1993 was a fantastic year. It wasn’t the year that the Berlin Wall came down or anything as exciting as that, but it was the year that this happened:
That’s right. 1993 was the year that “Sister Act 2” was released. And it was the movie that convinced me that I totally needed to be a nun. Except for one problem: I wasn’t Catholic.
Thus began my conversion.*
I can’t give Whoopi Goldberg and the musical stylings of her inner-city high school choir all the credit for turning me Catholic. And obviously (or maybe not so obviously, since some people on campus have called me “Sister”), I’m not a nun. Becoming Catholic was a long, long process that started far earlier in my life than I realized at the time. There had always been parts of me that—although being very well formed and very spiritually happy in the Protestant churches that my family attended through the years–yearned for something different. I was secretly fascinated by monks and nuns and priests (I think it had something to do with the cassocks and habits and robes–it seemed so different, so not-worldly). I desperately wanted to know what a rosary was and how one used it. The idea of Confession was so intriguing that I seriously considered sneaking into a confessional and faking being Catholic at several points. Some of these interests might have just been young curiosity, but as I aged, I started asking more questions. And that, it turns out, did not go so well.
The conversation usually went something like this:
8-year-old me: “Hey, Important Adult Figure, what’s that big building over there?”
Important Adult Figure: “It’s a Catholic church”
8YOM: “What’s the difference between that and my church? Their cross looks different–it has Jesus on it. Why’s that?”
IAF: “It’s because they don’t believe that Jesus is risen from the dead yet. They’re still waiting.”
8YOM: (To myself) But my Catholic friends at school celebrated Easter a few weeks ago too. They got Easter baskets and everything. Except they yelled at me for eating pepperoni pizza at school on Friday. They said I was eating Jesus’ body. That was really gross….
Obviously, this didn’t lead to a fantastic understanding of my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. As laughable as conversations like these are, they’re also un-humorously common on both sides of the ecumenical aisle. Take these gems for example:
“Catholics worship Mary/the saints/[anyone but Jesus]”
“Protestants changed the Bible to take out stuff they didn’t like”
“Catholics don’t know anything about the Bible”
“Protestants/Catholics are all works, no faith/all faith, no works”
Eventually, while I was in the process of getting my degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, I was able to do some research, talk to different friends and professors and actual Catholics who knew what they were talking about, and straighten out the misconceptions that I’d been carrying around about the Catholic church. Trust me, it had been a heavy load to carry. And in the process, I learned a lot about what many Catholics thought about Protestants. Looking back, separating the misconceptions from the truth and watching all this name-calling from both sides was like watching one of the fights that my sister and I used to get into when we were younger: “You’re a boogie head!” “Well, you’re a poopy face!” “Nuh-UH! I’m rubber and you’re glue so whatever you say bounces of me and…..”
…you get the idea. No wonder Christians call each other “Brother” and “Sister”; we’re like fighting siblings looking for the favor of our Father. And we’re willing to bring each other down to the ground to prove that we’re the favored one.
Tomorrow night, there’s a Theology on Tap event called “It’s Not So Black and White”. At it, we’ll be enjoying the fine food and drinks at Fireworks Restaurant while we discuss many of the misconceptions commonly held between Protestants and Catholics. I’ll be leading the conversation along with Becca Geminn, a lifelong member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, wife of the pastor of Trinity Lutheran church here in Keene, and a theologian of her own right. No holds are barred here, and the goal of this conversation is to correct or confirm the things that we’ve all heard through the years about our own churches or other Christian denominations. It’s not so black and white as “I’m a Christian and you’re not; I’m right and you’re wrong”; theology is extremely complicated and nuanced and so are the historical reasons that the denominations of the Church split to begin with. There are differences between Catholics and Protestants for sure, but the only way we’ll ever be able to have an intelligent conversation about those differences is to determine which differences are truth and which are fallacy. Then we can work toward mutual respect and cooperation while we work for the Kingdom.
So if you’re between 21 and 39, join us tomorrow night! We can’t wait to see you there!
*I hate the word “conversion”. I much prefer to think of myself as having “shuffled” over to Catholicism. So let’s just call me a “shuffler”, shall we?