In between

This semester has been something.

An adventure.

A growing time.

A semester filled with lessons and maturing experiences. In just over a month I will be leaving Texas for the next four months to study abroad at University of Dallas’s Rome campus in Due Santi (named “The Two Saints” for St. Peter and St. Paul). It’s unbelievable, how close the time comes to fly overseas and explore ancient cities, meet Europeans, and also complete the rest of my Sophomore year.

But this past semester in Irving has been substantially illuminating, in more ways than one. I’m not sure how to put it all together in this post, but summarizing may be the best way to go about it. I took two art classes, Basic Drawing and Digital Media, and in both I learned many helpful skills involving perspective, lighting, photoshop, and design. As far as socializing goes, I enjoyed rooming with two dear friends from Founders, and also getting to know many of my classmates much better.

The course I most enjoyed this semester was Literary Tradition IV (I will take Literary Tradition III in Rome), taught by Dr. Greg Roper, whose explications of the works we read greatly enhanced my understanding of these stories. Out of all the books we read in Lit. Trad. IV, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky truly touched me, moved me with its haunting characters and thread of redemption throughout the work. I cannot stress enough how much this book should be read and reread, for Dostoevsky deflates common schools of thoughts such as nihilism and utilitarianism which in themselves are empty, worthless mindsets. He shows through his troubled character Rodion Raskolnikov the power of the cross and the ultimate grace and mercy of God. It’s a beautiful love story, a narrative of God calling out to a man diseased by sin and pride.

I also took Creative Fiction Writing and collaborated with two of my classmates on a novella, which turned out to be an entertaining and pleasurable. And lastly, I took Western Civilization II, which is part of the UD Core. 🙂

As far as personal drawing and writing goes, I put a great deal of energy into fan art and a bit of gift-art for a friend. For basic drawing I was required to draw something every day of the semester, and I used this as an incentive to draw my favorite fictional characters and couples. Ha. I can’t say much happened in my writing pursuits, sadly. I put most of my energy for fiction into the short story assignment for Literary Tradition IV and Creative Fiction Writing courses. The past two years have been pretty dry, as far as my original stories. I can’t remember the last time I pulled up my documents for Diana and Julian’s story.

Lastly and most importantly, my spiritual walk. Lately, most of my feelings and thoughts concerning my relationship with Christ and understanding of theology has been confused, unsettling, and overall convoluted. I do feel Him leading me, directing me, and I pray to Him as I mull over my doubts and questions. But one huge factor separating me from Him is my preoccupation with Denominations. That is, feeling unsure of where I belong, how I worship Him, and many other issues of doctrine that arise since I feel caught between my Evangelical background and my exposure to the Catholic church. It’s overwhelming and disconcerting, since I’ve lived my whole live believing that my upbringing in a Evangelical Free church is the only necessary precept, complete with enthusiastic praise and worship (using lots of Hillsong music), and a Sola Scriptura approach to theology. When more in-depth theology is addressed during my pastor’s sermons, he makes sure to point it out and even apologize. Whereas, theology and historically grounded doctrine is foundational in the Catholic (and Lutheran) church. In summary, my confusion has sapped a great deal of my joy and enthusiasm for actually listening to God and His call upon my heart. I feel aimless, directionless, completely stuck. I would appreciate any prayers from my readership on this blog.

Expect to see another post brimming with ridiculous, sketchy drawings that may or may not involve my recent obsession, Star Wars, cuz I’m a nerd. 😉

As a Protestant at a Catholic University

Sometimes I ask myself, “How on earth did I go from dreaming about attending Patrick Henry College to this? University of Dallas, the Catholic School for Independent Thinkers??”

This thought initially unsettles me. I find myself asking God, “Why here, Lord? What is your plan? Where are you leading me?”

I mean, Patrick Henry College contrasts quite a bit with University of Dallas. As does Baylor, with the George W. Truett theological Baptist seminary integrated into the campus. I visited both, actually. And neither felt right. When I visited UD for the first time, it felt like coming home. Like it fit me right. Why, though?

I’m not Catholic, and sometimes I wonder if those of my friends raised strictly Catholic view me as one of those disturbingly enthusiastic Evangelicals. The kinds of people who jump up and down during praise and worship, the kind of people who speaking tongues and “twitch”. I wonder if they wonder if my pastor gives sermons with Calvinist abrasion and fury. I never thought of it before–I never questioned my chosen church/denomination. I grew up at the church I attend. It is more or less Evangelical, with Baptist roots since the founding pastor was Baptist. But now that I’ve begun to explore the rich Roman Catholic culture at UD, attended mass at the Cistercian Abbey, Dominican Priory, and Church of the Incarnation, all easy to reach around campus, I find myself thinking more and more about my own chosen denomination. The Roman Catholic church is the oldest church in history. It was the original church that began with the Apostles. The more I learn about it, the more I see how rich and rooted it is in traditions that are thousands of years old. My church was just founded back in the late 90’s. It has been growing fast since then, and it is rooted in the Baptist denomination, but at the same time I feel like I’m floating. Is the theology grounded in Bible stories introduced way back in my kindergarten Sunday School class enough? Is it substantial enough?

I was pretty overwhelmed by the rituals and liturgy performed during the mass. Each time it hits me harder than before. Is a session of praise and worship and a forty minute sermon afterwards enough? It seems so bare compared to the solemn liturgy and prayers chanted and repeated throughout the mass. The Eucharist is also a new concept. The wafers and wine taken during communion is seen as a crucial moment to receive the sacraments of Christ. Whereas, I’ve been raised to see this as a mere symbolic ritual. Far more emphasis is placed on communion in the Catholic Church than in my Evangelical church.

We bow our heads and listen as our pastor explains the reason for taking Communion, explaining that the bread represents Christ’s body, the “wine” (grape juice at our church???) is His blood. And then we take it. We stay in our seats. I am reminded to appreciate the Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross, but in my memory, it seems almost downplayed.

At Mass here at UD I find myself walking up the aisle to the priest, and wait with nervousness heating my face up. What if I trip? Should I bow, like my friends are doing before they receive Communion from the priest? Or is that just for the Catholic? Is it disrespectful if I don’t? Oh, and I can’t take the Communion…I need to cross my arms now, so they’ll know I’m an outsider… Am I imagining that the priest regards me with distrust? He blesses me, and I slowly walk back to my seat, my heart pounding. Each time these thoughts run through my head. Each time, a flush burns in my cheeks. I can barely take everything in that’s going on in the room. The incense, the holy water, the rising and the kneeling. And yet, through it all, it is beautiful. The words that they chant in honor of Jesus, I stand in awe as I listen. Never before have I seen this much reverence, this solemn, august reverence paid to my savior. It is so different, yet so awe-inspiring.

Before class begins, some of my professors pray, and lead the class in doing the sign of the cross and saying the Lord’s prayer. At times I feel self-conscious, though I know the Lord’s Prayer by heart. Am I missing something when I don’t do the sign of the cross? Exactly how much importance is placed on doing it?

And so, I ask again, Why? Why UD?

What if the picture is bigger than you see?
And God has you right where he wants you to be
Just listen to your heart
He’s telling you with every beat

“Still That Girl” by Britt Nicole

I sincerely believe that God does “have me right where He wants me to be”

He has drawn me closer in the past weeks, and I find myself turning to Him more and more in my quiet moments, when I am out running or walking to each class. He reminds me to trust in Him. The other day I opened His Word and read this verse:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight

Proverbs 3:5-6

For so long this verse has brought comfort to me when I am unsure, confused, anxious or filled with doubts. God chooses the best moments to reach out and touch my heart, whispering that He does have a plan, He does know what is best for me, He does have it all in His control. I need not fear anything. Thank God that He is the author of our lives.

Ironically, my Grandfather, Russell J. Young, a devout Catholic, discovered the church my family has attended since 2000. Way back then he met our founding pastor at the local mall, and my Grandfather, who loved to meet new people whenever possible, anywhere possible, struck up a conversation with two young men (my pastor and his deacon) as they discussed the church they had just begun. Grandpa learned about it, and I’m sure their discussion was lively as he engaged with them, as they told him about their vision, to begin a family-oriented church, with a mission for spreading the Lord’s Word in the DFW metroplex. My Grandpa went to my parents and told them about his new friends, who would be our pastor/deacon. “So, is there any chance that you and Danny [my Dad] will come back to the Catholic Church?”

My Mom replied, “Well, I don’t think so…” Since my Dad is Baptist, and my Mom joined his church, our family has been raised in the Protestant church.

“Well, then, this church I’m going to tell you about is the next best thing to being Catholic,” my Grandpa said, probably with the twinkle in his eye that I remember so well. 🙂

And truly, Valley Creek Church has been wonderful. I’ve grown up there. I’ve grown up with so many people there who are now off attending college just as I am. My parents have been in small groups with other couples and have formed a strong fellowship with other families, many of them homeschooling families like ours. In fact, a lot of the seniors in my [homeschooled] graduating class attend Valley Creek as well. It is a wonderful place where I’ve made many lifelong friends and learned so much about the nature of the Lord. I’m so thankful for having this church in my life. I have seen other kinds of Protestant churches, attending those with friends or family. But Valley Creek is my home base, and our current pastor speaks such relevant truth into my life that it is sometimes chilling, how strongly the Holy Spirit works through our pastor to reach my heart. I know that the Holy Spirit speaks in different ways through our pastor’s sermons to each and every person sitting in the room. And knowing that is breathtaking.

But I feel as though I’ve entered a whole new world each time I sit through a Roman Catholic mass and see a different side of Christianity that I’ve never known. A wonderful, beautiful side. A side with majesty and reverence in honor of Christ and the men and women who have died to themselves and lived for Him throughout the ages. I never could have imagined it, but as I type this I realize that this is one of the many ways that God shows himself to us. He uses our experiences (such as my choice to attend a Catholic university) to show us different aspects of His nature. He is teaching us, with every step we make in life, about faith in Him, about laying down our selves for Him.

I know that I wouldn’t trade life at UD for life anywhere else. If I were to go back in time, I know that I would make the same exact choice to attend this school and meet the people I have met. It is all part of the larger picture, as we encounter people and experiences that introduce us to marvelous Revelation in Him.

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freedom OF religion or freedom FROM religion? That is the question.

Followers, I’d appreciate your thoughts! This is a small essay I wrote for school!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (The First Amendment of the Constitution)

            Many modern Americans desire to paraphrase this amendment and claim that this amendment completely separates the church from the state, in order to support their belief that religion should be completely annihilated from society and government. Unfortunately for them, the first amendment states that Congress cannot establish a religion, but it was not written with the intent of pushing the church out the door. This amendment was written by our Founding Fathers with their forefathers in mind—the people such as Pilgrims who crossed the sea and settled at Plymouth in order to escape the oppression of King James, who established his own church of England to the exclusion of those who practiced their own set of Christian beliefs. His establishment of religion infringed on the personal rights of other believers who did not agree exactly with the king’s theology, thus forcing them to flee their homes in England and settle in the new world.

However, the meaning of this amendment has been warped by those who seek to eradicate the Church altogether.

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The Fork in the Road

Like any high schooler in the college-selecting process, I faced a variety of options to choose from. My passions in different areas increased my confusion and uncertainty. Art universities offering a wide selection of specialized courses in animation, 2D and 3D design, illustration, and a number of other creative degrees that attracted me. I began to fixate on this idea of attending art school, as I do seek to pursue my artistic bent. However, during my sophomore year of high-school, a semester at a classical academy introduced me to a mesmerizing plane of academics. Classical education. I became entranced by the subjects of philosophy and literature taught with the classical approach, and enjoyed applying the methods of logic, thinking, and rhetoric, integral subjects to this form of learning, to my studies of history, literature, and everything else. I found myself eager to explore the tremendous depths of these subjects that students can only find purposefully, at a specialized school or with classical curriculum at home. I realized that my love for the visual arts now had competition in my avid learner’s heart. Around this time I turned my focus from a liberal arts college in Purcellville, Virginia to elsewhere. At a college convention I met several ambassadors of University of Dallas, a private Catholic institution in Irving, Texas. I recall that my interest in UD mounted the more I learned about it. They offered a Rome program during Sophomore year, an intensive “Core” curriculum that focused on the Classical foundation of learning—requiring all freshmen and sophomores to take a list of courses ranging from Literary Tradition to Philosophy to Astronomy. All of these subjects form the basis for a more concentrated major during the two years as upperclassmen. I relished the prospects offered at University of Dallas. It fit me perfectly. And yet, a small nagging voice persisted to whisper in the back of my head, “Wait! What about Art school? What about an exclusive art education?” That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t obtain an art education at UD. They rank as having one of the top traditional art programs in the nation, which I planned to participate in should I choose UD.

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image from the internet

As the summer before my Senior year opened, I decided to sign up for a 2D and 3D design and animation camp at the Art Institute of Dallas. My heart fluttered nervously whenever I thought of experiencing a taste of an art student’s life. In depth anatomy and design courses. High tech drawing equipment and digital tablets. I tempted myself with this shining dream. Of course, none of this is to undermine the delight of creativity, traditional and digital. Anyone with a passion for art possesses such a dream, to delve into this fervency to create, design, and dazzle others with mind-blowing visuals. I believe that all artists would love the chance to explore and develop their artistic skills at such a school. The courses at these universities can be invaluable, doubtlessly, to someone desiring to improve their abilities. Yet, I experienced a dilemma, as I still remembered the bliss of walking around the vibrant campus of University of Dallas, meeting people who enthusiastically pursued their faith and education. When I joined the other kids at the Art Institute’s camp, I found myself facing an entirely different atmosphere. Most of the kids here came from secular public school, lived secular, godless lives, and although they too shared a passion for the arts, I found it difficult to relate to them on a spiritual and intellectual level as their interests diverged from mine dramatically. Discouraged, I spent my first day hoping it would get better, that I would enjoy myself more at this idealized art camp. Yet, as the week progressed during my stay at the camp, I noticed that the teens at my camp bodily represented the mindset of liberal social media sites such as Tumblr. Their attitudes created a barrier between themselves and anyone who might possibly not share their same interests, worldview, or lifestyle. Their unwelcoming demeanors estranged me and I could hardly feel safe or comfortable when the camp leaders expressed viewpoints of homosexual lifestyles and other issues that diametrically oppose my Biblical standards. All in all, by the time Friday arrived, I was more than ready to leave the Art Institute with my parents. With a mixture of disappointment and relief I realized that I did not belong at the Art Institute or anywhere else like it.

Campus (Braniff Memorial Tower and Mall), University of Dallas

University of Dallas Mall and Braniff Tower (not my image)

The lure of an exclusively art-focused schedule during my university years has not failed to entice me with its promising tastefulness. Although the Core Curriculum at University of Dallas integrated a medley of subjects that I’d discovered a growing passion for within myself, Art school assumed the forefront focus in my mind as I idealized possibly attending a university like Savannah College of Art and Design, or Parsons Art and Design in NYC. These schools, as well as CalArts in San Francisco, are known for their top-notch courses and degrees, from which emerge many respected animators, visual developers, character designers, and story-boarders who are now working for corporations such as Disney and Pixar. As someone prone to idealism, I began to envision the promise of such schools. Until I visited the Art Institute of Dallas, another highly respected visual arts academy, did I obtain a clearer picture of the dark side of these campuses. However, any budding artist will desire courses like 2D and 3D design, anatomy, character design, visual development, and more. I nursed my dissatisfaction with my own situation and my parents’ expressed suspicions of such colleges. But they pointed out that SCAD and CalArts hardly provide a well-rounded education as does University of Dallas. They do not develop every part of the mind—the only side of my brain that would be served would be the right side—while the left side of the brain would languish in neglect. As aggravating as it was, I found myself agreeing with them. Why? University of Dallas pushes students to their limits, as they have campaigned, as I have seen by simply sitting in on the classes. Not only does this school challenge you in your area of study, but it also compels you to study hard in other areas, such as mathematics, the sciences, theology, history, philosophy, economics, and history. Sure, at a place like CalArts you are receiving a degree for extremely specialized courses throughout your four year tenure, but what beyond that? You are not exploring the great works, you are not discussing Plato’s The Cave, nor delving into the Rhetoric of the Bible. In fact, I’m pretty sure that St. Augustine’s Confessions would never arise in any discussion at one of those secular art universities.

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University of Dallas Church of the Incarnation (not my image)

So, I reached the verdict. As difficult as it proved to surrender my desire to attend SCAD, or CalArts, or a similar school, discussions with my parents and my summer camp experience led me to a final conclusion. I would not be abandoning my artistic ambitions. No, I would instead pursue them in the safter, Christian environment at University of Dallas, an institution that promotes a love of learning, an appreciation of the past masterpieces while integrated with the Catholic intellectual tradition that so intrigued me during my semester at Founders Classical Academy. I relinquished my idealistic image of what art school would be like and adopted a more realistic mindset. Once I finished the foundations of my education that University of Dallas would supply, I would delve in deeper in the areas that remained in need of development. Perhaps even graduate school at one of those art universities would become an option. But in the meantime, I determined to surround myself with like-minded people who would challenge me to mature in my mind and soul, not merely in the right side of my brain.