Seeking UNity

UnitedLast week was a great Easter celebration.  In my Christian tradition, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus starting on the Saturday night before Sunday.  I like how there is an ebb and flow of seasons in the year that ground us on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and tie it to our personal, onward growth in his love. 

Looking around in the faces of so many wonderful brothers and sister in Christ, I see so much of the life of him so strongly reflected in words, deeds and overall commitment to state strong in the face of opposition in a materialistic world.  Christians are called to be a light and the prayer of Jesus calls us to be one.  That is a prayer that has not been greatly answered at this point.

For there is much that divides Christians too.  There has been mistakes on different sides with rhetoric and actions that fall short of the command to “love one another”.  And the world is watching.  Watching with skepticism about that division and maybe rightly so at points. 

But there are ecumenical movements that are going on to change the story.  There was an event last night that I almost went to but my wife went instead to help with the worship team.  I didn’t mind since I have gone to far more than her.   It included worship and teaching from two pastors. One who has had flack from officials in his own denomination for a trip to meet a leader in another part of the Body of Christ.  There was also break out groups where people were able to interact in constructive dialogue.

I am all for dialogue but I am restless for more than that in wanting to see where the action is.  Perhaps the leadership in this specific movement, John 17 Movement, has something in mind.  I would like to make some suggestions partly in the context of a season.  It would end before Advent season begins for the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. 

As far as I know, mid September to the turn of the months of November and December are free.  This could be a season of “Unitas” as a working title for now. 

1: In this season, Christians go to a church meeting of some kind of Christians that ascribe to the tenets of the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  But there is a catch, you go by Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant.  If you are a Baptist Protestant Christian then you are not making a splash by going to a Presbyterian Church.  In my case as a Latin Rite Catholic it is not brave to go to a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church.  If you go, seek to understand and bless where you can. 

2: In this season read a book by a respected author in one of the other traditions but not an apologist for that tradition.  It is not a matter of getting converted.  Even more, recommend something like that from your side to a friend of one of the other traditions. 

3: If you have been mean spirited to a brother or sister in Christ, this may be a great season to examine yourself and seek forgiveness. 

4:  Take a break from debating for your version of Christianity.  40 days won’t kill you.  I am not proposing an indifferentism on the things that matter.  Instead I am saying there could be a temporary setting aside of stressful debate. 

5:  On a grander scale, organize a charitable work between your church and one of the other traditions.  This may be a better way to reverse the scandal of division than a joint doctrinal declaration. 

6:  Do something to directly bless those in the other tradition.  I have deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention writing an amicus brief when the contraception mandate was effecting a group of Catholic nuns known as the Little Sisters of The Poor. 

7: Read the 17th chapter in John’s gospel.  In the minutes before Jesus was arrested he prayed what theologians on different sides call “The High Priestly Prayer”.  He prayed for Christian believers on many issues but this included unity.  What does that mean?  Worth prayerfully considering. 

8: There is a side effect that could happen which can be unpleasant to some.  With responsible, ecumenical dialogue on what “those people” actually believe some people may change how they define themselves as a Christian including where they take communion each week.  If someone from your Side A “converts” (I hesitantly use that term here) to Side B but is still in the Nicene Creed then based on my personal experience here is what you do: get over it.   Give the Holy Spirit some credit unless with a deep breath you honestly think that specific fellowship is objectively unsafe.   

As Christians we should be fueled to honor the beautiful, good and true and I will on that note end a bit with my own path.  I had my conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at 11.  I was baptized at 15.  All of this in the Protestant tradition.  At the age of 42 after a few years of questions that I was wrestling with, I inquired through prayer, scripture and history to the point of entering the Catholic Church.  My oldest daughter was received the same night and my wife was received a year later.  As of this writing it appears that my older brother and his wife will be received into the Catholic Church in Advent season. And my second oldest daughter is a Baptist missionary in Argentina with her new husband.  I love them all. 

I’m so proud of my missionary daughter I can hardly contain myself.  When I see her, I see the love of Christ and also a love for others.  No macro level divisions change that for me. Nor does my thankfulness for my pastors and friends over my years as a Protestant who invested so much time, encouragement and many aspects of biblical teaching that I still cherish and apply.  I see the good and discern where needed on what truths are transferable in large part due to the lens of love.  Sure, there are other faculties in discernment, but I must keep love.  We must all keep love.  Love never fails.   

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Mace, Priest In A Kilt and a Broken Link

Mace and Rosary

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?”

“Yeah”

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). 

https://www.facebook.com/events/1501468463224785/?acontext=%7B%22action_history%22%3A%22%5B%7B%5C%22surface%5C%22%3A%5C%22page%5C%22%2C%5C%22mechanism%5C%22%3A%5C%22page_upcoming_events_card%5C%22%2C%5C%22extra_data%5C%22%3A%5B%5D%7D%5D%22%2C%22has_source%22%3Atrue%7D

Misunderstood At The Family Table

miscommunication

One two sides of opposing points of view try to communicate, there can be difficulties in finding the right rules of the road

Several months ago I had an interesting interchange with a woman at an ecumenical (of the nature of unifying between Christian groups) event.  There were speakers from different faith communities as well as singers.  One of the facilitators of the event asked for all of us to turn to someone we did not come with, introduce yourselves including church background and pray for each other.

The woman I paired with went first and described how she was formerly in my kind of of faith community and now was in a different one.  She described the hand of God in her life as she awakened spiritually when becoming active in the new community.  I responded essentially in turn except it as reverse:  I am a former Protestant who now identifies himself as Catholic.  If I was not speaking to her in an ecumenical event I could describe myself as still evangelical but fulfilled as a Catholic.

But this event was not mean for such wording.  The setting had the emphasis of uniting in common simplicity.  As much as I have zeal about being a Catholic I needed to respect other principles at play.

One thing that helped me from blurting out something not appropriate is that did not want to minimize her testimony that showed the Lord’s fruit.  After some years of not being active as a Catholic she found Jesus in a different setting and was revitalized.  Am I generally biased that she would be better off in the Roman Catholic Church?  Well, yes.  But what Christian is not biased about what faith community you are in?  Generally the ones that have no fuel in their fire staying our of fellowship and following Jesus in a way that is right in their own eyes.  Now that would be a horrible place to be and in some ways I have been there.  So with that nature of Christ in the backdrop we prayed for each other and she shared some words for me that she felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to say that I discerned to be from the Lord.

I have written that a scandal for the Body of Christ is that we are divided though Jesus prayed we be one.  Two people at a time, one family at a time I believe the fire of descandalizing is burning through the earth.  My sister in Christ followed a good rule of thumb by conceding for one day that the other person was right where the Lord wanted them.

But what if there is a bias from one side that there is not a present basis of unity?  In a prig blog post I wrote about the Nicene Creed being a good rallying point for unity or limus test for basic orthodoxy.

For some Christians that is not enough.  For instance, there was a semi-schism in the Catholic Church in the 1940’s that proclaimed that if one who was a non-Catholic Christian was not in full communion with the Catholic Church thus are not in God’s grace.  The pope at that time warned them to repent, they refused and were excommunicated.  On the Protestant side there are respected teachers like John Macarther who proclaim that Catholics have another gospel and only weeks after Pope John Paul II had died joked that he was in hell.  Both of these anecdotes are sad and indefensible.

So where there are growing pains in ecumenical discussion I have some suggestions for rules of the road on perception and communication.

I see dead people

If one wants to they can find martyrs on their side at the hands of the other.  Some of these points of history are facts and some of them due not hold up to scrutiny.  But if they facts of murder, hypocrisy or other sins really happened be humble.  Because among Catholics and Protestants there are plenty of anecdotes to go around.  If one looks through materials that are neutral or from the other side of the debate there will be some inconvenient points found.

Reliable teaching source

Go to the original sources of the other side is teaching as doctrine.  Going by what someone says is their doctrine, especially if it is second or third hand, is not a reliable way to see who teaches heresy.  For my faith community it is The Catechism of The Catholic Church.  If someone says something contradicting it and calls themselves a Catholic they are either poorly formed in Catholicism or are being untruthful in some way.  One person by themselves does not speak for 1,2 billion people unless you count the pope but many catholics are “cafeteria”.

A Matter of Language

Christians in the same language may speak very different dialects of “Christianese”.  So if one is alarmed by the wording of the other side, they should seek out the definition of that alarming wording in the mind of the speaker.  For example, thousands of times per day police officers “pray” to the judge.  Do they worship him?  No, they petition the judge with a old style wording of prayer.  So do the Catholics who ask for the intercession.  But in the Protestant dialect, of which I am fluent, it sounds like Mary is a goddess. There were indeed some in the 4th century who offered sacrifices to Mary but they were excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

Benefit of the doubt

This next part may cut very close to home for some readers. If one is an ex-Catholic turn Protestant or vice-versa, you may have friends and relatives who see you as “fallen away” and with that may seem overbearing.  Be patient.  There can be assumed to be some to great sincere belief on their part that if you are no in their exact kind of Christian fellowship that you are missing something. Remember that their bias is sincere and they must love you a lot or they would not be concerned.  Thank them for their concern and ask that they pray for you to discern God’s will for your life continually.

Yes, unity among Christians is a work in progress.  I believe however that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and all will be well.  Let us all, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant listen to the Master’s voice.

Suggested link

http://www.john17movement.com