Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting to Know "the Other"

We all hold onto stereotypes. In a way, we can’t help it. It’s a product of what social psychologists call cognitive miser, our natural tendency to conserve mental energy. Practically speaking, our brains think it’s too much work to form individual opinions about everybody. So we categorize and make blanket judgments. “Those people are all alike.” Or “Oh, you’re one of those.”

Protestants and Catholics have had the greater part of five hundred years to galvanize these kinds of stereotypes about one another. “Oh, Catholics are all about rules and regulations. They don’t have a relationship with God.” Or “Those Protestants are all about ‘me and Jesus’. They’re only concerned with themselves and their personal salvation.” "Catholic works righteousness." "Protestant fluff and entertainment." I’ve heard them all, and so have you.

It’s easy to hold these stereotypes when you live in a bubble of like-minded individuals. But what happens when Protestants and Catholics step out of that bubble and take the risk to really get to know each other?

Here’s my top ten quotes from Protestants and Catholics who took the time to do just that:[1]

“God really has changed my heart through this and not in some lofty, abstract way. It’s in the way that my behavior and thoughts are actually different. The Spirit has changed my heart in the way I see ‘the other,’ in which I don’t see them as the other but as a friend.”

“I came into these meetings with preconceived notions of the “other” and the fear of this becoming a giant doctrinal slugfest between the two sides. What came of it couldn’t be further from the truth. What I found was shared experiences . . . I found people who experienced God’s love during tough decisions, struggle, tragedy and death. I found people who despite differences, have the same fears, anxiety, and stress as well as hope, dreams and love that I do.”

“I was surprised to discover how much our faith in God and God’s presence in each of our lives truly unites us. . . deeply. As I listened to the stories of the people I did not know, I was amazed how much I could relate to them. I’m a little surprised actually that I am surprised by this! It’s something that I’ve always believed in some way, but here I truly experienced it, and powerfully so.”

“My heart has been softened in the sense that now I want to hear about a person’s story with God rather than just assuming, because they affiliate with a denomination, that they don’t really have a relationship with Jesus. I can’t stereotype a denomination like that.”

“I used to get really caught up in proving certain points about being Protestant vs. Catholic. Now I am seeing those points don’t matter. What matters is our hearts to serve Jesus and that we believe in Him. We are all after the same thing and that is spreading the Good News of Jesus.”

  “This process. . . has helped me to see that I can disagree with people and not feel attacked or intimidated by that, and still love them very, very well. I can love my brothers and sisters well despite denomination and hold true to some of my beliefs. . . It is a wonderful exchange and gift we can give one another.”

  “I respect what Catholics are doing more now. I just need to listen to them. Our differences don’t seem that important anymore.”

"Every time I was able to laugh or cry with the other, there was healing. Every time someone nodded their head affirmatively, I felt healing. I felt connected with the other and that was healing for me. I felt like we were in this together. We were loving kids and pushing in towards Jesus.”

“[This journey] of tears, laughs, Jesus, vulnerability, and raw emotions have brought us together and revealed a common bond of Jesus between us all. I think of the line in Austin Powers when Dr. Evil tells Austin that ‘we’re not so different, you and I’ and it turns out they are really brothers. We are all brothers and sisters.”

“One of the biggest things God has revealed to me through this is the way we are all parts of the Body of Christ. Each one of us, Catholic or Protestant, fills a role, a calling by God.”

“[Protestants] and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.”
From Conflict to Communion, a joint project of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

[1] These quotes were drawn from my doctoral project, “One Lord, One Body, One Mission,” an ecumenical endeavor involving storytelling, relationship building, and discovering our common mission in Christ.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Tide is Turning

The tide is turning and I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about the relationship between Young Life and the Catholic Church. From Oregon to New York, from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande, Young Life and the Catholic Church are working together to reach kids. Esteemed ecumenical scholar and University of Notre Dame professor Mark Noll says, “It has been my privilege to witness up close the rising tide of cooperation that now links once-separated parts of the Christian world. Young Life is contributing to that cooperation.” And nowhere is this more true than Grosse Pointe, MI, a coastal suburban city outside Detroit.

“We’re partners, not competitors,” exclaimed Murray Sales, the Young Life committee chair whose passion for ecumenism is infectious. In a town where Catholics constitute up to half of the population, Young Life Grosse Pointe is taking its commitment to “every kid” seriously. No less than half of their committee is Catholic. They’ve asked the local Catholic priest to give a talk at club this year. And they’re working hard to build a leadership team that reflects their students. “Having equal representation sets us up to reach students from every background,” notes Patrick Mollison, the local Young Life area director. “The ecumenical commitment from the committee has allowed us to focus on students knowing Christ, and no time is wasted arguing about our differences.”

Pat’s Christian upbringing sowed the seeds for unity early on. “Growing up I watched my parents model Christian unity,” he said. His father a faithful Catholic and his mother a committed Protestant, together they provided a nurturing, Christ-centered home where Pat’s relationship with Christ grew. “My parents showed me that when Catholics and Protestants set aside their differences and focused on the overwhelming unity present in their traditions that God could do great things.”

And the Catholic community in town is taking note. Sarah Kaczmarek, the much-loved Catholic youth minister at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church, has found in Young Life not only common ground but friendship. “As a youth minister my deepest desire is that teens get to know, and fall in love with Jesus,” Sarah said. “When I saw that Young Life wanted the same thing for every single young person in Grosse Pointe, it was easy to build a solid relationship!”  

Those solid relationships between Young Life and Catholic leaders has allowed them to focus their attention on building real relationships with kids. Sarah went on to say:

Kids need relationship.  First they want relationship with an adult who cares about them and is concerned about what they're concerned about.  Ultimately, they have a need for Christ.  Our job is to build that relationship first with them and then help them translate that into an experience of God's love and a relationship with Jesus.

Not in competition. Not in silos. Young Life and the Catholic Church are called to work together to ensure that every kid has a chance to know Jesus Christ and follow him. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s a reality. “This is an enormous blessing for Young Life in Grosse Pointe,” Pat reflects. And this blessing extends to the Church, Murray Sales explains. “As we have communicated many times across our Christian community: our ultimate goal at Young Life is to become irrelevant. We want to reach every kid and introduce them to Christ, plug them into a loving church community, and watch them grow in their faith. If we do this successfully, all kids in our community will be reached and Young Life will know that it has completed its mission.”

The tide is turning indeed. Isn’t it time you join in?