I've had the pleasure to chatting with Et Tu Jen? (who is now Conversion Diary Jen) about the difference growing up atheist versus growing up Protestant. When I first started reading her wonderfully written posts two years ago, I arrogantly assumed that I was so far ahead in our mutual faith journey. I grew up going to church on Sunday. I memorized the words to the "Our Father" in third grade. I knew the names to the Old Testament bible stories.
Struggling mightily with full belief in the Eucharist has flipped this around. I realized that all the time I spent in the pew, I got fed "misinformation" about Jesus. Jesus was there in name, but his message was subtly shifted around. WIthout a firm grasp on the truth, "anything goes" is the rule for preaching on the pulpit.
There was the Christmas sermon where my minister carefully explained that in Jesus' time, it was common for animals and people to sleep together under the same roof. So saying that Jesus was born in the stable, wasn't really a message about poverty or isolation. Jesus was really born with his relatives house in the warmest place they could find, next to the cattle. I remember sitting on the red velvet lined pew in my parents church in college during that sermon thinking, "Hmm, I must have had this lonely stable image all wrong in my head. I'm so glad Jesus didn't really suffer on the night of his birth."
Can you imagine that? That line of thinking inverts the entire mystery of Navitity. It's completely incompatible with basic Scripture. But that's how things went all the time in my old Protestant church. Everyone had their own opinion on "faith." As long as the faith fell into some broad outlines (Jesus was the son of God, etc.) -- it was valid. Questions were encouraged. Debate was healthy. Preachers were free to use modern day biblical scholarship or snippets from the Sunday paper to "update" the message of Jesus to better fit our modern times.
My church taught that Jesus was the divine Son of God. Yet their own sermons constantly struggled with this image.
Jesus didn't really multiple the loaves of bread. That miracle was accomplished by everyone sharing their private lunch boxes which they had hiddened under their cloaks. Jesus didn't know that he was supposed to save the non-Jews until the Gentile woman who used the "even the dogs get feed from the scraps that fall from the table" opened his eyes. These examples of "misinterpretation" which ultimately lead to the conclusion about Jesus' basic divinity.
Was Jesus really divine? Did he mean what he said? About everything? Did he mean what he said about the hard stuff? Did he really mean "No Divorce?" And if your skirting the line by approving remarriage and birth control and the "Eucharist is just a symbol" how can you really hold a strong belief that Jesus said what he meant about inheriting enternal life?
I found this year as a Catholic, that I've had to painfully relearn everything from scratch. I realized that all that time sitting in a Protestant pew meant that I was missing Jesus by inches. Somehow, that was even more dangerous than missing him by miles.
In a month, the Anglican Church (which is my faith tradition) will send leaders from all over the world to the Canterbury Cathedral in England. The Vatican officials have said that this conclave is critical. The Anglican Church faces a serious crisis over it's approval of gay marriage and the ordination of gay bishops. There is no head of the Anglican Church, no Pope. So there is no firm leadership on this issue. The Church in America has ordinated gay bishops. The Church in England and Africa has refused. In nearby Virginia, the debate has gotten so intense that fifteen Episcopal churches have withdrawn from the American oversight and requested to be overseen by a bishop in Africa. The Vatican has said that it is time for the Anglican Church to decide if it has more in common with the Roman Catholics and Orthodox Church, or the modern day Protestants of the 16th Century.
Let us pray this month for a complete conversion of hearts. Let us pray that everyone, the secular athetists and the Protestants, stop their spiritual blindness. May we have true unity of one flock under one shepard soon!