Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
I stink at evangelism.
Are you familiar with the term 'inside baseball?"
Wikipedia has a good definition when it defines it as "Inside baseball describes details or minutiae of a subject so detailed or requiring such a specific knowledge about what is being discussed that they generally are not well known or appreciated by outsiders."
I am bogged down by minutiae.
In my other life as an IT professional some people have become aware of my alternative gig as a "catholic" writer. These things happen I suppose. Couple this with the fact that I have five children (a starter family if you ask me but we got married later in life) and I have become known at work as that Catholic guy. For better and for worse.
First the better. I have occasion in which well meaning and curious people ask me genuine questions about "Catholicism." I have been asked about how to go back to confession after years of being away. I tell them of the joy and relief it brings. Sure you are nervous, but the priest has heard your story a million times I tell them and so has Jesus. Go. It is easier than you think. I have also had some good debates with informed protestants about the particulars. These are good moments when you feel the Holy Spirit working through you. That accounts for about 1%.
The other 99% I am completely out of my league.
The other folks who know that I take this Catholicism thing seriously have entirely different questions for which I am very inadequate. I am inadequate not because I do not understand my religion, rather because I am inadequate because I am a complete jerk.
I have one colleague in particular (and he may be reading this for all I know) for whom I am a total failure. Baptized Catholic, he has never really participated in it and is a functioning agnostic. He never misses a chance to inquire/pick on/distort/misrepresent/and misunderstand the Church and her teachings. He sometime seems to relish in picking on me.
What you have to understand is that I really like this guy. He is a good friend of mine and we discuss all kinds of things, not just religion. We agree and disagree on lots o’ stuff. However, it always comes back to religion.
The conversation typically revolves around questions of this sort. “Why does the Pope say you can’t do….” or “If the Church is so holy, why did the Church kill so many people?” or “The Church killed Galileo for proposing Saturn had rings, what do you say to that? Huh?”
But he is just an example. I constantly find myself defending this or that teaching of the Church. Trying to correct this or that false history of the Church. I am trying to evangelize and apologize to somebody who does not even have a grasp on true Catholic teaching, on true Catholic history, or even a reasonable grasp on who Jesus is. I am discussing inside baseball with someone who does not even know what a first baseman’s mitt looks like and why he should be left-handed.
So it was the other day that my friend dropped a question on me. A mutual colleague in Canada some years back had trouble finding a priest to baptize his child while he was still living unmarried with his mother. He posed this question as if it were proof of some great injustice. I asked him, “Shouldn’t the priest have some reasonable assurance that the child will actually be brought up in the faith?” He had a hard time arguing with that, so he let it go. Later, he brought up with our mutual friend a number of “catholic” questions. The mutual friend, who has since married the girl and sends his child to Catholic school, did a reasonably good job of answering his questions. My friend seemed frustrated by what he thought would be a willing Catholic basher.
So he started a whole barrage of silly and unfactual barrages against the Church. You name the cliché, he used it. I think it was the “Catholic Church has trillions of dollars while the world starves,” that put me over the edge.
Frustrated, I blurted out “Man, you are so stupid!”
Now what you need to understand, I have called him stupid a million times, as he has me. It is part of our repertoire. Nevertheless, as soon as the words passed my lips I could see that the reaction this time was different. I could see the hurt in his face and he shut the conversation down soon after.
I knew almost immediately that I blew it. But it took me a while to really understand why. I initially focused on the rudeness of my retort. I probably should not have said that, but heck we talk like that all the time and he has said much worse to me. Why is he so upset? What was so different this time?
And the it dawned on me. Maybe all those myriad stupid gotcha questions were not merely stupid gotcha questions. Maybe this is where his understanding is really at and maybe he is asking me these questions, even if in a challenging way, because he doesn’t accept the clichés either. Maybe in all the stupid little questions he has been asking me, I missed the big questions?
Do I matter? Who is Jesus really? Can he really forgive all I have done? Does God love me? How can God really love me?
I realized then that I am totally prepared to answer the “inside baseball” questions, but I cannot even hear the bigger questions when asked of me. Why does the Church teach this or that? I have answers. When someone is really asking, “Does Jesus really love me? Me?” I call them stupid.
I am not worthy of the name Christian.
I now need to find a way to convince my friend that if Jesus can love and forgive somebody as stupid as me; He can forgive and love anyone.