Thursday, August 13, 2009

What does it mean to be Catholic

A Hindu acquaintance mentioned he was interested in girl who said she was Catholic, and since he had just found out i was a Christian he asked me, "What does Catholic mean?" He had no idea what mass was and lost interest after about 3 or 4 sentences since it was just a casual conversation.
What would you say?
I have to admit, i am embarrassed in my thinking that i don't think i did the situation justice with my answer. My mental dilemma was I didn't know whether to start with the differences about Catholic and Protestant which seems to be my usual approach or to describe more the positive similarities and possibly the gospel.
I started off describing Mass, or a more traditional and formal worship service.
I then for whatever reason mentioned the Pope and the idea of the papal bul which has led to differences in belief about Mary's sinlessness... (don't think it was necessary)

I could see i was losing him so i came around to an all encompassing statement:
"They believe in God and in Jesus Christ as the answer to the world's problems." (i was kicking myself for such a disjointed answer but happy i at least ended it there.

It is amazing how wide of a range of conversations i have about God from these inquiries to how to forgive when someone doesn't want to to what was Paul's actual point in writing Galatians :)

Good times.


BJ said...

Hey Brent,

I followed this on FB but it seems a weird place to have such a serious discussion. What I love about this post is the opportunity and experience of connecting with a Hindu friend about the unique claims of Christ. Having the connections and instincts to be in these places and take these opportunities is what to me characterises a dynamic faith in Christ. And knowing what to say and sometimes more importantly what NOT to say is a source of real tension - you want it for them so bad but you also want to balance that imperative with wisdom and discernment.

Someone once gave me some good advice for discussions with people of other faiths - ask a lot of questions around the core issues - eg: Christianity is monotheistic, what is Hinduism? The broad choices are atheistic, monotheistic, pantheistic and polytheistic. Would your religion ever countenance the idea that God might reach out to Creation and humanity by becoming a man? This is a big question because it is so central to Christian faith, even amongst other monotheistic religions like Islam. Anyways, this is a comment not a post but I think its a critically important issue - how do we share faith respectfully AND effectively with people of other religions. You do a great job of being friends to a waide range of people.

It remains a source of some bemusement to me that the FB discussion then became one about doctrine rather than than the critical task of PERSONALLY sharing Christ with people.

Rhett said...

Since "doctrine" is a word that seems to carry negative connotations there, my question is this: where is the line, or what are the differencesm between "doctrine" as you define it, and sharing the "unique claims of Christ"?

BJ said...

No, its not an anti doctrine comment I was making. More pointing to the need to share Christ when opportunities arise and that was what I found significant about Brent's experience. The difference between a discussion about "doctrine" and sharing the "unique claims of Christ" is that one is talking; the other is doing. I'm in no way saying doctine is unimportant. It just didn't seem to me to be the most important thing about this post.

BJ said...

I'd be up for more engagement on the how of sharing faith in these kinds of encounters. Nothing fires me up more than people coming to Christ.

B said...

Brett, i was waiting for your reply to this one.. :) You definitely tapped into the heart of my situation. This is another coffee shop acquaintance that i am being intentional about getting to know and my intentions were twofold. One to answer the question properly with a proper definition of a Catholic, but i also found myself getting stuck in my theology books and thoughts in my head so much in that moment, that i feared more could've been said or done... you live and learn....

The hard part is that i think Christ is intense or serious in a lot of ways. Where it is easy to know that i can talk serious with other Christians... it seems that you do not so easily have a green light to go serious with nonChristians and that could just be perceptual, but i think it is real.

B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank said...

We chatted about this at the service this morning, but I'll cover what I said on here as well :)

A smart woman mentioned to me last night that she had seen this and noted the perfect response to the guy with his question "why don't you ask her?"

Encouraging him to talk to her about her faith opens the way for some great conversation between them.

Now... if this were someone asking me, I'd flick that back at them and then simply ask the question "what do you know about Christianity?" and see where it goes. Give whoever you're talking to the space to be honest, don't feel the need to defend any misgivings - listen and go from there.

One of the mistakes we make is that far too often we assume there are things that people need to hear rather than trusting the activity of God in their lives, assuming nothing and genuinely listening and hearing THEM rather than giving them half an ear and waiting for them to listen to us.

Remember, God is active and God is active even if we don't say all the right things. If I beat myself up for every time I've had a conversation about faith with someone asking questions and looked back in hindsight thinking "I should have said this..." I would have committed suicide a long time ago.

I'm a lot more relaxed about it than I used to be and a lot of that is because I stopped thinking that a person entering a relationship with God is reliant on the words I say and started trusting more in the sovereignty of God.

Ask questions, listen, hear people and where the chance arises, share a little about what you believe :)

I once had a young guy call my show - it's one of my most memorable calls (for me) and he said he had this girl in one of his Uni classes who was a Satanist and he was asking what he should say to her. I said that was fascinating and had a similar experience with a guy when I was doing my block courses for my trade certificate in painting and decorating - he was a Satanist and we got along awesomely - and I asked if he had said hello to her... he said he hadn't so I encouraged him to say hi and ask her name.

He then asked what he should say after that to make her stop being a Satanist :) I told him not to try and stop her being a Satanist and suggest that if he wants a conversation about faith to look for symbolism around her or pictures she might have... chances are if he knows she's a Satanist it's because there is imagery connected there somewhere - Pentagram etc... so ask her about it... ask her why she's a Satanist and what she thinks about Jesus - ask questions, listen to her, hear her and when the privilege is given share what you think.

Your Hindu friend could be similar - ask him why he's Hindu, what he believes, what he thinks about Jesus (that could be fascinating given the various strains of Hinduism) and when the chance arises, share what you believe.

If I was going to be a nob and give it a title - it would be "conversational evangelism". But I generally don't enter conversations with my evangelistic radar on, so in my case I can't rightly call it that. I just love chats about religion and politics so I naturally go there without having to force it. 8 years of talkback on Christian radio might have influenced that a little. :)

BJ said...

The idea that God IS active is an excellent one. So often, God's fingerprints are all over a person's life; his grace drawing that person towards faith. I try to be aware of that stuff: listening to a person's life as well as their words. As an example, the guy is dating a Catholic, so why couldn't God be in that? [As much as I would also counsel people to be careful in mixed faith relationships]. I think of an opportunity I had to share this week, where really listening to circumstances helped me to open a window on what a relationship with Christ can look like (and in opposition to a limited, twisted view that had been rejected in the past)

Flendolyn said...

I'm enjoying this conversation.
As you were.

BJ said...

In fact, its so excellent I am planning to continue it in RL today!

BJ said...

One of the things that arises for me from Frank's comment is the tension between intentionality and authenticity in relationships. On the one hand I am driven by the imperative to share Christ, on the other to share Christ outside the context of genuine love and relationship cheapens my relational integrity. I do think a lot about how I can share faith with certain people - but then I think about people a lot - so maybe its temperament. But I fear the results of abandoning either pole.