My friend P.S. is hosting this month’s Christian Reconciliation Carnival, and she invites us to consider a wonderful question:
How have you
experienced Christian worship and practice in another culture or
country or denomination that expanded your view of God, worship, or how
to live the Christian life? This might include how encountering a
different practice led you to a new/different interpretation of some
Bible verses. Did you see your own traditional ways with new eyes? Have
you heard some Bible passages with new ears? Have you actually changed
the way you live or work?
I have had powerful encounters with two Christian traditions other than my own – Evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism – and with Lutheranism in US Latino culture. A brief synopsis of these encounters:
Me & Evangelical Christianity – Like most freshman at The College of William & Mary, I was greeted by cheery and helpful members of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on move-in day who carried bags and lifted gear into my dorm room on Yates 1st South. Like many freshman who received this warm welcome, I showed up at the first few IV gatherings if for no other reason than curiosity and because I told the nice guys that I’d check out their group.
Add to the mix a guy name Bill, who lived across the hall from me and described himself as a "former-Catholic-turned-Christian." Through him and IV, I was introduced to the varied world of evangelical Christianity, a world I hardly knew growing up. During this time my eyes were opened to:
- Christian rock music (a mixed blessing, to be sure),
- spontaneous and deeply-felt prayer,
- the radical notion that belief might impact every aspect of my life,
- the power of fellowship in prayer and Bible Study, and
- the idea of a personal relationship with God.
Prior to this encounter with evangelical Christianity my faith was an extremely compartmentalized "extra-curricular" experience that turned church into another high school/college activity – albeit, for me, an intense activity – alongside athletics and music. I give thanks to God for my experience with these evangelical sisters and brothers who introduced me to the passion of the Gospel and the deep personal claim faith makes on the believer.
Me & Roman Catholicism – During my sophomore year in College I began exploring Roman Catholicism, and even attended mid-week Mass from time to time (I was a regular at the Tuesday/Thursday masses at Wren Chapel during my junior year). I was drawn to Roman Catholicism both by the Mass and by the piety and life practice of many of my Roman Catholic friends. These were truly special people who, though far from perfect, lived their faith honestly, with integrity, and devoutly. They were passionate pro-lifers, dedicated advocates for and servants of the poor, faithful attendees of daily mass, and devout readers of the Bible – that is, their experience of faithful living was rich, multi-layered, and absent of knee jerk simplicities. And despite being a "separated brother" unable to receive the Eucharist, I was received warmly in midweek Mass, in my Catholic Student Association small group, and on CSA mission trips.
More so than in the Evangelical tradition above, I was moved by and drawn to the liturgical life of the Roman Catholic church. The Mass – celebrated in amazing simplicity in Wren Chapel – was a prayerful communion with the saints which provided space for meditation, reflection and renewal. Most significantly, I was touched by the reverence and humility of the Mass – Lord, I am not worthy to receive you – that truly seemed to shape the piety and life practice of my Catholic friends.
Me & Latino Lutheranism – As a seminary field education student I had the chance to spend 10 hours/week for two years in Latino Lutheran churches – my first year in Chicago, IL, and my second year in Allentown, PA. Taking cues from both Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism, the Latino Lutheran churches I knew were places of rich, multifaceted faith expression that nurtured and sustained communities for which drugs, jobs, crime, poverty, and tense relationships with government and police officials were of greater concern than any worship war disputes. Owing to the lack of printed Spanish Lutheran resources at the time, both of these churches wrote their own liturgies and borrowed from available Spanish-language Christian resources (mostly evangelical, pentecostal and Baptist). (I was incredibly moved by an All Saints liturgy that involved dipping fingers into bowls of salt water to recall the tears shed at the loss of loved ones, and, later in the liturgy, into bowls of honey as a foretaste of the sweetness of new life.) And both of these churches were led by strong female pastors, something else I hadn’t experienced until that point.
In these congregations I learned that Lutheranism can truly proclaim a comforting Word in a variety of ways – something I hadn’t experienced in my white, suburban congregations – and that the church can and should be active not only by serving the poor with offering dollars funneled through national paradenominational agencies, but by being a church of the poor at the local level. The Gospel, and my Lutheran tradition, were reborn for me in paradigm-shattering ways in these Latino Lutheran congregations.
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Gosh, there is so much more I can say about my experiences in these three distinct, yet related, Christian traditions. I could probably write on this topic dozens of times, each time drawing on different insights into and blessings from these corners of the Whole Church.
I am grateful for the saints of God I have met in these traditions, and give thanks to God for the ways in which I have seen the Holy beyond the walls of my own tradition and culture.