Is he a Hindu hottie, but you're a Catholic cutie? Not sure what to get your friend for her Bat Mitzvah? Wondering about Wicca? Pastor Paul answers all your religion and spirituality questions. Send them to PastorPaul@staff.beliefnet.com.


Dear Pastor Paul,
I don't know how much you know about "See You at the Pole," but it's a yearly gathering of Christian students around the flagpole at school to pray. It seems that the common consensus at my school is that all the "good" christians participate, but if you're Christian and don't go then you're "not so dedicated" and a Christian Slacker. This makes me mad since many who participate go because it's the "in thing" to do and because you get a t-shirt to prove to everyone that you were there. I'm Christian and I don't feel I have to prove that to anybody. If we lived in a time when Christanity wasn't the cool thing to do, would "See You at the Pole" be so popular?

-- Allison in Texas

Dear Allison,
Sheesh! As if cliques weren't already stiflingly intense during the high school years.

It may not provide any immediate comfort, but the truth is that Christians have been pointing at one another shouting: "Christian Slacker!" since the very beginning. This is why we have Orthodox, Catholic and many Protestant denominations, as well as strife that these groups experience internally.

The Bible offers many different ways to live out faith. The kids at the flagpole are probably operating from Matthew 5:1 "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house". You, Allison, are interpreting Matthew 6:5: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." Different types of people will respond differently to the questions of religion. Each should attempt to be as respectful as possible to the other.

The only one that you, and the other Christians of all stripes at your school, have to prove anything to is God. Remember: T-shirts with messages on them mean very little, it's what's on the inside that counts. Strive to understand how God is calling you to live and follow that calling.

  • Check out these great pieces about school prayer!

  • What do you think about "See You at the Pole"? Talk about it!

  • Dear Pastor Paul,


    I'm 15 years old and have been a vegetarian for 5 years. Reverance for all life, no matter how small, is something that's very important to me. I'm also a devout Catholic, and it really hurts me when I read in the Bible about animal sacrifices, and Jesus sharing all the fish. It doesn't make sense to me how an entire religion can be based on love, kindness, and mercy, but it's okay to kill and eat animals. In my opinion, since only God can give life, only He should be able to take it. Since Genesis used the same Hebrew word for the life that God breathed into humans as the life He breathed into animals, how can their lives be not of the same value?

    -- Confused in Virginia

    Dear Confused,
    I'm moved by your committment to vegetarianism. It's admirable that you've incorporated your deepest beliefs into your daily dietary practice. It must be difficult for you to find yourself at apparent odds with a Catholic tradition that does not share passion for your understanding of 'the reverence of all life'. While I sympathize, I have to tell you that Catholicism, or Christianity for that matter, is not intrinsically vegetarian friendly.

    While it's true that God breathed life into both animals and humans, animals are considered in the bible primarily as a valuable and needed source of nourishment. For instance, when the prodical son returned home the order was given by his father to slaughter a fatted calf in celebration. The Catholic belief in the body and blood of Jesus present in the Eucharist also would not pass the vegetarian test.

    The question is: do you find these two beliefs completely incompatible? If so then you will be forced to determine which of the two, Catholicism or Vegetarianism, speaks to your deepest beliefs.

    Don't be discouraged though! There are plenty of famous Christian vegetarians that have managed to combine the two beliefs, including the great thinkers John Wesley and Rev. Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Who knows? It just may be your God-given mission to raise vegetarian awareness and help shape the living Catholic tradition for generations to come.

  • Check out the Christian Vegetarian Association website!

  • The Catholic catechism on animals.

  • Dear Pastor Paul,
    I just read your advice for the girl who was embarrassed about her mom's new-found spirituality. I agree that the girl should talk to her mom about this, but I'm having trouble with the ultimatum you feel should be "issued" to Mom: "Tone it down or I won't have my friends over - then you won't have time with me." Such a statement from a child is hurtful, rude, and inappropriate. What you appear to be condoning is that the daughter makes the rules for the home: when to worship and how and to what or whom. To give a parent an "either do this, or I'll do this" is not appropriate in a family: statements like that cause shame and guilt, not to mention embarrassment to the mother.

    In my humble opinion, what would work better is to love and accept mom, support her, and if this child's friends laugh at her, have mom explain what she's "into" and how it helps her. Maybe the teenager needs to lighten up and be proud of her mom instead of wishing she was invisible.

    That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it!! Great advice to the 16 year old who wanted to stay a virgin.

    >

    -- Nancy, Mom of Teen

    Dear Nancy,
    I agree with you insofar as a teenager should never be encouraged to deliver an ultimatum to his or her parent. Like it or not, while the teen is living with parents, the teen plays by the parent's rules.

    I tried to suggest that through conversation between the daughter and the mother about the mother's new found spirituality and about the daughter's subsequent embarrassment, both sides might further understand the other's perspective. My hope is that both daughter and mother consider the other's feelings and experiences as valid and real, and to be considerate of those feelings as best they can--even to the point of modifying slightly their own behavior.



    Pastor Paul has worked with young people in the Twin Cities, Seattle, Sao Paulo, and New York City. He currently is a Chaplain at Columbia University in New York City.
     
     
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