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Christ the Vine PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 31 January 2011 17:57
christ the vine

Personal Discipleship & the Great Library PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 31 January 2011 12:40

This mega-conversation has been fascinating and another learning experience for me.  Thanks to all who participated.

The concerns and fears and questions that I have gotten over the years in online conversations are remarkably consistant.

I am going to use the metaphor I used below, of Catholicism as the graduate school of the spiritual life. We have this enormous, gorgeous "Great Library" (the Church) full of the riches of the ages and open 24/7 to anyone who wants to enter and read the books at their leisure.  But first you have to teach yourself to read and write.  Cause we don’t have a public elementary school system and the majority of our people are illiterate.

In this metaphor, "literacy" stands for a man or woman's personal faith response to Jesus's invitation to follow him in the midst of his Church.  In other words, discipleship.

So remember as you read this, Great Library = Church, "literacy" = personal discipleship.

And the conversation goes like this:

Evangelizer: All sorts of studies indicate that 70% of our citizens seldom or never use our wonderful Library.  And over the years, some of us have noticed that the vast majority of our citizens whom we have interviewed are either completely illiterate and can’t read at all or only can only read at a first grade level while the books in our Library are on a graduate school level.  We’re thinking that the fact that our people can’t read might be the reason they don’t come to our beautiful Library.

Response: We built the Great Library.  It’s the biggest, oldest, most beautiful library in the world.  It has a spire that is a hundred feet high.

Evangelizer: Oh, I agree 100%.  Our Library is a stupendous, gorgeous treasure and I love the gothic architecture.  But I’m worried that 85% of our young adults don’t use the Library regularly and that the majority never cross the threshold at all.

Response: Our Library is the Great Library.  It is not only bigger and better than anyone else’s library, it is the only real library.

Evangelizer: True.  But over the years, we’ve noticed that the vast majority of our citizens are either completely illiterate or only can only read at a first grade level while the books in the Great Library were written on a graduate school level.

We’re wondering If the fact that most of our people either can’t read at all or can’t read well enough to understand our books might be the reason they don’t come to our beautiful Library.

Response: We wrote most of the books in the Great Library.  And they are great books: they are old and complicated and deep and lots of them are in Latin.

EvangelizerOh I love to read our books. But I can’t help worrying about the fact that most of our people never enter the Library at all.  And that large numbers of the 30% who do enter at least once a month, only have a first grade reading level.  They can’t read our books in English, much less in Latin.

Response: We are the people of the Library.  The Library is everything.  Real Catholics love to be in the Library, to smell the books, to dust the books, to touch the books.  Our books are better and older and more beautiful and deeper than anyone else’s.  Our library is filled with treasures.   They are too precious to loan out.  You couldn’t read all the books in our library in a lifetime.

Evangelizer: Absolutely. I get euphoric smelling old books.  But I’m concerned that most of our citizens don’t read any of the books in our library.  I thought the point of a library was to make books available so that whole community could have access and read them.  But most of our people can’t read so they aren’t coming to the Library at all.

Response: The purpose of the Great Library is to be a beautiful place that keeps great collections of great books safe.  Having lots of people reading all the time is Protestant, not Catholic.

Evangelizer: Huh?

Response: I know what I’m talking about.  I used to have a library card over at the Protestant "library".  It was small and plain and only one story high.  And the books were much simpler.  Most of them were cheap paperbacks and written only at a high school reading level.  And the place was always filled with badly educated working people checking out books and reading them outside the library.  But I wanted more.  So when I heard about the Great Library and incredible collection of leather-bound books it held, I went to visit it and was so enthralled by its beauty, that I signed up right away.  I never go to the small library anymore.

Evangelizer: So you are literate?  That's great.

Response: Oh, yes.  I learned how to read at the small, plain Protestant elementary school across town.  But I’m so excited now that I am Catholic because I have access to all the incredible books in the Great Library.  I am in training to become a librarian.

Evangelizer: That is great!  Wouldn’t it be great if all of our people could experience the same joy?  We don’t have a good elementary school system and I’ve been wondering if that is why so many of our people aren’t literate and don’t come to the Great Library.  We could found our own elementary school and teach everyone in Catholictown to read and write and then many more of them would want to come to the Great Library to check out the books!

Response: Elementary schools are Protestant.  If we start our own elementary school system, our people might go over to the small plain library and check out the ugly paperback books there and read them by themselves.  You are talking about a “me and the book” faith.  That’s Protestant.  We are people of the Library.

Catholics aren’t into literacy, we are into mystery. We are an incarnate faith.  Real Catholics learn by looking at beautiful books, smelling them, touching them, shelving them, dusting them in the library because they are too valuable and precious to take out.  Borrowing cheap, paperback books out and reading them by yourself at home or on the bus is Protestant.  That’s individualistic.  Catholics have a communal and incarnate faith. You just want us to become Protestants.

EvangelizerNo! No!  We just want our Catholic citizens to be able to read and be changed and be made wise by the incredible riches to be found in our library, the Great Library.  The beautiful, leather-bound books were written by Catholic authors to be read by all our citizens.  I want all our people to be able to access the beauty inside our books as well as the beauty outside.  After all, that’s what Jesus, the Founder and Lord of the Great Library, told us was our mission. . . .

Response: Shhhh.  We never mention the Founder by name except in the liturgy.  It’s disrespectful and irreverent and Protestant.  The Founder isn’t your buddy.  If you were a true Catholic in culture, you’d know that.

You would also know that the majority of our people have never been literate.  My parents and grand parents were good, devout Catholics and none of them were literate.  Ordinary Catholics don’t need to be literate and we don’t talk about the Founder.  We have the Great Library.

It’s probably a good thing that the majority of our citizens don’t come to the Library anyway.  They don’t understand and would just make it noisy, crowded, and dirty.  It is much better that only a small, tidy, well behaved group of Catholics who really understand, enter the Great Library.

There we can talk about the Great Library.  We serve the Great Library. We live in the Great Library.  We love the sight of the ancient, burnished, leather, the sunlight gleaming on their gilded lettering, we love the sound of the old pages crackling.  We work together in reverent silence: cleaning the books, repairing the books, smelling the books.

Ordinary Catholics don’t need to be literate.  We have a small group of very brilliant Catholic librarians who read the books and talk about and to the Founder so other Catholics don’t have to.  I am being trained to be a librarian right now.   Catholics are the people of the Library.

And so the conversation goes in my experience . . .


I'm under the gun with a huge project so may not be able to respond to your comments much.


Of Spiritual Babies & Graduate School PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 29 January 2011 14:05

And other quick portion of a relevant post from a year and half ago:

increasingly, evangelicals are more than willing to acknowledge Catholic strengths and are more than a little dazzled by them. I attended a gathering of high powered evangelicals committed to spiritual formation in early July. They were talking and quoting Catholic authors almost exclusively: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Green and referred a great deal to monastic practice. Their passion was a profound union with God and so naturally, they turned to the great mystics. I learned from them that many of the foremost evangelical universities in the country now have spiritual formation programs in place that are adopting the same approach. 

But so many of their evangelical assumptions were still in place. One impressive missionary leader, who lives in St. Petersburg, was stunned when, in response to his questions, I had to explain to him that being a Christian and being a disciple weren’t the same thing in the Catholic tradition. One was sacramentally based and the other a personal response.

The bewildered look on his face said it all. There was no place in his spiritual worldview for such a distinction. After all, he was turning to historic Christianity for guidance in how to help immature disciples become mature disciples. It had not yet dawned upon him that a faith that produces such saints could simultaneously have large numbers of members who are not yet disciples at all. Who don’t even know that discipleship is possible. Many of whom don’t even have an imaginative category in their heads for discipleship. Because they have never heard anyone talk about it.

Yes, evangelicals produce lots of spiritual babies. They may only be one year old spiritually but at least they are crawling and/or beginning to take their first steps. While we are finding that our pews are filled with the spiritually pre-natal. Many still in the first trimester. And they've been in the first trimester for decades and are showing no signs of growth at all. (Which is scary since unborn babies that don't grow, eventually die.) There are days when I’d give anything for a room full of toddlers. For all of our pro-life rhetoric, our practice and our culture is seems to be firmly in favor of spiritual contraception.

Or to use another metaphor, Catholicism is the graduate school of the spiritual life. We have this enormous, gorgeous library, full of the riches of the ages and open 24/7 to anyone who wants to enter and peruse at their leisure. 

But first you have to teach yourself to read and write. Cause we don’t have a public elementary school system and the majority of our people are illiterate. Now this works for some of our own who are especially gifted and persistent or have parents who tutored them privately or sent them to be educated by the emerging network of small, specialized private schools. But many, even the majority in our village don’t even know books exist. So our wonderful library is beginning to fill up with the graduates of hundreds of humble evangelical public elementary schools who know there is more and are hungry for it. 

To continue with the metaphor: There is no reason at all that we could not establish our own public elementary "spiritual formation" system but when someone points out the need for such a system, the common responses seem to be:

1) We built the library and wrote most of the books in it!
(Hmmm? True indeed, but exactly how is that a meaningful response to a wide-spread lack of spiritual "literacy" (discipleship) which means few can read and understand those wonderful books?

2) Catholics don't do elementary schools. That's Protestant. The majority of our people have never been "spiritually literate"
Even if it is true - and it hasn't always been true everywhere - why does that make it ok? Especially since the founder of our library, gave us a very clear mandate: Go therefore and make disciples ("spiritual literates") of all nations . . .

3) We already have our own educational network and our people spend years in it!
Yes that is often the case, but we don't conduct tests to see what they have learned before they graduate. All the available evidence indicates that most of our pupils graduate still unable to read and write. (They never pick up a book and can't read our blogs for heaven's sake!) Shouldn't we ask ourselves: "is our existing educational system giving us the results that our founder clearly stated was the norm and our mission? If we keep doing what we are presently doing, we'll keep getting what we have gotten. Isn't it time to re-evaluate and revamp our "spiritual school" system?

Even if setting out to teach all our people to read and write smacks of Protestantism?

Catholics Are Dead. Protestants are Stupid. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 29 January 2011 13:33

In light of the discussions going on below, I thought I'd repost a piece I wrote a year ago about the entrenched working assumptions that Catholics and Protestants (especially evangelical Protestants) have about one another.  I called it "Catholics are Dead.  Protestants are Stupid."

First Things hosted a terrific article by Gerardine Luongo, (link: a Catholic - the sole Catholic - working in an evangelical missionary organization, CURE, in Africa. Luongo has written an all too familiar description of the historic, hard-wired assumptions that Catholics and Evangelicals have about each other’s spiritual state. Assumptions that I long ago summed up for myself (painting with the broadest possible brush) as "Catholics are dead. Protestants are stupid." Luongo uses the word "stunned" three times in her article. Her colleagues are stunned to learn that she, who seems to be a real Christian, is a Catholic. She is stunned to hear what they believe Catholics believe. 

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry while reading so I settled for a strangled chuckle. Reading her recent experience brought back so many memories of my early days as a Catholic. There was the young Dominican to whom I tried to explain why evangelical Protestants are so uneasy about Catholic devotion to Mary. He cut me off. "That's ridiculous." Everyone knows that we don't worship Mary." he insisted. "They are just stupid." 

I can laugh now but at the time, I was certain that what was going on was simple confusion. No cultural insider had ever explained to the young priest what evangelicals really thought. A little catechesis would just clear everything right up. So I tried again.

"Well, you see, most evangelicals are afraid of undermining the glory and sovereignty of God . . .", I began. But this newly minted product of Dominican formation cut me off again. "They are just stupid!" And I was the one left open-mouthed and mystified. Stunned. With the first faint question rising in my mind: perhaps the "stupidity" involved wasn't all on one side? 

Gerardine Luongo has had the same experience in reverse while trying to explain Catholic devotion to Mary to her colleagues. Her evangelical colleagues' concern? That Catholics are essentially spiritually "dead." Geraldine writes, "I was told that Catholics worship idols. Another stunned look (mine) and more questions followed. What idols? (Visions of golden calves popped into my head.) Wait, were they talking about Mary and the saints?"

Yep. Because (ran the script that was hammered into me as a blue eyed baby fundie) Catholics are dead. People who are spiritually "dead" do things that horrify and enrage God, like worship idols instead of the living God - because spiritually “dead” people don’t know the difference.

To this knee-jerk assumption, Luongo has a beautiful response:

"Every day, women in the developing world defy their communities and bring their children to CURE for help. These are mothers who have been told by village leaders that their disabled children are cursed and therefore to be feared. The mothers of such children are encouraged to kill their cursed infants. If they do not, they may be shunned by their villages and divorced by their husbands. These women travel long distances in search of help. These are radical women—women whose lives would be easier if they listened to their communities and abandoned or killed their disabled children. Because of their mothers’ hope, these children are offered hope through healing at CURE. 

Is Mary not a role model—maybe even the role model—for these women? Mary and the saints offer us a wide range of examples of how to live a life of faith. To seek the intercession of the saints is not to place faith in them. It is to place faith in the power of prayer to the Father through the Son while recognizing the power of the communion of saints—a communion that includes all Christians, living and dead—to offer prayers to God on our behalf."

From the Catholic side, how many times have I heard intelligent Catholics casually dismiss evangelical worship as merely "entertainment"? It happened again last month when I was working with a group of pastors and pastoral leaders at a seminar on evangelization. I asked them, "What have the lapsed Catholics that you know personally told you about why they left"?

The obvious goal of that particular discussion was to hear what people who have left the Church have to tell us. There was a broad spectrum of familiar answers: people didn't agree with certain teachings, didn't believe anymore, looking for community, the desire to be "fed," etc. Then one woman said, "mega-church services are entertainment. They just want entertainment," and a number of heads nodded in agreement. 

I had to ask, "Is that the language that your friends actually used? Did they say that wanted to be ‘entertained’? Did they actually use the word ‘entertainment’? Since our goal is to understand what motivates lapsed Catholics, we need to actually listen to the language they actually use."

The woman looked puzzled by my question. I had to repeat the question to the whole group. "Have you actually heard former Catholics tell you that they have started attending evangelical churches in order to be ‘entertained’?”

Slowly it dawned upon us all. The "entertainment" thesis reflected our Catholic insider judgments about what must have motivated those who had left the Catholic Church for evangelical communities. But none of us had ever heard an actual, living, former Catholic use that language. 

Certainly I never have. No former Catholic that I have met in the evangelical world ever talks about a desire for "entertainment" as a motivation for ceasing to attend Mass. In fact, the gap between the dominant "storyline" that you hear from former Catholics whom you meet in the evangelical world (which is usually some variation on “I never met Jesus in a living way as a Catholic”) and the judgment that so many Catholic pastoral leaders blithely make about why they left in the first place is staggering. 

When we casually dismiss mega-church worship in general as "entertainment," we mean that we regard it as shallow, emotionally-driven, ephemeral, and without spiritual or theological substance or seriousness; the spiritual equivalent of a crude, popular sit-com. That it is, essentially, spiritually "stupid.” 

But that is an unjust caricature of the incredible breadth and often remarkable depth of worship that I knew in the evangelical world. Since the externals are often so different, it can be hard for Catholics who only have a superficial exposure to the evangelical world (often in the form of TV preachers) and who are steeped in certain liturgical assumptions to recognize that depth. But truly, it is there.

In some circles, thank God, the "Catholics are dead, Protestants are stupid" assumptions have disintegrated over the past twenty years. But even so, you can hardly describe the current relationship between evangelicals and Catholics as bland. These days, I am less likely to be regarded as "dead," than as the object of fascination among a certain kind of sophisticated evangelical. Sometimes it is because they are hovering on the brink of entering the Church. For others, it is because they are discovering the spiritual riches of historical Christianity. 

There is a whole movement called "spiritual formation" in the evangelical world whose content and inspiration is almost entirely Catholic. I have spent some time lately with a local evangelical group committed to spiritual formation: a group in which I am the only Catholic. They are an evangelical group using only Catholic resources, including the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.  They have told me that evangelical seminaries and colleges around the country are developing new courses of study in spiritual formation that are simply saturated with the writings of the great Catholic saints and mystics.

However, the old shibboleths can die hard outside specialized movements. I have found this especially true in evangelical missionary circles like the one that Geraldine Luongo is now moving in. In that community, everyone cheerfully accepts me as a "real believer" until they ask what church I attend. Then they look stunned and the conversation immediately changes in subtle ways. Usually no one says anything out loud because they want to be polite.

I know where the hesitancy comes from. They find it hard to believe that I am a true disciple and therefore, "spiritually alive."  Because if I were “alive,” I wouldn't have intentionally entered the Catholic Church where, by definition, almost everyone is "dead."

In spite of changes happening within evangelical circles, many evangelicals still presume that Catholics are spiritually “dead.” Many Catholics remain comfortable presuming that Protestants are spiritually “stupid.” Which means that those of us who are truly “bi-cultural” and know that neither is true, have some important and practical ecumenical work to do.


Unintentional Mega-Blogging: the Collapse of Cultural Catholicism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 28 January 2011 11:58

The blog comment that grew.

On Monday, I responded to a "Sherry bait" post over at Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It.  Mark posted my comment and it grew into a 113 comment fest.

Then Fr. Dwight Longenecker picked up a paragraph from that post at Mark's and made it the beginning place of a discussion of the collapse of cultural Catholicism yesterday.

And today Fr. Z over at What Does the Prayer Really Say, picked up the same paragraph this morning and the conversation is going strong over there.

Here's the paragraph in question that has been quoted over and over:

"Here's the deal: roughly 32% of those raised Catholic have abandoned the identity altogether. An additional 38% of those raised Catholic retain the identity but seldom or never bother to show up. 30% attend Mass at least once a month. Only about 15.6% are at Mass on a given weekend. So the next time you witness a baby's baptism, think, in 20 years, 2/3 of those babies will either be gone or non-practicing. Only 1 in 6 of those babies will be attending Mass regularly."

This is just a snippet of the hour long presentation I do on "Spiritual climate" at the beginning of every Making Disciples seminar.  The problem is that I can't do that presentation in a blog post - although, as the three devoted readers of Intentional Disciples know, I have certainly tried to do so over the past three years.

So I end up trying to answer the obvious objections and questions and explain the background of statistics over and over again in comboxes.

But what I find fascinating and so sad at the same time is that almost no one picks up on the main point of my original post:

This goes so far beyond a failure to catechize. We are two generations past that. We are on the edge of a demographic precipice that is going to make the post Vatican II fall-off look like a golden age. We are going to have to (gasp) GO OUT and make disciples.

In our culture, religious identity is not longer inherited, it is chosen. And reconsidering the religious identity of your childhood has become a rite of passage for young adults. So we have to evangelize when they are children and we'll probably have to do it again when they are young adults. 

I've written about this at enormous length over at Intentional Disciples ( and we cover all this in our seminar Making Disciples. We are still spending our time debating what happened nearly 50 years ago while our future walked right out the door and we didn't notice.

In the future, people will be fervent Catholics because they are disciples of Jesus Christ first who know that this is his Body on earth which he has provided for them and where he desires them to be.

We've worked in 40% of American dioceses now and I can tell you: cultural Catholicism is DEAD, DEAD, DEAD as a retention strategy for the American Catholic church in the 21st century. 

In the 21st century west, God has no Grandchildren.

You know the mantra: If we don't evangelize our own, someone else will: evangelicals, Mormons, or a post-modern culture of vague agnosticism.

If you want Catholics, MAKE DISCIPLES.

If you want Mass attendance, MAKE DISCIPLES.

If you want vocations, MAKE DISCIPLES.

If you want people who will fill our Institutions and pay for them and care for them, MAKE DISCIPLES.

It is what our Lord has commanded us to do in every generation, but we thought that culture and institutions would do it for us. But those days are past.

And yet almost no one, on any of these blogs, seems to want to talk about Making Disciples.  The only category they seemed to understand was "Catholic identity" and "Catholic culture".  Which is NOT necessarily the same thing at all.

We go over this at every Making Disciples but let me say it here again:

"Catholic Identity" and "Catholic culture" is not the same as discipleship.  Catholic identity flows from discipleship.  Catholic cultures are built and sustained by disciples.

Catechesis is not initial proclamation.  Catechesis comes after the initial proclamation of Christ which awakens beginning Christian faith.  Because the Church teaches that catechesis is intended for the maturation of those who are already disciples of Jesus Christ.

Our deepest, most fundamental problem is that the vast majority of those baptized as Catholics, whether they are practicing or not, are not yet disciples.  Disciples pray.  Disciples worship.  Disciples study.  Disciples give.  Disciples serve.  Disciples discern vocation.  Disciples obey.  Disciples repent.  Disciples are transformed. Disciples are increasingly filled with faith, hope and love.

And nothing is more obvious in our present situation than that mere "Catholic identity" can co-exist with the complete absence of all these behaviors that naturally flow from discipleship.

Sara S, a very thoughtful young Catholic of less than a year from a "none" background, made an important observation during the discussion over at Mark's, that very few people took in:

"I do wish we could stop referring to our experiences of 40 years ago when the crisis is with people who weren't born when older Catholics were cutting and pasting for Jesus."

I'll raise my hand. I am a 29 year old convert from "nothing". I don't care one bit about how bad it was for the folks on my RCIA team when they were kids, and I wish they wouldn't have wasted so much of my time trying to explain it to me when I was in RCIA.  Both sides think it was bad. The "old hippies" were all trying to pull the candidates aside and explain to them how bad it was when everyone had to speak Latin, and when they were finished, the angry young men were waiting on the other side to pull the candidates aside and explain to them how the old hippies had ruined the music.    

I wish I could explain how disillusioning and ridiculous it all looks from the outside, and how much of it makes literally no sense to someone like me who doesn't already have years of exposure to this stuff.   If you can "evangelize" more effectively-- or put up a more heartfelt defense-- about some bit of Church culture or liturgical issue or controversial teaching-- than you can about the Kingdom of God-- what is someone from the outside supposed to think is more important to you?  I literally thought that the majority of Catholics I met were just nice folks who liked music and doing good works but didn't believe in God much... because every time I tried to talk about how I was falling in love with God they changed the subject to music and/or good works.  

I love to evangelize and I don't find it hard-- to me it is just about, as another commenter said, living with my faith on my sleeve. There are a lot of "nothings" out there, like I was, who are so deeply moved by people who live joyful, counter-cultural lives and aren't afraid to say that they are motivated by a deep love of Jesus and a desire to follow Him.  

The 20 somethings I talk to, who have abandoned the religion of their childhood if they ever had one at all, might *think* that they are dead-set against the Church because of its teachings (so did I, 5 or 6 years ago)-- and if I were to approach them with Church teachings I would have some very short conversations.  But I find that I can talk with these same people just by talking about my own life-- about Scripture, about saints, about how faith informs my choices every day-- just give them enough to start feeling hungry. I trust that the Holy Spirit will do the rest when they get to the point that they are worried about controversial teachings.

None of the Catholics Sara knows in her culturally Catholic part of the county, on her RCIA team, in her partly Catholic family, wanted to talk about loving God.  How unspeakably sad.

Because the vast majority of Catholics who are missing in action couldn't care less about our liturgical or culture war insider debates.  They are so far removed from the faith that those things don't mean anything any more.

As I put it in the original post:

"At the very moment, I type this, about a quarter of US adults are either actively seeking or at least are passively open and scanning the horizon for spiritual options. This is true of Catholics in our pews, Catholics who no longer practice, and huge variety of other people of all religious traditions or none. If we were out there, proclaiming Christ in the midst of his Church in a joyful, intriguing manner, the interest of many would be peaked. But so many "orthodox" Catholics are holed up behind their barricades and inside their institutions.

This is a large group who, if we were reaching out evangelizing them during their "limbo" time, could easily become the Catholic saints and apostles of the 21st century. But so many of us distain their hunger and ignore their spiritual distress. They aren't going to accept "no" or "just shut up and do your duty" as an answer. They will vote with their feet.

There are those who leave and become "nothing" because it just doesn't mean anything or because they don't believe in specific Church teaching or even in God anymore. (14%) 80% of this group are gone by age 23. They are really out there and we will have to GO OUT and find them with the imagination and zeal of a Francis Xavier setting foot on the soil of Japan for the first time."

Update:  More thought-provoking discussions are breaking out over at Fr. Chris Mathias' Blessed is the Kingdom , Kevin O'Brien lets loose over at the End of the World, and, from an Orthodox perspective, over at Fr. Gregory Jensen's blog, Koinonia where his post is entitled stunningly, "About Jesus Hardly at All".

Whew.  Exhale deeply.   But there is something so right and blessed about a number of us all wrestling with this, most essential and fundamental source of all the rest of the Christian life.  This kind of discussion shouldn't be so rare around St. Blog's.

Now I must return to writing the train the trainers weekend for the large scale Making Disciples initiative underway in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Comments and questions welcome.  I'll try to respond as I can.


Join the Conversation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 24 January 2011 13:30

Back from Chicago.  Had a very successful workshop there with a group that is doing some amazing work with women facing crisis pregnancies.  Tons going on.

Meanwhile there's an interesting conversation going on over at Mark Shea's blog.  Start here and then see my reply and feel free to join in the conversation.

I'll be back in a bit.


Milestone PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 15 January 2011 10:51

January 1 marked our 4th anniversary of starting this blog and I just realized that I put up post #3,000 a few days ago.  Thanks to all of you who read and comment and e-mail us and add your wisdom.

May Jesus Christ be praised!


Sudanese Christianity’s Death and Resurrection PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 January 2011 14:03

In light of the news coverage and discussions this week of the referendum regarding independence for southern Sudan, I thought it would be helpful to spend a few moments looking at Sudan's remarkable and tumultuous Christian history.

The first words of Philip Jenkin’s book* are brutally frank: “Religions die.”

*The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died

The history of the Sudan is a long demonstration of that fact.  But the Sudan is also a testament to the fact that religions can also be reborn in the very place where they seem to have been extinguished.

Sudan was, for centuries, the heart of a vigorous Coptic Orthodox kingdom.

By the end of the 6th century Nubia, as Sudan was then known, had coverted to Monophysite Coptic Christianity (although there is some evidence of Byzantine Christanity in the early years as well.)  When Egypt was conquered by the Islamic armies, Nubia was cut off from the rest of Christendom. Most people, and therefore, most Christians lived in northern Nubia.

In 641 and 651 Arab armies from Egypt invaded Nubia but were repulsed.  Christian Nubia was one of the few countries who successfully resisted Muslim conquest in the first Muslim century.  A rare treaty known as the baqt was signed creating a relative peace between the two sides that lasted until the 13th century.  The baqt lasted nearly 700 years and may be the longest lasting treaty in history.

The Christian kingdom of Makuria expanded.  The period from roughly 750 to 1150 saw the kingdom stable and prosperous, in what has been called the “Golden Age”.  The king of Makuria became the defender of the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria, occasionally intervening militarily to protect him.

Exquisite frescoes from that era survived.  Many, like this stunning image of St. Anna now in a Warsaw museum, were removed before the Cathedral of Faras was drowned by the building of Aswan Dam in the 60’s.

st. anne faras cathedral sudan

Increased aggression from Egypt, and internal discord led to the Makuria collapse in the 14th century.  The 15th and 16th centuries saw Christian Nubia become overwhelmingly Muslim.  By 1910, the number of Christians in the Sudan was so small that it registered as a percentage of 0.0%.

Then the tide began to turn in a surprising place: southern Sudan.

From 1898, the United Kingdom and Egypt administered all of present day Sudan as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, but northern and southern Sudan were administered as separate provinces.  In the very early 1920s, the British passed the Closed Districts Ordinances which stipulated that passports were required for travel between the two zones, and permits were required to conduct business from one zone into the other, and totally separate administrations prevailed.  People in the northern zone spoke different languages than those in the southern zone.

The British discouraged Islam in the south and opened the area to Christian missionaries.  But the real growth began after the British left and Sudan became independent in 1956.  In 2010, 16.5% of Sudanese as a whole and 50 – 70% of people in southern Sudan are Christians. In a century, Sudanese Christians grew at an average rate of over 8% per year, from 2,600 to 6.8 million. (Numbers and graph below from the Atlas of Global Christianity.)

Last year (2010), the Christian community grew by 154,500 and 30% of these new Christians were converts.  Most are either evangelical Anglicans or Catholics.  Today, Sudan has become the second most Christian nation in north Africa.  If the people of southern Sudan vote for independence as expected, their nation will become the only majority Christian nation in north Africa.


John Allen had an interesting side note in today's article (which refers to recent attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt):

In response to the recent outbreak of violence, the BBC has reported that some Coptic Christians living in diaspora have floated the idea of an independent Coptic state in Egypt, similar to the anticipated autonomous state of southern Sudan.

Rome Reports: "I'm a Mormon" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 January 2011 10:53

Check this out.

At the Rome Reports newsite with its announcement of the Beatification of John Paul II (Yeah!), look at the videos on the right hand side of the screen.

Older videos put out by Rome Reports.  5 videos in a row and then immediately below them another larger video showing an intriguing-looking black man.  No description is visible because it falls below the fold.

But when you click on it, you discover that it is one of those "I'm a Mormon" video testimonies: this time from a black British singer with a truly interesting story.  So thousands of Catholics reading about John Paul's beatification may also be exposed to a Mormon testimony.

Google accepted an LDS ad that in style and placement mimics Rome Reports.  Except that it's production values are much higher and it is much less stiff than your typical Rome Reports video.

Accident or very clever?  Who makes these placement decisions?  Google?  Or did the LDS folks request that it be placed there?

Anyone know how this works?

Update: the mystery video has mysteriously vanished.  Who pulled it?  Rome Reports?  Or Google because Rome Reports protested?

How does this work?

Update #2:  An anonymous but very highly placed little internet bird has whispered into my shell-like ear:

"As far as I can tell, they don't seem to be targeting individual websites -- rather, it's a broad campaign aiming at any page in Google's "Catholic" keyword category.  There are ways to block it, but it's tougher than it looks."

Soooo.  Intentional and clever.  Specifically aimed at Catholic readers on an internet wide basis.  (7% of Mormons were raised Catholic.)  A techy friend explained that while you can ask that Google ads on your site observe certain parameters (like no suggestive ads), that  obviously the squeaky clean, religion-friendly Mormon videos would fit those parameters.   So while Catholics would find the unannounced placement of LDS witness videos on Catholic sites to be deceptive at best, it doesn't violate Google's standards.

My little bird tells me that he has found a way to block it and hopefully will share said secret with Rome Reports.

What do you think of them apples?

Fit to Lead the Church PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 20:57

“The most basic task of the Church leader is to discern the spiritual gifts of all those under his authority, and to encourage those gifts to be used to the full for the benefit of all. Only a person who can discern the gifts of others and can humbly rejoice at the flowering of those gifts is fit to lead the Church.”

St. John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood

H/T: Fr. Mike

A Little Glossary Of Global Christianity PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 15:26

I know that the various movements that I mention in some of my posts are difficult to distinguish from one another.  That makes it difficult for us to understand the implications for the Catholic Church.  So I thought that a mini glossary would come in handy.

Christian Traditions vs. Renewal Movements

First of all, the foremost scholars of global Christianity speak of six major Christian traditions in the world today: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Independent, Anglicanism, Marginal Christianity.

Within those "major" tradition are many hundreds of minor traditions.  For instance the largest "minor" Christian tradition is Latin rite Christianity which makes up the lion's share of the Roman Catholic communion.  Today, Catholicism is by far the largest major tradition, at just over 50% of all Christians.

What is most confusing for Catholics is the relationship and differences between 1) historic Protestantism, 2) evangelicalism, 3) Independent Christians, 4) "renewalists" (Christians who are charismatic in spirituality) and 5) a final category: Great Commission Christians.  The Atlas of Global Christianity lists Independent Christians as a "major" Christian tradition.  But Evangelicalism, Renewalism, and Great Commission Christians are not considered to be a "traditions" but are trans-national, trans-cultural renewal movements.

A lot of American confusion is because the historically Protestant US was and is also simultaneously one of the major centers of evangelicalism, renewalism, and Great Commission Christianity.  It is easier to distinguish these groups by their historical and cultural origins and when looking at it from a global perspective.


Independent Christianity:   A new "major" Christian tradition that is quite distinct from the earlier categories of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant and emerged in the early 20th century.

The majority, but not all Independents are charismatic/Pentecostal in their spirituality.

Most Independent groups originated outside the west: China, India, Africa, the Caribbean.  What is typical of Independent Christianity is that local appropriation and interpretation of the Christian faith dominates.   That's why some scholars call this movement “indigenous” rather than independent.

Many Independent groups arose out of renewal or schismatic movements in the Protestant world and usually seek to separate themselves from Protestant denominationalism.   Independents are not "protesting" against Catholicism which is separated from them by 5 centuries of diverging development and is hardly on their radar.  They often describe themselves as Post-Protestant. Most Independents measure themselves against and are distancing themselves from 20th century Protestant practice and ecclesiology, not Catholicism. They are present and future oriented rather than historically oriented and are almost entirely uninterested in the issues of "authority" that many evangelical converts to Catholicism consider to be one of their primary issues.

Independent Christians value experiential spirituality and practice and usually seek an intense encounter with God.  This form of Christianity has a a strong oral tradition, a theology of personal experience, and of renewal of society with a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit, charisms, miracles, and healing in the widest sense.   Visions, oral story-telling, testimonies, music and dance all play large roles.  Independent Christians are largely urban.  They are most likely to found, not in the old European centers, but in the world class cities of the Global south.

Global centers of Independent Christianity are China (85 million, 98% of China’s Christians are Independent), the US (72.7 million) Nigeria (26.5 million) Brazil (21.3 million), the Philippines (19.5 million) South Africa (19 million) India (18.2 million)  Nearly 10% of all Africans, 7% of Latin Americans, 3.4 % of Asians, and 21.2% of North Americans are Independent Christians.

There are about 370 million independent Christians in 2010.  They grew from 0.5% of the world population in 1910 to 5.3% in 2010 – their growth rate being nearly 3 times that of the world’s population.  They make up 15.8% of all Christians today and are expected to grow to 19.6% of all Christians by 2050.

The AGC describes three global ‘renewal” movements that transcend denomination and tradition:

1) Evangelicalism:  a largely Anglo renewal movement within historic Protestantism

Evangelicalism is rooted in 17th century Puritan and 18th century Wesleyan movements in English speaking world and in the 17th and 18th century Pietistic movement in continental Europe.  Until well into the 20th century, the vast majority of evangelicals were English speaking and they have spread primarily in areas that were once part of the British empire.  They emphasized the recovery of message of the Reformation: the authority of Scripture, and the justification of sinners by faith in the work of Christ alone. Personal conversion, disciplined piety, creativity in pastoral structures to meet new situations, evangelistic zeal accompanied by impatience or suspicion of formal ecclesiastical structures.  Originally, they did not start new denominations but stayed as sources of renewal within historic Protestant denominational bodies.

The true church is seen by evangelicals as made up of those with personal faith in Christ and Biblical doctrine rather than apostolic succession is the center of unity. They tend to work cross-denominationally and within communions with mixed theologies such as Anglicanism. (Sherry's note: global Anglicanism is now majority evangelical.)

Evangelicals are typically in the forefront of mission to unevangelized people groups and cultures.  One result is that 2/3 of all evangelicals live in the Global south in 2010.  They experience fellowship in a spiritual bond based upon personal faith in Jesus Christ, a desire to be shaped by the Scriptures, and a commitment to obedience to Christ’s missionary mandate.  Theirs is a self-consciously Protestant and a heavily literate and verbal spirituality, anchored in the authority of the written Word.  Until the 1980's, most evangelical churches and organizations were anti-charismatic.  Today most evangelical groups accept members that practice a charismatic spirituality.

Evangelicals have grown from 80 million in 1920 to 263.4 million as of 2010 but their percentage of the global population has actually dropped from 4.6% to 3.8%.

In 1910, 48% of evangelicals lived in north America (46% in the US) and 43% in northern Europe (25% in Britain). Today 75% of all evangelicals live in the Global south.

2) Renewalists: A global renewal movement that emerged in the early 20th century amid a world-wide flurry of "revivals"in the Protestant world and has spread across major traditions.

The first decade of the 20th century saw a number of "revivals" such the famous Azusa Street revival under a black American preacher in Los Angeles in 1906, another near Pune, India under a famous Brahmin woman Christian, Pandita Ramabai (1905- 1907) and the great Welsh revival (1904-1905) which swept and transformed that little country.  Welsh missionaries brought revival to the Khassi Hills in northeast India in 1905 and tales of the Welsh revival also influenced the Korean revivals of 1903 and 1907.  There was another outbreak of revival in Manchuria in 1910.

Renewalism includes the “first wave” classic Pentecostalism and Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God as well as the charismatic “second wave” that swept through traditional denominations, beginning in mainline Protestantism in 1960, and reaching the Catholic Church in 1967.  The third wave of renewalism is found within Independent churches which are majority renewalist. Renewalism has a deeply global orientation and is a multi-dimensional missionary movement.

The 614 million renewalist Christians make up 8.9% of the human race in 2010.  22.7% of North America's population are renewalists as are 26.3% of Latin Americans.  42.7% of the residents of southern Africa belong to this movement as do 31.6% of South Americans and 9.3% of the residents of northern Europe.

Renewalism has readily moved across the "major" Christian traditions.  51% of Independents, 22.7% of Catholics, and 22.4% of historic Protestants are also part of this movement.

The 133 million charismatic Latin rite Catholics make up the largest single renewalist tradition in the world.


3)  Great Commission Christians (GCC's):  believers in Jesus Christ who are aware of the implications of the Great Commission, have accepted its personal challenge in their lives and ministries and are seeking to influence the Body of Christ to implement it. (definition from the AGC)

This group is fast growing and spans the globe but hard to measure.  Independent Christians have the highest percentage (about half) while Orthodox have the lowest (20%) and Catholics the second lowest (25%).

Countries and regions with the fewest Christians often have the highest percentage of GCC's.  The countries with the lowest number are those where Christians make up over 80% of the population and where most Christians are Catholic or Orthodox.  In south central Asia, less than 5% are Christian but nearly 80% of the Christians are GCC’s.

The 706.8 million Great Commission Christians make up 10.2% of the human race in 2010, the largest portion of which lives in Asia.

This little illustration from the Atlas of Global Christianity show that the three renewal movements do overlap but also remain distinct.



Catholics can be and are, in huge numbers, renewalists and GCC's.  Although some Catholics do regard themselves as "evangelical Catholic" what they usually mean by the term is something different than an evangelical Protestant means by it, especially regarding how they understand Scripture.

A Protestant could be an evangelical and a GCC but not a renewalist, for instance.  Many in the US move readily between historic Protestant, evangelical, renewalist, and independent groups or participate in two or more at the same time.  As do Catholics: just under 6% of self-identified US Catholics are "practicing" other faiths in addition.   That is, they attend non-Catholic services at least once a month.

As we say in Making Disciples, when it comes to understanding where someone is in their faith, never accept a "label" in the place of a story.  Dictionary terms like "Protestant" and "Catholic" can mask a wide variety of real life beliefs and practices.



A Remarkable True Story from Our LA Weekend PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 11:08

We heard many fascinating stories during our Making Disciples weekend in LA.  When you have 425 zealous Catholics intensely grappling together with how to reach out to family and friends, the presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable.

Among the attendees was a radiant young Indian woman who is in RCIA right now and will be baptized at Easter.  She wrote down a part of her story for me.  I'll call her "Anna" (not her true given or future baptismal name).

Anna was raised in a practicing Hindu family in India and believed in God as a "supreme Power".  She knew very little about the Christian faith.  As a teenager, she began a spiritual search and in her 20's began reading "positive mental attitude" books.  In her late 20's she began to meditate in an attempt to connect with supernatural power.

One of the "positive mental attitude" books that she was reading contained passages from the Bible although she did not recognize them as such at the time.  She "claimed" these verses and then lay down for a nap.  As she slept, she had an extremely vivid out-of-body experience in which she say herself lying on the bed "dead or paralyzed" and then her spirit went through a dark tunnel at a very high rate of speed.  "I told God I don't want to die.  I want to fulfill the purpose of my life for which you gave me birth." Since as a Hindu, she believed in re-birth, she told God "I don't want to have another birth but to accomplish the purpose of my life."  Then she woke up.

The whole experience was a spiritual turning point.  She now "wanted to 'know' God and see him more closely.  She now knew that he was real and wanted to encounter this living God but didn't know how.

Anna worked in a clinic and there in late 2006, she met a woman evangelist who was bringing her mother in for treatment.  This woman was reading a Christian magazine that told of a retreat center in India where many miracles took place.  Anna was excited and told the woman "If this place really exists, I want to see it.  I want to experience those miracles."

Later in 2006, she did make a retreat at another Christian retreat centre in India and there "I met Jesus".  On the last day, "I experienced the gift of tongues and had a vision of Jesus blessing me and I am kneeling with my head bowed down looking at his feet."

Anna has seen many remarkable things happen since then and is scheduled to be baptized and received into the Church at Easter.  While I was listening to her, all I could think of was Peter meeting Cornelius, who had received the Holy Spirit before he was baptized.

She didn't have time to explain exactly how she made it to the US and entered up in RCIA in Los Angeles.  When I asked her if she had shared her story with her local RCIA team, she shook her head (although she had confided in her pastor).

Sherry's note:  "Anna" wrote to say that her RCIA experience has been great and the team is definitely above average!  That is great news.

But I would still say that she average RCIA team just isn't ready for stories like this.  Catholics don't know that experiences like Anna's are happening all over the Hindu and Muslim worlds.

Anna's final written word was this "Pray for me cos I am already evangelizing.  Speaking to Hindus, Muslims, and Protestants to meet the true Jesus and follow him."

What do you think of Anna's experience?  Have you ever heard a story like it?



It's Time to Recognize that America Isn't "Protestant" Anymore PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 11 January 2011 22:34

There were several different topics that I would have liked to cover during my post-Christmas blogging binge but I just didn't make it. They are all relevant to our current discussions and news stories so I thought I'd try to make it happen now that I'm home.  Again, I'll be quoting from the magnificent Atlas of Global Christianity which I would encourage Catholic libraries and readers with a scholarly bent to purchase.

1) The 20th century collapse of historic Protestantism in North America.

In our debates, we often talk about America as a deeply Protestant country.  Indeed, I have sometimes heard it said that in the US, even Catholics are really Protestant in worldview, so powerful is the mark of Protestantism on this culture.

But if we only look at the other dominant religious community in terms of what they are not (namely us), we will miss the fact that what they are and how they understand themselves has changed dramatically over the past 100 years.   The majority aren't Protestant anymore in the sense that Protestants would have meant in 1910. Here's what I mean.

Even though historic Protestant denominations (Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc.) only made up 18.8% of all Christians in the world in 1910, a map showing the dominant religion in North American countries in that year looked like this (purple stands for historic Protestants):


Throughout North America, historic, creedal, denominational Protestantism was dominant.

A century later, the sea of North American purple was giving way to a complicated and surprising reality.


Catholicism had become the largest national faith in Canada.  Independent Christianity, that new kind of Christianity which no longer looks to historic Protestant creeds or denominations, which sprang up in the 20th century and regards itself to be "post-Protestant", has taken the lead in the US.  The US is one of the five largest centers of Independent Christianity and the only one in the west. About 75 million Independent Christians live in the US.

If we dive in and look at the dominant faith in every state and province in 2010, we'll see that the situation is considerably more complicated.




Although Independent Christians outnumber Catholics at the national level in the US, Catholics are the largest religious group in 30 states.  Independents dominate at the state level only in Texas and "Marginal" Christians (Mormons, etc.) are largest in Utah and Idaho. Non Protestant Christianity dominates in 2/3 of American states.

Here's another way of looking at the same trajectory. (The numbers are from the AGC.)

1910 (Christians in North America)

62%  Protestant

22%  Catholic

10% Independent Christians

4% Anglican

1% Orthodox

1% Marginal

In 1910, classic Protestant denominations (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, Baptists, etc.) and Anglicanism (the Episcopal Church) together dominated the landscape.  They comprised 66% of American Christians.  Catholics and Orthodox together made up 23%.


2010 (Christians in North America)

25% Protestant (60% drop)

35% Catholic (60% rise)

31% Independent (210% rise)

1%  Anglican (75% drop)

3% Orthodox (200% rise)

5% Marginals (400% rise)

Classic Protestantism and Anglicanism have dropped like a stone and now only make up 26% of American Christians. Catholics and Orthodox grew dramatically and together now comprise 38% of all Christians in North America.  The new post-Protestant groups have come out of nowhere (Independents and Marginals) and now make up 36% of Christians.

Independents and Marginals still have Reformation DNA because they emerged in reaction to classically Protestant Christianity but most do not see themselves as "Protestant" in the way the term was used in 1910.  They are the more or less estranged children and grandchildren of historic Protestantism who no longer feel bound by historic Protestant creeds or consensus.  We continue to see them as "other" because we are highly sensitive to their still existing Reformed assumptions, but their recent past and their future trajectory is away from historic Protestantism.  Because they are passionately evangelizing and masters of the media - old and new - they are growing faster than all other Christian groups.

Today, the dominant form of non-Catholic Christianity is this country has changed dramatically and they are not much interested in the historic debates of the 16th century.  Which means that when Catholic commentators say that in the US, "even Catholics are Protestant", we need to remember that the content of the word "Protestant" has changed dramatically.  We would be more accurate to say, in the US, even Catholics are Independents.

More From Our Sponsor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 11 January 2011 06:52
Home from Los Angeles where God is doing truly wonderful things.  More on that, and a couple background posts on the election in the Sudan, religious freedom around the world, and the de-Protestantizing of North America in a bit.
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