Every now and then you stumble across something that renews your faith in faith.
In case you’ve missed the last several years, we’re a divided country. We’re divided by economic status, by political persuasion, by what’s taught in the classroom, by television news channel preference, and by religion.
And by religion, I don’t just mean Christianity against everyone else. I also mean Christianity against itself. There is the Catholic church and all the different Protestant churches, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who insist they belong to neither of the preceding two major Christian groupings, which, I’ve noticed, seems to be just fine with them all.
When people live in close proximity to those who believe semi-differently than they do, accommodation is needed. In Idaho, we’ve adjusted by an unspoken but mutually shared understanding that the topic is off-limits. It’s the conversational line no one crosses. You stick with your group and I’ll stick with mine, so we can work and even sit on the sidelines of youth sporting events together without getting into a tight-lipped disagreement over which way Jesus votes on election day.
Cultural barriers, once deeply ingrained, are difficult to challenge, let alone overcome. We’re all just so pleasantly peaceful in our own little piece of the pasture. Why rock a boat that doesn’t need rocking?
And then something happens that changes things.
This week I attended one of those church Christmas music programs that pop up every December. Beautiful hymns, beautifully rendered. Accompanying art work on the overhead screen. Tasty refreshments afterwards.
But this one was different. The program was presented by the Twin Falls South Stake of the afore-mentioned Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which I will refer to for the rest of the column as Mormons to avoid making the column too long.
But joining them at the front of the chapel were members of the Twin Falls St. Edward’s Catholic Parish. They all sang together, and appeared to like each other while doing it.
Imagine that: Mormons and Catholics in the same church singing about the same Savior. It’s true you could notice a few differences if you looked hard. In the artwork shown on the overhead projector none of the angels had wings. Wingless angels are a Mormon thing.
And here’s the kicker—all those Mormons are going to return the favor to their new Catholic friends by singing…wait for it…at the St. Edward’s midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
I admit I laughed when I heard that, but it was an ice-breaking, what-an-awesome-idea kind of laugh. Mormons singing at a Catholic mass. Everybody wins.
It seems to me that people of goodwill recognize the harsh divisions growing among us are like a social metastasizing cancer. We see it, we know it’s there, we can feel it picking up speed, we know that it could kill us if we’re not careful, and yet no one seems able to stop it. The problem’s too big, the momentum too overwhelming.
Then along come a couple of churches on different sides of the Christian divide who decide to sing some Christmas music together.
Here’s what happens when this kind of thing happens. Once we get past the awkward fear of giving unintended offense, we discover that what unites us vastly exceeds what divides us. And as soon as we realize that, we can live together in mutual friendship and respect, not in mutual apprehension and scorn.
Someone’s got to break the ice. Who better than the churches?
This cross-denomination service was a first for me, but I’m guessing it’s not a first. I’m sure other faiths have joined together for Christmas worship. In my opinion, this is behavior that deserves encouragement and support.
As for my wife and I, on Christmas Eve this year we’ll be at the midnight mass at St. Edward’s, happily returning the favor granted to us. I’m looking forward to the music, and the warmth of a deeper fellowship with neighbors and friends on a cold Idaho night.
And also wings—I’m looking forward to seeing some angels with wings.