This time it’s personal: Catholic blogger and author Mark Shea joins The Catholic Weekly

US blogger and author Mark Shea during a 2010 visit to Sydney. Photo: David McCowen
U.S. blogger and author Mark Shea during a 2010 visit to Sydney.

Love him or loathe him, American author and blogger Mark Shea is one of the world’s most incisive and engaging writers on Catholicism today (Editor: we love him). He and his equally engaging former colleague and friend, Simcha Fisher, have joined The Catholic Weekly as regular columnists. Here’s Mark, introducing himself.

Hello Sydney Catholics! Pleased to meet you! My name is Mark Shea.

I am an American who lives in Washington state (the big square one in the upper left hand corner of the continental US). And this is my new column for The Catholic Weekly.

An American in an Aussie paper? Seems odd. Well, yes. I’ll not deny I’m odd. Me being a Yank and all, it would easy for each of us to notice differences between us, of course.

I talk funny. You talk normal. (Writing licks that problem.) You use words I’m still trying to decode like “chuffed” and I use words like “Microsoft is fifteen minutes from my house” that fill exotic foreigners with a sense of nameless dread.

You eat foods like “Vegemite” that baffle and confuse me while I eat things like Puget Sound geoducks (pronounced “gooeyducks”) that baffle and confuse you.

Right down the road from me is the Space Needle and Starbucks No. 1. Right down the road from you is the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

You have the glorious Outback and we have the glorious woods and Cascade Mountains. You guys walk upside down and I walk right side up.

You have the incredible Tommy Emmanuel and we had the amazing Chet Atkins. You have sane politicians and we have clown cars stuffed with sociopaths.

You have Mel Gibson and we have… well, Mel Gibson too, but with an American accent. Totally different.

In fact, you and I have a whole lifetime of family, language, life and experience that is very different from each other. And in our culture of relativism, we are told six ways from Sunday that we can therefore never really share anything – especially anything spiritual – at a personal level.

We hear that all the time, right? “My religion is personal to me. It’s not something I can or should talk about in public. Personal things are private.”

Only, here’s the thing. None of that is true. What is personal is not what is private, particular, and esoteric. On the contrary, what is most personal is what is common.

Here’s what I mean: when I was in Sydney a few years back, I took a boat across the harbour to Manly. It was a small metal affair, about 15 metres long.

We pottered about Manly for an hour or two and then started back. About a third of the way back, a huge black electrical storm suddenly rolled over Sydney and it began to rain, blow and lightning like something out of the Old Testament and King Lear rolled together.

I stood on the bow of the boat as she heaved and bucked over wild horse waves. All around the boat, lightning bolts sizzled and claps of thunder deafened me while the warm rain drenched me in sheets. It was utterly exhilarating, a magnificent moment to be alive. Know what I mean?

Answer: of course you do. Because we all have had some experience that has brought us joy.

Likewise, though our particular foods are different, we have all known both hunger and satisfaction at a meal.

We may like different music, but we share a common love of music. We may have different friends or family, but we all need friends and family.

The reason that story or song or poem you love moves you, the reason you get angry at a bully, the reason you are frightened by that movie, the reason you feel wonder at the night sky is because you are a human being and we have far more in common than we have things that separate us.

We all have a real knowledge of what the great English writer G K Chesterton called “the real things of the earth, of fighting peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea.”

It is exactly these common things we share – including a human nature made in the image and likeness of God – which guarantee that no matter how funny I talk and no matter how far away from me you live, we can speak together of God, and of our common lives together in the world and in the Body of Christ.

I look forward to becoming good friends!