Give A Gift That Defies Our Differences

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A Protestant and A Catholic Walk Into A Blog – Part 1

 

Artwork: Banksy

I’m a Christian. Which I’m proud to be. (Hopefully not in the arrogant way, but the grateful kind of way.)

Unfortunately, though, I’m Protestant, too.

There are basically three branches of Christianity: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. Then there are a million denominations within those three branches.

I think these branches and denominations tell the world more about our tendency to divide, than they do about the belief in Jesus Christ we all share.

When it comes to the branch I was raised in, it’s hard because I think we’ve become a product of our name.

Protestants.

We protest everything.

Doctrine. Sacraments. Worship styles. Methodology. Social equality. Carpet color. Dress code. Presidential candidates. Drinking. Dancing. Playing cards. Secular music. Women in ministry. Change. Disney World. Versions of the bible. Science. Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny. Halloween. Care for the environment. Preachers. Rock ‘n roll. Heretics, and the Teletubbies.

You name it, we’ve protested it.

We are so often known for what we’re against, we are hardly known for what we’re for. (Aside from protesting.)

This can be toxic and unhealthy in so many ways. Our influence, our message, and our spiritual survival is at stake. I know, when it comes to the United States, we are worried about being destroyed by the culture and progressive policy. But we may actually destroy ourselves first. How much more can we divide before we practically become non-existent?

I keep asking myself, are we missing the point?

One of the main targets of our protests has been each other.

Especially the Catholic branch of Christianity.

I’ve heard all the protests, multiple times. I’ve chosen to stop protesting and start affirming. Stop overlooking and start learning. Stop rejecting and start loving.

(If we’re not quite ready to give up protesting, maybe we should start protesting the close-mindedness, the haughtiness, and the aversion that divide us.)

Over the past couple years my perspective has shifted and my mindset has expanded as I’ve developed a friendship with my Catholic brother from another mother, Zac Johnson. He is passionate about Jesus Christ and the Catholic church. I have grown to appreciate his spiritual heritage and his faith inspires me to seek Father, Son, and Holy Spirit above the confines of denominations and divisions.

I asked him to share a little bit about his faith and Catholicism, which he generously agreed to do. So much so that it’ll take up the next two blog posts! Just wait until you read the part about the saints, uhhhhh-mazingggg!

I hope it moves us away from protesting everything, and toward uniting around what matters most.

///

Now, may I introduce you to my friend, Zac Johnson…

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hey! I’m Zac! I’m pretty simple: I love Jesus, the Catholic Church, my wife, Emily, video games (especially the Halo series) and Netflix…I am a 20 year old, after all. I have a passion for bringing others into a deep relationship with Jesus Christ.

Tell us about your Catholic journey.

Well, I grew up Catholic (I’m what people call a “cradle Catholic”). I was baptized as a baby, received First Communion and Confirmation while in school, and went through all the motions of a good Catholic boy. Deep down though, in my young teenage soul, I wasn’t entirely sold on all of it. I understood that my mother wanted me to go to church and receive the Sacraments (communion, confession, etc.) but I never really understood why.

At around 7th or 8th grade I really started to drift away from the Faith. I always went to church on Sunday (because my good mother made me) but I really didn’t have too much of an interest in learning more about the “why” or the “what”, or more importantly the who behind my Faith.

Very long story short, I ended up loving hardcore metal music and, around my freshman year of high school, saw a band called For Today play at a dingy local venue. That band changed my life, man. They were SO on fire for Jesus Christ that you could not help but feel an irresistible yank towards Him. Mattie, the hard-charging, tattooed, sweaty vocalist commanded those in the crowd to make a choice: Pick Jesus and start following Him RIGHT NOW, or reject Him and stay in a world that will lead you nowhere except to pain and destruction. I made my choice for Christ right there. A seed was planted, a seed that continuous to grow to this day. 

This is where the story gets a bit interesting, though, because in hindsight my next step shouldn’t have been the one I took. For Today is a non-denominational, Evangelical band, and over the years I’ve discerned that they might have what you could call a few “anti-established religion” sentiments. After going to the show and experiencing this transformation, it would have made sense for me to do the popular thing that thousands of other young Catholics were doing: leave the Catholic Church and become just a “Christ follower”. All of the voices in my life at this time who were leading me closer to Christ were not Catholic voices, plus there was this really cool skate church down the road from my mom’s house that I REALLY wanted to go to. However, instead of immediately jumping ship, I asked a question: is Catholicism true? Because if it is, then it doesn’t matter what’s popular. In a sense, it doesn’t even matter what I want. The only thing that matters is what is true and what God wants me to do.

As I began to ask these questions, I finally discovered why my mom wanted me to go to church and to confession and to all of the other sacraments: because Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe and the perfect lover of my soul was meeting me there. He had been meeting me there all along, and there was no way I could leave Him now.

How would you describe your faith today?

I envision my faith today as a war-torn castle at the end of the Middle Ages. It was built flawlessly by a Master Builder, but has seen its fair share of battles against enemies from both the outside and the inside. It has weapons scattered everywhere and walls built up high enough to keep bad forces out, but also a bridge to let good forces in. It has waged many wars, but each victory has only inspired its troops and fortified their desire to defend their stronghold. It bears the sign of the Cross upon its highest building, and it’s that sign that refreshes the people who live inside the castle like a drink from a cold fountain. It’s because of the Cross that they have the courage to fight, the sustenance to live; it’s because of the Cross that they’re alive.

My faith today is God’s doing. It’s all grace. If it were up to me, I would still be a small worldly man addicted to things that will kill him. After years of discipleship, I’m still learning more and more each day about how much the Father loves me. Isn’t that the first thing you learn at Sunday school? Do we ever really grasp it? My faith is a continuous learning process, and I find something new every day that fascinates me about it (you can ask my poor wife, who had her ears talked off long ago).

I also love apologetics and evangelization, and God has really used me in these two areas over the last couple of years. These passions come from the same source that my entire Catholic Faith comes from: truth. I have found, over constant questioning and study, that the Catholic faith is true. It is real. It is reality. The joy that comes from this realization is overwhelming and naturally overflows to those I meet and minister to. Jesus put it flawlessly when He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).

How is your faith expanding, growing?

At the moment, my faith is expanding in the realm of mercy. My wife shows me unimaginable mercy, and I’ve been called to show mercy to others in my life in a particular way over the past year. This is really cool and providential because Pope Francis recently declared this year to be a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” where we really seek to share Christ’s mercy with the world around us.

God’s mercy has always exploded my mind more than any other attribute of His. Throughout my time of striving to be a disciple of Christ, I have fallen over and over and over again, yet each time Jesus is there to take me by the arm and lift me back up to the loving embrace of my Father. This is where being Catholic becomes really rich. In Catholicism, we have this thing called the sacrament of reconciliation (also known as confession). I promise it’s not as scary and weird as what you’ve seen in movies. It is hard to do, though, but boy is it rewarding. Jesus has broken addictions of mine through the sacrament of reconciliation. I have come into such a deep relationship with Jesus through this sacrament that I honestly can’t imagine my life without it.

So, following Pope Francis’s call, I’m really trying to understand more deeply what God’s mercy means for me and how I can better show His mercy to the people in my life.

That’s it for part one.

So good, right!

Look out for, A Protestant and A Catholic Walk Into A Blog – Part 2, next Friday.

Grace & Peace.

 

An Empire I Want Nothing To Do With

Is the church for people?

A good friend of mine posed this question to me a couple weeks ago. It’s a provoking question. The reason being the preposition, for. It makes the question open-ended, layered, and versatile.

What is the question asking?

Is the church for people–has it been given to people intentionally?

Or, is the church for people–on their side, in their corner?

Or, is the church for people–meant to be used in a particular manner?

(Take a second to scratch your head in confusion, stroke your real or imaginary beard in contemplation, and rub the back of your neck in consternation.)

How would you answer?

For me, I’m not so sure anymore.

I recently spent a few days with some friends on a retreat. As we were discussing things like work, and struggles, and plans, someone asked all of us, what is wearing you down, what is making you tired?

I took a moment to reflect and then responded:

I’m worn out with and and tired of the attitude and actions of the church in the public sphere–in interviews on the news and posts on social media and articles in the newspaper.

A few days after the retreat I returned home to find out that Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of my alma mater, Liberty University, had made an outrageous statement in response to the shootings in San Bernardino:

If the people in that community center had had what I got in my back pocket right now…If more good people had conceal carry permits then we can end those Muslims. I just want to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course. Let’s teach ’em a lesson if they ever show up here.

ugh. smh.

It seems as if the church’s public statement to the question, is the church for people, is one of exclusion, self-righteousness, judgment, arrogance, and fear. So, no.

And it’s wearing me out. Because I’m associated. I’m invested. I have the same last name, essentially, and the crazy relatives are talking out of turn.

A couple thoughtful individuals have found words to express what I feel all knotted up in my chest and pulsing in my rising blood pressure:

First, Charles Howard, University Chaplain of the University of Pennsylvania writes:

The most upsetting thing for me in wake of the recent terror attacks beyond my grief for those lost, is what all of this doing to the church. The fear that has snuck into many hearts is now changing the Body of Christ making us in some parts completely unrecognizable and little like the One whose name we bear. And many of us who object to the Terrorized Post-Christian Church that is emerging are standing silently on the margins, in some ways offering just as poor a witness.

Next, Shane Claiborne, author and activist, spoke out saying, As I listened to the words of Mr. Falwell, I could not help asking, ‘Are we worshipping the same Jesus?’

To give everyone a little bit of history, Christianity was birthed within the realm and rule of the Roman Empire. The church suffered great wakes of persecution and suffering as it grew under the watchful eye and heavy hand of the Caesars. The most fascinating part of the church’s response to terror, intimidation, and persecution was faith, hope, charity, joy, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness–actions proving response that the Gospel is actually good news for all people–for they were humans living in tune with resurrection. This does not mean, in any way, that they didn’t feel pain or sadness or grief or fear, but they chose a different response. 

Not an empire response.

A kingdom response.

The Roman Empire wanted to dominate the known world.

The kingdom of God wanted to bring abundant life to the whole universe.

Caesar used violence and fear to bring continents into submission.

Jesus used sacrifice and blessing to bring the dead to life.

As Christianity expanded it would eventually become the religion of the Roman Empire. Any time an empire gets hold of something it typically uses it for it’s own advantage. This is what happened and soon enough the church was persecuting others and subjecting the “irreligious” and different-religious to different forms of torment (spiritually, religiously, physically, socially).

Is this not happening today when it comes to the issues of guns, gays, Muslims, race, refugees, and political parties?

It sounds extreme but the leaders of the Christian Empire are using their platform and influence to promote fear and violence. It all comes across as a bunch of talk without much care for those they talk to or talk about.

This is an empire I want nothing to do with.

It seems purely anti-Christ.

For the message of Christ was the complete opposite:

Faith over fear.

Peace over violence.

Love over hate. (Seriously. Seriously, before you do anything else, love first!!!!)

Does this mean we should live carelessly? Of course not! It was Jesus who told us to be wise as serpents, but let us not forget, in the same phrase he balanced it by telling us to be gentle as doves.

Are we peacemakers or violent avengers?

Are we afraid of all we see or do we have faith in what is unseen?

The Empire will always be for itself.

The kingdom of God is for all people.

The church is to be an expression of this preposition.

Pope Francis (who appears to be inciting change within his context), describing it perfectly, as only he can, puts it this way, we [the church] are to be the visible sign of the Father’s love in the world.

This is the only way that anyone will ever know, and believe, that the church, and its God, is for them.

And the only way worth our energy.