One of the attributes of America that I find intriguing is the fascination in being “different,” “hipster” if you will. I don’t think that this is different from most people; I think we all have an inherent and flawed fascination with the novel, the new, the modern. It accounts for the success of advertising and its captive consumer culture. I remember (with a smirk) the days when I played competitive soccer and Nike would come out with new colors for the same model cleats every two months or so, at which point the old colors (although no different in make) would drop $40 in price. It’s hilarious.
All this to say, I wonder if we give being different and unique too much hype. To continue with the cleats analogy, some of the guys wearing old Adidas Copas (ancient bare bones cleats) were just as good as those wearing the new Nike Mercurials with all the bells and whistles.
They’re both still cleats. Yes, there are some differences but they are both still soccer cleats. This is their essential attribute and nature. The fact that one is more flashy and novel is of no practical consequence. They’re both still soccer cleats
My point is, being new and different is not all it’s cracked up to be. Going into this semester, I have to wonder if I was riding off of that hype. A rare Catholic in a sea of evangelicals at Biola University. I fell victim to the appeal of being different. And coming to the end of the semester I find myself completely drained.
I was blessed with a supportive community this summer at Younglife that accepted my Christianity as valid, and time spent with them was refreshing and a much needed retreat from a pretty rough year before that. It’s communities like this that give us the support and environment any human needs to first be themselves and then to refine.
This was the energy I was riding into the school year, and now that wave has come to the shore and nothing but foam remains.
I’ve been isolated before, different than those around me. I played soccer with non-Christians, been to classes at a secular college, so I know what means to be a religious minority. But in cases like that I had Christian friends to rely on, or to pass people on to if they had a question I couldn’t answer, and to support me in times where I felt alone. I wasn’t the only Christian people knew. I didn’t carry the sole weight of exemplifying and explaining the Christian faith to the people I knew.
Things are a little different now. While I am in an almost exclusively Christian community at Biola, I am one of the only Catholics I know. According to the school’s statistics, there are about 90 Catholics in our 4,000 undergraduate school; however since the environment is predominately Protestant, not a lot of Catholics feel comfortable identifying as such publicly. I’m one of 2 that has, and I only know 3 other Catholics beside myself. Which is pretty sad if you think about it. It’s very similar to the early Christians hiding in the catacombs during the Roman persecution.
This would be one thing. But since I don’t come from a Catholic background, I don’t have friends back home I can call for help, a family to lean on and go to mass with, or years of knowledge about Catholicism to draw on. In someways I feel like St. Peter, a disciple of Jesus for a short time and then called before the Sanhedrin to be questioned. An illiterate (most likely) fisherman called before an intimidating religious court. I can only pray that the Spirit would grace my witness as it did Peter’s.
It truly is a shame and I think the reality of my minority experience is so out of sync with the reality outside of my life. There are approximately 1.3 billion Catholics in the world, and that makes up a majority of the world’s Christians. But even though my particular church might be made up of a billion, I could count those with whom I actually have a relationship on my ten fingers.
Being the Elephant in the room has been too exhausting for me to do on my own. It’s why I haven’t kept up my blog as vigorously; and until I find a group that can support me, I won’t be posting on the blog.
But before I disappear I have a few things to ask of you, my reader. If you are a Catholic reading this, please pray for the Catholics at Biola, that we might be set free from the fear we live in, and also for the Protestants here that they would see the value in appreciating the first 75% of their Christian history.
If you are a Protestant reading this, my appeal is to your emotions (and I know that’s not a valid appeal, and as a philosophy major this makes me cringe). I hope you can see the real, individual pain that the division of church causes in people’s lives, like myself. It is not just some congregational rivalry; it affects people on a personal level. Please work towards reconciliation both theologically and relationally. One of the really easy ways to do this is to stop using the language of “Christian and Catholic” when you really mean “Protestant and Catholic” (unless of course you really do mean to draw a line, in which case, please use the language of your conviction).
I’ll take this last moment to present a dilemma I find with Protestant culture (and this is an example from Biola, but it is definitely applicable to my experience before college).
Catholics, in the Protestant eye, can often be lumped alongside Mormons, in so far as good works being at least a factor in justification, as religious people that claim to be Christians, but in fact aren’t…and therefore are not saved. I’ve had this said to my face if you doubt that this happens. Biola, my university, has a student mission called EMI (Evangelical Mormon Interactions.) This provides an opportunity for Evangelical Christians and Mormons to hangout and (I’m assuming this happens because I’ve never been involved) witness to their faith. I know that growing up when Mormons would knock on our door, we would not turn them away, but invite them to discuss faith and try to help them see the true Christian gospel.
My dilemma is this: if we, Catholics, are as lost as Mormons, why is the reaction to the Catholic Church scorn and condemnation instead of the outreach and concern extended to Mormons. If we are both lost, reach out to both of us. Our responsibility of evangelism is to all, not just to the ones we choose. And if we are not lost, then why is there scorn and condemnation?
This is the dilemma I will end with. Perhaps I will write again sometime, but I simply can’t keep this up.
Peace be with you,
A brother in Christ.