June 11, 2015

June's Blog of Note: Happy Catholic - An Interview With Julie Davis


June’s blog of note emanates from the mind of noted Catholic blogger Julie Davis. Julie has contemplated Art, Literature, popular culture and all things Catholic on her blog Happy Catholic since 2004. Her other noble ventures (listed at the end of this post), are well worth your time. Her book, Happy Catholic – Glimpses of God in Everyday Life, is a consideration of quotes from The Simpsons to Saint John Paul II, wherein she discerns how everyday people and events reveal God.

I interviewed Ms. Davis about her blog, her latest pursuits, her faith journey and the role of Providence in her life.

In your conversion story you mention how the Lord changed your heart without any reading or influence from outsiders; it was just between God and you. What do you tell others who are considering or curious about Catholicism?

I tell them to honestly ask God for a sign. And then to wait with an open mind. I didn't dwell much on my "bet" with God since I really put no constraints on it (like time or neighborhood, etc.). That's probably the best way because then you're not reading into things or throwing up roadblocks. He knows you best. He'll speak in a way you will uniquely understand. When it happens you'll know.

Growing up as an agnostic, what were your feelings toward religion? How did that change after you became Catholic?

I don't recall thinking about it much. The general way my parents spoke about it, if it came up (and it rarely did) was that it was a weak reed to lean on for people who couldn't handle the real world. Probably the main times it would come up were when we'd come across television evangelists. Unfortunately, that planted the seed that believers were credulous and a bit simple to believe their claims and fundraising.

Of course, now that I'm Catholic I know that is anything but true. Living my faith fully and honestly takes much more perseverance than not believing in anything. I love my Catholic religion so much for showing me the Truth that underlies what we see on the surface. It is the lens that focuses me on reality.

Having been on the "other side" is helpful though because I know what atheists and agnostics tend to believe when they learn I'm Christian. I can talk their language.

Many of the Church’s detractors criticize her in light of adherents who don’t “walk the walk.” How do you answer such critics?

There are two quotes that sum up my general attitude and form the essence of my response:
You judge a medicine by those who take it, not by those who pour it down the sink. — Frank Sheed  
I know it has been full of sinners. What did you think the Church was, a club for shining saints? But if it has been a hospital for sinners, it has also been a training school for saints... — George Stewart, 1931
Then I try to see if there is a specific problem the person is thinking of and address that specifically.

Saint John Paul II once said, “In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.” Can you explain how this has been true in your own faith journey and the work you do now?

Oh my goodness, my whole faith life began with a gigantic string of "coincidences." Hah. We know that St. JPII was spot on that there aren't any coincidences. My conversion story shows that quite well.

Honestly, I see "coincidence" showing up a lot and I actually have to fight my tendency to discount a lot of it, just as I would have before my conversion.
Most people desperately desire to believe that they are part of a great mystery, that Creation is a work of grace and glory, not merely the result of random forces colliding. Yet each time that they are given but one reason to doubt, a worm in the apple of the heart makes them turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous, whereupon they have a drunkard’s thirst for cynicism, and they feed upon despair as a starving man upon a loaf of bread.  Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas
I tend to see it in my work in the way that Elizabeth Scalia mentioned in her keynote talk for the Catholic New Media Conference a few years ago. She said that when talking to bloggers she'd always ask why they don't quit. And invariably they would say that just when they were going to throw in the towel (for whatever reason) they would get that email, phone call, note, out of the blue that showed them the difference they made in someone's life. That little love letter from God in essence.

I was listening and my eyes were filling with tears because I get them too. Not often, but I don't need them often. It's according to the need.

I think those coincidences happen all the time in all levels of our lives. And maybe that's why I have to fight the doubt. It happens all the time. How could that be true? But it really is.

What movies, books, projects, etc., are you reading/watching, involved with at present?

In terms of books, I'm working on a book about prayer, with the working title Who Do You Say I Am? I haven't yet begun to show it to publishers, but luckily these days there is always the self-publish option.

Reading books is so much easier than writing books and it seems as if I've always got at least one book or movie that I can't shut up about. Lately it is Mockingbird by Walter Tevis, a 1980s science fiction book that I can't believe isn't a classic. It has some fascinating symbolism and a subtext that speaks straight to the Catholic life today.

Also, I've always got a variety of "assignments" because of the podcasts I do. A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast alternates books and movies for discussion. I'm really looking forward to October because it's my turn to choose the spooky movie and book this year. I know it's early but I'm already having fun trying to pick out what we'll discuss.

I'm also an occasional guest at the SFFaudio podcast (science fiction and fantasy). We've been working our way very slowly through The Lord of the Rings in six parts. It has been incredibly rewarding reading that book so slowly and discussing it in such depth. This is not a religious group at all, in fact they tend to be precisely the opposite, but that is the beauty of a group of friends centered around reading. You can all appreciate the books from such different points of view that you might not have found otherwise.

Specifically in terms of movies I head a discussion group at a local assisted living facility. You have to choose the movies for a completely different audience than you'd otherwise have and that too broadens my horizons in ways I wouldn't have expected. One of the most interesting conversations came after we watched Philomena as a companion piece to I Confess. Both showed such different sides of the priesthood, Catholicism, and the lives of Catholics that we still reference the conversation months later. I'd never have chosen either of those movies, so we're all growing together.

What was your raison d'être for starting your Happy Catholic blog. Has it changed as your audience has grown?

I began Happy Catholic in order to keep in touch with people I met on a Christ Renews His Parish retreat. I'd been sending emails about books, movies, quotes, and so forth. It occurred to me it would be a lot more efficient to put it all in one place and so I began the blog.

The funny thing is that almost no one from that retreat has ever read it. However, other people did and I had fun no matter who was dropping by. It is funny that as social media came along, they said that blogs were dead. I haven't seen it, frankly. There are a lot less comments because I think a lot of that has gone to social media, but blogging seems alive and well. It's just where you find the content instead of the chatter. (Or maybe that's just my place!)

I think the only thing that has really changed is that I'm calmer than I used to be. People change, blogs change to reflect them. I began in 2004 and it is 11 years later. I still love the faith as much as ever and I hope Happy Catholic shows that to the world.

Having authored a successful Catholic website for over a decade, what advice would you give someone looking to begin a Catholic blog?

I have two pieces of advice I always give.
  1. Be yourself and blog about what you care about. Be authentic.
  2. Don't worry about how many people are reading.
When I first began I came across a blogger who was saying that she'd had six steady readers and that was fine, whoever God sent her was enough. I've always tried to remember that.
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 Julie Davis' Links:

Julie's blog Happy Catholic

Happy Catholic Bookshelf at Patheos (Where Julie leads a weblog of dedicated bibliophiles)

Her food blog, Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen

Forgotten Classics, her podcast dedicated to “great authors and stories that should be better known”

A Good Story is Hard to Find, a podcast “… about books, movies, faith, belief and traces of ‘the One Reality’ they find there.”

She reviews science fiction and fantasy audiobooks at SFFaudio

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