On a still warm evening on September 1st, I arrived in downtown Phoenix hoping to make connections with people looking for answers and also meeting with at least one person who presumed to have all the answers.
Phoenix has a First Friday event once a month that has loud music, food trucks, art and people sharing information on their causes. For me, I was there as part of an evangelization team. Unfortunately, some others there to evangelize are not unity minded with my faith community. There is a history of them giving my group mean looks and one makes pot shots on his microphone about my group’s practices and supposed practices.
But tonight I had a plan.
There is an event coming up in a few weeks called John 17. The John 17 movement has been going on for four years now and is based on the prayer of Jesus in the 17th chapter of John where Jesus prayed that all of his followers would be one. One could say that it is a prayer that has not recently been answered. So sad. It is a beautiful prayer. The meeting will involve Christians of different stripes that adhere to some very basic doctrines of the identity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and other matters.
So I decided to do something about it or I am part of the problem. This group who has blue shirts, many of them related to their leader, and “owns” a corner. I went down there thinking “if I don’t involve them, I am part of the problem”. First I came to a few young people who were in their teens or early 20’s. The young man recognized me and said, “they’re down there” with a furrowed brow and a terse voice.
“Do you mean the Catholics?”
After summarizing the prayer of Jesus in John 17, I described the meeting, where it will be held and my hopes for things to change. I then excused myself.
When I turned around, I saw their leader. I had been warned by Sue, the lead in my chapter of my evangelistic organization, that he was intense and not good at dialogue. I hoped to have a different experience and I was disappointed.
He did not let me get a word in edgewise. He dictated questions to me in a demanding tone on a few scripted biblical points and disregarded that I rejected his premises about Catholic teaching based on official teaching of the Catholic Church. I affirmed that he is a Christian that God is able to use for people to come to faith in Jesus Christ and assured him that I would pray for him. He said he would pray for me too and asked to pray for me right then. I agreed if he would pray for me. His turn was first. My intention for when my turn came was to pray generally, for God to bless him and use him and remain ecumenical. With him going first he was nice for a full ten seconds. Then he prayed deliberate specifics of doctrine that I be led into with his volume increasing.
I stepped back and said, “That’s not praying”
“This is how I pray!” he said with a quizzical look.
“That’s not praying. That’s preaching.”. And I walked away.
I was discouraged and told my team about what happened. “You were right Sue.” My heart was sunk. I am no stranger to division in the Body of Christ. Between the three in that group I met I can only pray now that the Holy Spirit will bring light to their souls. In all fairness, I can say as a former Protestant of many years that 90% of Protestants I knew would be disgusted at the lack of Christian decorum of that gentleman.
But then a ray of light happened a few minutes later. A man walked by with a clerical collar but in a kilt. His name is Rob and “father” is acceptable but not required to him as a priest in the Episcopalian Church. He was a pleasant man with a sense of humor including how his kilt is not about being Scottish but being comfy. Embracing the rays of light where I can, I gave props to CS Lewis and his non-fiction books like “Mere Christianity” that helped me see Christianity as logical in my youth. He gave me his contact info and wanted to hear more about John 17. It turns out he had heard about it by being a fellow faculty member with a Catholic priest. I rejoiced in our brief fellowship though he admitted, rightly, that his orders are not recognized by the Catholic Church as valid. But we centered on the good things we agree on and blessed each other. Sigh, the end.
But I wish it was the end, as now a physical fight then happened. Several young people in late teens or early 20’s got in a group tussle with what first looked like a bullying of one young lady. Who steps in but this tall, bulky and clumsy dude (me) and a priest in a kilt. Some with our help and some of their self-restraint happened and after terse words about a pending restraining order all was well. Rob and I checked in where we could to be sure.
I then turned to him and said “Well Rob, I guess we just did some ecumenical work”.
Sue was in on it too and restrained a young lady from part of our team from getting too deep into the melee and getting hurt. With the skirmish, her rosary caught caught by someone’s key chain with a can of mace to it. She gave it over to me.
So there I am holding a metaphor for the evening in my hands. In handing out rosaries, it is not about praying to Mary as a goddess to do something intrinsically in her power. The words of asking for her intercession is like “background music” as one reflects of the life and impact of Jesus Christ on the world. But this world is broken just like this rosary. And the scandal is that the Body of Christ is broken just like that rosary as well. And the mace that is used too often is that of poisonous words that cut people down to win an argument. How about we feed the poor together? I know it may be crazy. I’m just spitballing here possibly.
For those who are scandalized of this story who are not Christians. I commend to you the person of Jesus Christ. The scandal is not in him. As for joining this motley crew of Christians, take the risk anyway. Though I have had greater joy, grace, prayer and love for the scriptures these recent years as a Catholic I can affirm that Catholics have let me down. We’re human. We’re on a journey and it can be a mess. And it is still worth it to be in fellowship and be involved in the works of mercy like making peace in the world. I am encouraged “to go out and make a mess”(Pope Francis).
So yes, darn right it can change. At the time of this writing I am looking forward to John 17 at New Life Church on Central Ave September 15, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. Below is a link on Facebook. This time it is on Protestant ground. I have a sense that Jesus is going to meet us.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21).