, and at the same time soothing, which hovers over me. Sometimes it seems to enwrap me with sustaining arms.
Another said,
God is more real to me than any thought or thing or person. . . . [It] answers me again and again, often in words so clearly spoken that it seems my outer ear must have carried the tone . . . love for me and care for my safety. I could give hundreds of instances, in school matters, social problems, financial difficulties, etc. . . . Without it life would be a blank, a desert, a shoreless, trackless waste.
I hope Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses inspires more satisfying discussions like the one Brad Mielke gave me. To buy my book visit

Preview of my memoir, May 24, 2019

I am waiting for my publisher to release my memoir, Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses. With this book on my mind, I’m postponing my promised reflection on how Mary Magdalene’s influence can be detected in the unique Fourth Gospel.

The first chapter of Beyond Parochial Faith describes what my life was like living in the unique German-Catholic culture of Stearns County, Minnesota. One of my endorsers says I bring you into the strange world of my puritanical childhood. True.

But here’s a more cheerful look. Asking for input on rural schools in Stearns County, I received this lovely description by Bernadette Weber, OSB. I posted it here two years ago.

Attending District 125 Public Country School was a rich experience.
            Being among 50 students in 8 grades with one teacher helped us be creative in using our time. When in the lower and middle grades, I would listen to the interesting classes of the upper grades.
            We had wardrobes to keep our coats etc. (one for the boys and one for the girls).
            When I finished my assigned work, I got to take the first graders for reading class in the wardrobe. Although I wasn’t aware of it, that was my first practice teaching.
            We also had a library, so could spend time reading books.

In our school all the students and the teacher were Catholic. When I think about it, we were like a parochial school. We had a crucifix in the classroom and had Bible History classes twice a week and The Baltimore Catechism the other three days.

We probably got more religion than parochial school students. We also went to religion classes on Saturdays. On Sundays the pastor would ask catechism questions from the pulpit.

We got to participate at the county fair. I remember being in the exclamatory contest. There were also spelling bees.

Recess time we usually played with our classmates.  The classes had their sections of the playground in which to play their choice of games. Of course, anyone who could play ball did so. The pump for our drinking water was in the way when we played, so we had to be careful. My sister, knocked out a tooth bumping into the pump.

At the end of the school term we had a picnic. It wasn’t just food. We also had races of every kind: running races, sack races, high jumping., stilt walking.

Name it, we did it. We got our exercise at recess, at picnics and walking to school. My home was 2 ½ miles from school. Think of it: a first grader walking 5 miles a day.

Since we were in school with brothers and sisters, we never tattled. Anyway, with my parents the teacher was always right. Respect for authority was upheld.

Bernadette is older than me and I went to the village school, not a one-room school, and we didn’t call it a wardrobe. We called it “the cloakroom.” In the early grades I didn’t know what cloaks were. 

But Bernadette describes the thoroughly Catholic culture of my childhood. Our school stood next to the church, priest’s house, and parish cemetery. We ate lunch in the parish hall. During my primary grades, the priest came into school to teach catechism. 

Nora Luetmer, OSB, wrote a master’s thesis titled, “The History of Catholic Education in the Diocese of St. Cloud: 1855-1965.” It gives more evidence of public schools in the county being treated like parochial schools. But during my school days—in the 1950s—changes started appearing. 

By my seventh and eighth grades, the public school changed from just acting Catholic to becoming legally a Catholic parochial school funded by the parish. Some parishioners couldn’t understand why they should pay taxes for education twice. 

Much more coming soon.  Also more on women in the exceptional Fourth Gospel.

My next book soon, March 15, 2019

Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses is on the way. Emails tell me I haven't written about it enough. I learned that not all my readers know another book of mine is on the way. Beyond Parochial Faith is a memoir telling, not only about outer events in my life, but my inner evolutionhow my faith evolved beyond my very-Catholic upbringing on a Stearns County farm.

My story includes a grandmother heading off lecherous men, my midlife meltdown, the historical Jesus and the Goddess, both clueless and astute seminarians, helpful and astute Benedictines, atheists, Teilhard de Chardin, and Carl Jung,

I define faith as trust in spiritual power. With this I join everyone else who accepts something other than outer things we can see, feel, hear, smell, or taste. A few people I know and more whose writings I read don't believe anything else exists. Called scientific materialists, they deny the existence of any spiritual reality.

Scientific materialists are created by religious preaching that makes no sense. I went through the same disbelief, but life soon told me that, whatever the failings of religions, we're not just cells and molecules.

Our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and expectations are far more important than the stuff of us felt by outer senses. Deep inside we are God-stuff. Religions suggest this with myths, but they do it in a way that misleads.

One consequence for the Catholic Church is the clergy sex abuse scandal. After the abuse summit called by Francis at the Vatican, I wrote a letter to National Catholic Reporter commenting on the outcome. Instead of taking effective action, the bishops responsible for this raging scandal cluelessly, stubbornly, clung to clergy culture. American bishops proposed that archbishops take care of it by investigating bishops.

NCR printed my letter. I can't find it online so I print it here:
"Vatican likely to empower archbishops on abuse claims against bishops" (NCR, Dec. 28-Jan. 10):
Clerics investigating clerics are expected to mend the clerical sex abuse scandal? With this suggestion, the U.S. bishops show they still don't get it. Expecting clerics to clean house in their own ranks is precisely what perpetuated the problem. 
The only fix worth considering is to release control to laypeople and secular authorities. Conferences of the Catholic hierarchy produce only more controlling patriarchal claptrap
Feminine energy is needed to balance clerical culture. If the prelates sincerely want reform, they will ordain women, let themselves be re-educated by women theologians, fill seminaries with women faculty, and practice praying to Her as well as to Him.
Thank you, NCR, for printing my non-conformist letters.
NCR plus good Catholics in my life keep me in the Church, which I left for a while but went back to. I invite you to watch my journey in Beyond Parochial Faith when it comes out.

November 16, 2018

Yesterday I sent my completed manuscript, Beyond Parochial Faith: A Catholic Confesses to my publishing company, Wipf and Stock. They publish mainly academic religious works, but mine is a memoir.

I combine my personal story of growing up German Catholic in Stearns County with my spiritual evolution. As a lifelong educator I aim to educate with this book too. It exposes my deepest vulnerabilities to encourage readers as they experience the pain of their own wounds.
I hope my story eases the spiritual work required of absolutely everyone—reflecting on our lives, honoring our pain, and grappling with life's questions. I reveal my secrets because seeing another's story somehow makes it easier to face one's own. 

Beyond Parochial Faith weaves together alcoholic husband and mid-life meltdown, judgmental siblings and prudish aunts, the Goddess and the historical Jesus, the Father/Son myth and Carl Jung, atheists and Benedictines. I aim to inspire self-awareness, to open minds. to broaden horizons.

This book started four and a half years ago with a series of articles in Crossings, the magazine published by the Stearns History Museum. My writers group encouraged me to write more personal stories, which I did, but as I continued writing, I fell back into my usual intellectual reflection. 
The result is this memoir that merges my life story with information challenging the religion I learned in my youth. I had to unlearn a lot. Now you can unlearn and learn with me.

Beyond Parochial Faith reemphasizes the message in my book published in 2007, God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky: Cherishing Christianity without Its Exclusive Claims. Its message is that Christianity mistakes its myth for history and its symbols for facts. With a few clicks on this site you can read excerpts from that book. 

I neglected this blog while I was preparing it for publication. Now I plan to post here more often, probably some excerpts from Beyond Parochial Faith, which will come out in Spring 2019.


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