The Call to Christian Unity

Christian unity was not something that bothered me much as a Protestant.

Even as someone who was Sola Scriptura, I didn’t see the issue there. But now, for some reason from the angle I am coming from now, I can confidently say the division among Christians that we see today is not Biblical. And I believe that the global Church has an obligation to do something about it.

With over 30,000 Protestant denominations globally (and counting) . . . I don’t think it’s possible that we are living in fulfillment of what Jesus said in John 17:21: “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Just let that sink in for a moment. In all of our divisions, we are unable to follow a very clear statement of the One we believe to be our Savior in how we are to operate as His followers. This should be a problem for us.

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I acknowledge that all who follow Jesus are in some way imperfectly united with the global Church. In fact, during my Confirmation, I was welcomed into “full unity” with the Catholic church- I had been imperfectly united with the Church my whole life by virtue of my Christian faith.

But the reality is that the Body of Christ on Earth, His Church, is currently, really, really fractured. We are supposed to be one body… so that people will believe in Jesus. From the mouth of God Himself.

The point of this post is to raise this as an issue of serious concern for all Christians. Many people have a vague idea of the issues involved in the Reformation… but don’t give them much thought. That was the largest and most significant split in Christianity’s history. The first official break of unity. We should seek to understand it, from both sides, and reconcile in any ways possible to each other.  Serve together in any ways possible. Open dialogue together in any ways possible.

We should not hole ourselves up in our own network of like-minded people, reading books by only like-minded theologians, hanging out with only-like minded friends from our like-minded church. This is something that needs to be wrestled with and through. I don’t think it’s acceptable for us to be content in our own pocket. Scripture is pretty clear on that. We are called to unity. Isolating ourselves in our own safety-net of those whose thinking aligns with ours at some point falls in the category of disobedience in light of that call.

It’s been heartbreaking for me on a few occasions to find out that some people no longer deem me fit to serve alongside them in Christian ministry since becoming Catholic. Part of the heartbreak has been the personal joy I had previously taken in being part of the same Church as them, and serving alongside them through that Church, and then feeling in many ways cut off from friendship and ecumenical ministry opportunities together in one fell swoop. It was hard because the people who have done this fully admit to not having spent much time studying and understanding Catholic theology from a Catholic perspective (which, I will fully admit… takes a bit of a time investment. This stuff is deep). That’s difficult because they don’t even correctly understand what they claim to be objecting to so much that I cannot be allowed to serve alongside them. It feels unfair. No only to me, but even moreso to the Body. To tell someone “I’m sorry, you’re wrong… so wrong in fact that I can’t serve with you in any capacity. And I have very little motivation to associate with you as a person at this point. And I also have no interest in understanding what you actually do believe.” I cannot believe it brings pleasure to God when something like that happens. And the divide widens.

Now, that said, I have some wonderful, amazing friends in my life from several churches that I have the privilege to know, pray with, and some, to serve with (still!). Even though doctrinally we have some differences, we rejoice in our ability to be honest with each other, and talk things through, and, yes, serve together, even while we each pray for more unity as a global Church. These are people that know my walk with the Lord, and whose own walks I respect and admire deeply. And I have appreciated those relationships more than ever lately.

If we want to move towards Christian unity… where do we start? Some of the questions I have asked and continue to ask myself involve the Catholic Church and whether or not it corrected in the ways Luther objected to, and what his objections were, and the history of the Reformation and the splits that followed. I hadn’t even heard of the Jansenism heresy before becoming Catholic, and that has greatly informed my understanding of Luther and the Reformation as a whole. I wonder if Luther would have objected to the Catholic Church as it is today?  I don’t think he would…

I also wonder how many Christians make it a priority to engage in dialogue with believers from other Christian traditions and churches, in an effort to move closer together.

I wonder what it would take to make that happen…

To stir up a heart for unity among all Christian believers… if Jesus said it was important, that it should totally be important to us. Let’s understand each other. Let’s open dialogue with each other. Let’s find ways to move closer together. I don’t have all the answers, but I know it’s important. So that the world will believe. Amen.

 

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Losing Jesus

I take a lot of comfort in knowing that my Savior knows how I feel, in every circumstance. Jesus knows being misunderstood. Jesus knows being misheard, and misinterpreted. He knows the truth in love he was trying to share, and that he as God and Man embodied, and people being so caught up in the minutiae that they missed the bigger picture. They missed Him. They didn’t understand it so badly that they killed him.

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Me, in my passion and excitement, and my friends, in their concern for me, are so focusing in on the differences between our faiths that we are losing Jesus. And I don’t know how to get the focus back in proportion. Some friends won’t concede that we have much common ground, maybe even more common ground than they realize. Are we never going to be able to grow in our faith together, even through the divide? I hope and pray that it isn’t so.

I have many friends who say they love me, but those same friends are very clearly doubting that I am a Christian, and in some cases, possibly, maybe, that I ever was.

I can honestly say that I respect the Christian faith they are living out, I can even say I understand how they may come to different conclusions on some things. I did that, too. I get it. But some of the most important friendships to me have been the ones where I will be told I am loved, but I have yet to be told that they respect this decision in how JP and I are deciding to live out our Christian faith. But that could be asking too much. It may be unfair of me to ask that. Maybe those that are struggling so much just can’t right now. Or ever. And I need to be okay with that.

I am finding that the depth of Catholicism is so vast, and the misconceptions so deeply rooted, that some of these conversations feel like the childhood game “lava.” I’m jumping around from blanket to couch to table, but one wrong word choice, one thing not phrased just the right way, and I fall. I’m burned.

And it all just leaves me wondering… where is Jesus in that? Is that what Jesus did or how he handled things? And, more importantly, how am I contributing to the misfires?

I am thankful that defending Jesus or the Catholic faith is not a responsibility I bear on my shoulders. God can use me, but God can also defend himself.  It will all continue to be and thrive despite my stumbles in speech, my feeling inadequate.

And I hope, somehow, through this all, I am sustained. Whenever I’m in one of these discussions now, my hands have started shaking. I’ve had some anxiety before, and it’s uncomfortable feeling that way again.

I need wisdom. What I need to step back from? And how? And what should I still engage in? When do I speak and when do I remain silent? How much of these hurts do I let go of? Did I hurt them as well? In trying to stay afloat amidst dozens of questions on dozens of different topics, I, too, probably, lost sight of Jesus. God, forgive me.

I think in most cases people have aired out what they wanted to say. I still have a few people that are important to me to tell this week, but I’m going to try very hard to keep those conversations from going down the same path.

I’m so tired. I’m not even fully able to enjoy all I have access to now as part of this faith. I need rest. I need Jesus to be near. This is part of the path I must walk. Things will settle out, people will have everything off their chest.

What I really hope is that these friendships can be preserved, and that people will be able to see Jesus in me as I grow in faith over time.

But what do I need to do now to preserve peace, and calm. I need discernment. I need to keep sight of Jesus through this all and let Jesus pick me up amidst my own failings and lean on His grace as I move forward.

 

Weary of The Talks

Well… this is getting … exhausting.  I’m upset today. And tired. The reason these conversations have been taking so long to have with all the people we need to have them with, is that they just plain wipe me out and exhaust me. I can only do so many in a stretch. The goal of this post is to just provide a real and truthful entry into how difficult this has been. In fact, it actually worked in our favor at the end of the Talk today that I was so emotional about it. I was able to say that even though this is clearly so incredibly difficult for me, I am still going. He acknowledged that that meant something. So, here’s an inside look into some of the specific struggles and emotions associated with converting from Protestantism to Catholicism.

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I think the crux of it is that we are, as we were told today, thought of as deep thinkers, and the idea of us making this change is almost inconceivable. How could such deep thinkers become Catholic? I suggest, that is precisely why we are becoming Catholic. It doesn’t reconcile with them. I can understand that would provoke emotion. There is so much more respect for theological differences between Protestant denominations than there is between Protestants and Catholics.

There are so many times when I am in one of the “Talks” and I don’t feel like I have the right words to say at the right moment. We were talking today with someone who has a Masters in Divinity, so there was no way we were going to know more than him in some areas. I respect the time he’s devoted to his study of God.

But… if I could have said everything I wanted to say, at the right moment… I did say some things, but, man, when words fail. They fail too much in my opinion. Right when I need them. Some things I know the answers to, or at least can explain my thinking on, some things I don’t. But I am comforted to know that logical, cohesive answers are out there, and easily accessible to me. Just not in the middle of difficult conversations, unfortunately. And, you know what, maybe that is good for me in the long run. I am not a know-it-all. I have a lot to learn. But, I still feel like it would be nice to be able to explain myself like I can on this blog when I’m in a conversation with somebody.

One of the most hurtful parts of this all is that I have been a Christian since I could comprehend who Jesus was. I have had Catholic people question my faith when I was Protestant, and now I have Protestant people questioning my faith now that I’m becoming Catholic. It’s just difficult.

I respect others as deep thinking people who have good and sincere reasons for their beliefs, even if we disagree. I do believe in Truth, but to push so hard on someone who has so much in common with you such as to make them cry is too much… but then I find myself acknowledging I’ve been on the other side of things- I’ve unintentionally pushed too hard and upset some friends. So it’s on me, too.

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All that to say, we have been very thankful for the support of everyone who has been supportive so far. One of the arguments we heard today was that all of our friends think this is a bad decision, so it should give us pause. He didn’t know about the many friends and family in on the other side of things that are happy for us, and support the decision.

Everyone’s prayers and encouragement are definitely heard and felt. In fact, my Confirmation Sponsor, JP’s Aunt Lorraine, arranged for the Nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery to pray for our family during this time.

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The card from the Nuns of the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.

Prayer for our family starts today and goes through the 22nd.

Please, pray for our family as we continue this journey. Pray for strength of faith, for grace from and for friends and for relationships to be preserved. For the wisdom of what words to say and what words not to say. For us to be able to provide a different face to Catholicism to our Protestant friends, to break down walls and barriers and to remove misconceptions through our love and our lives. 

A Few Things of Note

I have started to have the conversations with friends to tell them about this journey I’ve been on. A few things have happened of note, throughout the talks I’ve had so far.

Big Feelings. I knew some friends, or maybe even most, wouldn’t be super on board with my conversion to Catholicism. But I don’t think I anticipated all the Big Feelings that would be there. A dear and precious friend telling me, close to tears, that the concepts of things like confession are ones she just completely doesn’t understand. In that moment I wanted to tell her that I totally get it. I didn’t understand it for my entire life up until about a month ago. But it has been such a delicate dance to share this with people I love and to know when to explain how my views have changed and when it is better to just listen. I know I haven’t handled that perfectly. I’m so excited about all this Truth that I didn’t know before, and how it’s changing everything, and yet it took me years of disagreement before things changed. How to speak truth and be sensitive and loving and patient at the same time…. and to know when to do what…. of that I have failed and will fail again.

I, too, have had Big Feelings. I’ve cried all the way home from conversations with people so important to me. Knowing that I’m causing distress, on one hand. Feeling sad because those dear people are not going to be happy for me in what is a huge moment in my life on the other.

Surprising Objections. I anticipated some things, and felt at least decently prepared to talk about them. But I had a few friends uncomfortable with the idea of me referring to them as Protestants. I didn’t expect that. It was difficult to kind of have to reframe how any denomination or church formed post-reformation would fall under that umbrella, though you can’t lump all Protestants under any one umbrella in most areas. I also had friends who were adamantly un-unnerved by all the divisions in the church, and hadn’t given much consideration to the idea of the Holy Spirit preserving correct interpretation of the Bible on a large scale, and were much more comfortable with the idea that bits of truth scattered among the Christian churches of the world, and our interpretation of total truth is flawed due to sin. Though, I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was.  But also it was so very foreign to them, that it was almost a situation of it being incomprehensible because it had never entered their minds as a possibility. They have known nothing else. And I get that, because I’ve been there too.

Things that Surprisingly Went Well. There were a couple of occasions where I felt I did a solid and logical job of explaining something. One such item would be the whole “God has actually preserved true interpretation of Scripture through His Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church” thing. My basis was that, as Christians, we believe a whole bunch of sinful, flawed people, were used by God to create a book we believe to be infallible. Truth. Pure Truth. I said I believe God to be loving, and it doesn’t make sense to me that God would leave us with an infallible book and only flawed and broken means of interpreting it. That was one moment where I felt like I conveyed my thoughts clearly and accurately, and that at the very least people were following my logic to the conclusion.

There were also people I have talked to where I haven’t cried on the way home. People who reassured me of their love and friendship in such an encouraging way after a deep and intense conversation. A couple who even said they were happy for me. Ok- I’ll take it! It was relieving and refreshing after much intensity.

The Exhaustion. The past few days have been draining. I am so, so exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

None of my friends are going to be content with me saying that I just feel God’s presence in the Catholic Church and just being drawn to that. I do, and I am, but that isn’t everything. I’m being drawn by deeply theological reasons, and they are for the most part deep thinkers that are going to ask deep questions.

Moving Forward.

It’s interesting to me how over the past few months this blog, that began as an online journal of me beginning a line of inquiry into Catholicism has turned into a blog journaling my conversion. I didn’t say surprising, because I don’t think I’m really surprised. Converting is a logical next step after the research and soul-searching I’ve done. But it’s interesting… interesting because Lorelei from 10 Years Ago would have never imagined being here. Interesting because this started as a personal journey and has become a journey that others are joining me on through reading and conversation. And interesting because I still have questions, that I will continue to explore, but I’ve learned enough to understand that the Catholic church has thought about and discerned every belief they have on a much deeper level than I have ever seen anywhere. I don’t think I’m going to find something in my personal search that will stump Catholic theology or logic. Now… my personality type is such that I will continue to look into questions that arise, but I continue to do so boldly, and unafraid of the answers I will find.

 

The Misconceptions

I told a friend yesterday about what’s going on with me and JP and studying Catholicism with the possibility of conversion. This was a bit of an easier friend to start with because she is not connected with our current church.

I was all like “Can I test out a difficult conversation that I’m going to need to have with a lot of people on you?” And she was like “Sure.” And I was like, “JP and I are thinking about becoming Catholic.” And she said, “I’m probably not the best person to talk to about this.”

Great start! Ha.

But it ended up being ok.

Her first question to me was about needing to go to a priest vs. talking directly to God. That’s a very classic concern for Protestants. I’m working on writing about it now, but the necessity of Confession for Catholics was surprisingly difficult for me to understand, and I’m probably going to become Catholic, so her point was understood for sure.

I began by sharing with my friend that, of course, Catholic Christians can also pray directly to God, and should. And that one of the main premises of Catholicism is that since as humans,we are both physical bodies and spiritual beings, many of their practices give a tangible representation of what is going on spiritually, and that confession is one of those situations. I went into more detail than that, but that’s for another entry because how I actually went from being someone who would ask the same question my friend asked to someone who was arguing for the other side of the issue requires more explanation.

All said, though, once I finished explaining how I’ve come to understand the importance and role of Confession in the Catholic church, she replied: “It makes sense when you explain it like that.” Yes! It does make sense. But I also got the impression that confession was only one of many, many things that make her a bit squeemish when it comes to Catholicism. And, unfortunately, we had arrived at our destination and had to end it there for now.

When I talked to JP about my conversation later last night we both shook our heads at how many deep-seated misconceptions there are about what Catholicism is. Mostly it seems to be due to people who go through all the ritual but aren’t engaged in their hearts. And who, even beyond that, don’t live a Christian life outside of church. Protestants see a perception of meaninglessness to it all, and instead of attributing the meaninglessness to the disengaged people, they attribute it to the faith as a whole.

What is particularly interesting to me about this is Protestants have the same frustration when it comes to non-Christians having deep-seated misconceptions about Christianity. We are very quick to say the Christian Protestant church is full of sinful people, and that people are wrong to base their perception of God on what the people do instead of who God is. Many non-Christians who use that argument have also probably not looked deeply into the theology and rationality of Christianity.

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But so many Protestants take that same prejudice and apply it to Catholicism.

How many Protestants have looked deeply into the theology and rationality of the Catholic faith? From what I’ve seen growing up, it’s not many. I sure didn’t. I just let people tell me untrue things about it, and believed them. And yet how many have a strong predisposition against Catholicism because of how Catholic’s they’ve known have behaved? Too many.

I think this point is fair enough, for sure, but at the same time I don’t think it entirely lets Catholics off the hook. Just like I don’t think the arguments about Christians being hypocritical and thus the faith being invalid lets any Christian off the hook.

The Catholic church focuses doctrinally more on living a holy life than any other denomination. And Christians in general have a well-defined moral code we are called to live by. We need to be better. Being lukewarm in our faith is worse to God than being cold. We need to live this Christian life so that people can’t use us as an excuse to not live in communion with God.

At the same time, though, I think it would be wise for Protestant Christians to not make the same error in logic we are so quick to point out that non-Christians make. How sinful people live out their faith isn’t reason enough to prove that the faith is wrong. Seeing some Catholics just go through the motions isn’t reason enough to prove that Catholicism is ritualistic and empty.

I sincerely hope to be able to have some great dialogue when I’m able to have time to share this journey with my other friends, and to continue it with my friend from last night. They may not be easy conversations, but I have found so much logical, down-to-the-core truth in my study of Catholicism so far, that I know I have a solid foundation to stand on.

 

Pushback

I know for a fact that JP had plenty of it when he stepped away from the Catholic faith. I had plenty of it when I didn’t become Catholic when we got married.

Tonight, JP decided to share with one of his close friends what he considers an answer to a prayer to God for unity between him an myself. He has been feeling drawn back to the Catholic faith for some time now, and completely on my own I have been interested in looking into it as well.

Instead of thankfulness, JP was met with resistance. That we would be breaking our covenant of membership with our local congregation. That this isn’t the right way to go about things.

One area that we have struggled in is that during our membership class at our current church they didn’t go into depth on any of the things we tried asking in depth questions on- we we just sort of swept along in the process of it. We couldn’t find a time, or place, or person to go deeper with us. I felt like we tried very hard to be okay with it, then we wrestled, and wrestled some more, now we just can’t come out in the same place we thought we were when we started membership classes.

In some ways, I’m really sad about the chasm between Protestant and Catholic believers. But that’s kind of a reason for me to join the largest group of Christians on the planet… because the divisions are not how God intended the Church to be. And in other ways, it’s sad for me that JP’s friend doesn’t recognize that JP’s first covenant of membership was with the Catholic church… and that to JP it would be like returning home.

And that’s what I told JP about RCIA. I’m going to ask all the questions I have, and I hope people engage in it. I need to be somewhere where deep thinking about faith is common practice.

JP told his dad tonight… I hope I end up on the right side of this. It’s hard not to talk about such a significant movement, but it’s also hard to talk about it because many people will have strong opinions about what we are pursuing, and JP will need the support from his family. And it’s scary for me to be thinking about joining something I was so passionately against joining for so many years. Like… have I gone nuts, or what has changed in me that Catholicism is starting to make sense. And the question… will we lose friends? And the hope that we won’t.

I’m not looking forward much to the pushback that is likely inevitable. I hope it isn’t as I imagine it might be. That would be very difficult indeed.