A Stranger In A Strange Land
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 reactions 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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