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A Stranger In A Strange Land

April 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Apologetics, Paul McCusker

Life, As I Find It

My work often takes me to England – a country I love, in no small part because my wife is English and my son was born there. I have gone with friends and co-workers who sometimes surprise me with their 20080208005017!Lederhosenreactions to things that are unfamiliar. One might say, “That’s interesting. Why do they do it that way?” while another might say, “That’s stupid. Why do they do it like that?” The former statement invites a thoughtful answer. The latter invites the desire to smack the speaker on the back of the head with something hard and formidable.

In either case, the answers could be enlightening. The only disappointing answer was a shrug with an “I dunno.”

I realized how, in my journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism, I had changed in my reaction. The unfamiliarity of Catholicism – it’s otherness from all I assumed to be true as a Protestant – often led me to the “that’s stupid” reaction. (I never used the word stupid, but found its equivalent in the catch-all dismissive “that’s not in the Bible” or “those are man-made rules that aren’t from God” or variations on those responses.) I never even got to the “why do they do that?” part of my reaction, since I already believed I knew the answer. And the absence of any Catholics in my life allowed me to stay where I was.

Events and circumstances moved me from my provincial Baptist location into that gentle land of Anglicanism, which still looked and smelled Protestant, but seemed to have adornments that were Catholic (though I couldn’t have known that). It was familiar, yet unfamiliar. And I found myself moving away from “that’s stupid” to the inquisitive “why do they do that?” It’s like the person who often referred to the British as “driving on the wrong side of the road” to the less presumptive “driving on the opposite side of the road.”

The unfamiliar became less of a threat to me. I wanted to know why they did things the way they did. And I was fortunate to attend a well-educated Anglican parish. I got answers to my questions.

Again, events and circumstances triggered a deep desire to go further. My time in the Land of Anglicanism drew to a close, but prepared me well for the journey to explore onwards. My sensibilities as a traveler shifted further away from “that’s stupid” to “that’s interesting” – and always with “why do they do that?” I really wanted to know.

Now, as a Catholic, I have to remember what it was like. So many Protestant friends and relatives are inclined to respond to my choice – and all things Catholic – with the “that’s stupid” attitude. They are strangers encountering remnants of a strange land. To their eyes, it’s as if I’m standing in front of them wearing lederhosen or a kilt or clog dancing or yodeling – or all of the above at the same time (there’s an image for you). To honor Mary or do the Sign of the Cross or believe in the Real Presence or go to Confession or acknowledge Purgatory is… well, stupid.

As more Catholics take evangelization seriously, we’re going to encounter strangers who are visiting our land. Many of them may say “that’s stupid” or give an equivalent expression. I hope we know how to smile and be gracious. Others may want to know why we do what we do. I hope we’re prepared with the answers in a way that will make sense to them. The last thing they need from us is a shrug and an “I dunno.”

And such is life as I find it.

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About Paul McCusker

Paul McCusker is an author. He converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in 2007. He still works for an Evangelical organization. Paul has over 40 published works, including novels, plays, scripts, and lyrics.

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  • MarytheDefender

    Thank you for this article. It made me think…

    Growing up in Catholic country, I’ve known only a handful of Protestants, mostly Born Again. Most of my life I never gave much thought to other religions outside of social studies class.

    In some ways this seems like a good thing. Purgatory, Mama Mary, the Eucharist were normal. Rosaries on rear view mirrors, fiestas for Saints, no work during Holy Week, All Saints and All Souls days. Faith is a visible part of daily life.

    I never gave it much thought, let alone realize that this wasn’t the case in other Christian or even Catholic countries. It was only when I started taking my faith seriously that I learned how different it is in other countries, especially the West.

    But like I said, some ways good, not in all ways. Familiarity here means people never really understand their faith. It’s a given. Not many thinks about it too deeply. Neither do they appreciate the great treasure of our faith. “Culturally Catholic” but not committedly Catholic

    Eventually trends in the West catch up with us. Among the less educated, it easier for Protestants and sects to convince them to leave the Church. Others grow lukewarm, indifferent or become atheists. It is sad, and I feel like Theology and Catechism classes weren’t enough to prepare us for this. The world really needs the New Evangelization.

    • LizEst

      Mary, you’ve hit the nail on the head for many. “Familiarity means some people never understood their faith nor appreciate the great treasure of our faith.” Part of the problem we have is that, in many parishes, there is no continuing catecheses for adults, no further teaching. Children and adults are received into the Catholic faith, they receive their sacraments and their education stops, they get some mystagogical instruction and then that’s it. Oh sure, there can be many faith and sharing and education groups in a parish. But, who goes to them? Many of the same people. Others pick up devotions and cling to them but don’t want to truly dig into and learn more about their faith, or they only want to do so on their own terms (I am not saying there is anything wrong with devotions). Some don’t want to do nothing more than attend Mass on Sundays, if that.

      We must have a program of continuing faith education in all our parishes, where everyone gets educated about the faith. We need to grow our faith. As St. Paul said, “When I was a child, I used to think like a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things” (1 Cor 13:11). When it comes to faith, many are still children. We need to put aside the childhood of the “culturally Catholic” and become fully adult Catholics…and we need to be gracious, welcoming, knowledgeable and helpful to those and are making that journey.

  • Becky Ward

    What a delightful post! Having spent plenty of time in “that’s stupid” land, I realize how much my ability to discover beauty and other surprises have been limited by these blinders. Not to mention limiting my ability to understand people who are different………or what God is doing in my life.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.