Christian sisters, O the time has come.
The world’s a messy place these days and somehow you find more conflict and consternation in a corner you wouldn’t expect: between Christians of different denominations. In the wake of the sudden loss of progressive Christian author Rachel Held Evans, you see the divide in the contrast between glowing words of gratitude and a spattering of hate-filled comments you’d hope her almost-one year old daughter will never one day read. But there are other indications, too, other signs that the followers of Jesus are so tied up in labels and orthodoxy and specificity of belief that we’re missing the kindness and love that was at the heart of His example. The more we focus on our own righteousness and our own doctrinal right-ness, the more we lost we become. So, if you’re huddled up solely with your own denomination both in person and in the books and media you digest, if you look with suspicion on Christians who practice their faith differently from you, if you pray for the conversion of a fellow Christian to your own denomination, if you think you have nothing to learn from someone who wears a different label, I’d like to propose a gentle correction. As a cheery faced Annette said to Jack Butler as he drove his kids to school in the northern end of the drop-off lane, “You’re doing it wrong.” Jack was certain he had it right, but just as in that rainy school parking lot, the more we do it wrong, the more determined we are that everyone else is the problem, the more confused and angry and dangerous the whole situation becomes. Sisters and brothers, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The suspicion and judgment that sometimes comes across both sides of the Protestant – Catholic divide is both surprising and sad. As a cradle and practicing Catholic whose thinking has been heavily influenced by Christians from the larger church, I’ve seen it coming from both directions, and it’s never made sense to me. I’d like to share a little bit of my background and then use this space for the remainder of the series in opening up a dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. This feels slightly dangerous, especially because I’m a writer with a publishing dream (that’s a whole other story that we’ll get to) but also like it’s right on time. I hope you’ll participate in the comments with questions and responses as we move along.
Okay, so a bit about my journey.
When I, a cradle Catholic, married my Congregationalist husband, we had both a priest and his minister on the altar in my hometown Catholic church. Still, there were members of his family who debated even walking through the doors. I hadn’t known about anti-Catholic bias before then, hadn’t heard my faith called a ‘cult’, or the pope the ‘antichrist’. I was just a kid, raised in a church in the then-heavily Catholic Boston area by Christian parents who walked the walk of service and faith, with no idea of the wall that stood between us and other Christians.
Later, when I learned about faith on my own terms, it was Protestant authors like C.S. Lewis and Phillip Yancey who helped me reframe and build a relationship with Jesus. Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, Emily P. Freeman, Annie F. Downs, Sara Miles, Anne Lamott, Barbara Brown Taylor: these women helped form me as a grown-up Christian, and they gave me the permission, curiosity, and longing to learn how to walk closely with Jesus. Henri Nouwen, James Martin, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr: these brothers helped me apply that new knowledge while rediscovering the beauty in my Catholic tradition.
Today I’m a music minister in my Catholic church. I’ve raised two kids in the faith, taught CCD, and I love the Eucharist and the mass. Still, I see the deficiencies and hypocrisy in my church just as clearly as someone on the outside might see them, and probably even better than they could. Certainly with more anger and indignation. At the same time, I see Jesus working in the lives of my Catholic brothers and sisters and as I look out onto the wider church, I see churches just like mine, filled with imperfect people, stumbling along and reaching for understanding and grace. It’s possible for us to receive it and communion with each other, too, because God is our Father. There’s wisdom and color in our experiences and in the way we walk this out as a family. Imagine what it could like if we tried.
Christian sisters (and brothers, too), O the time has come.
I’d love to hear a bit about your faith background if you don’t mind sharing. As we get into more specific topics, it might help the community to know where everyone is starting from. Thanks, friends.