Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Short History of a Conversion Part 2

    My years at CHC (Christian Heritage College) were very formative in my life. Not only did I make friends that have lasted even to this day, I learned much more about my Christian faith. One of my first classes was an apologetic class that dealt with the geologic column and radio active dating of rocks, etc., all from a Christian point of view. This was something that I had never heard of, a young earth and a reasonable explanation for it. In my Bible classes, I learned more about God's word than I had learned in my life up to that point. In retrospect, I don't remember much of Church history before the Reformation being taught in any classes, but if any alumni happen to read this, and this was not the case, please correct me. It is not my intention to paint an incorrect picture of my education, but this is what I remember from my time at Heritage. I do remember reading St. Augustine's "Confessions" in a Christian Literature class, but that was about the extent of early church fathers writings that were presented to us.

    I was also learning to fly small airplanes while I was at CHC. They had a Missionary Aviation program (which they still have, I believe) that was run out of Gillespie Field. It was an extreme experience to learn to fly and I have some great stories about it, but that is for another blog.

     I started working at a drive through dairy store while at CHC. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it is an open air store where customers drive up, usually place their orders from the car, and we would go and get what they needed, usually a gallon of milk on the way home from work, or beer, bread, yogurt, you get the idea. Anyway, one of the services that Hank and Linda DeGroot offered was a delivery service to restaurants and taco shops in the local area. During summer break, I would stay in El Cajon and work full time and I would get to do the Taco Shop run on Tuesdays and Thursdays. What was great about this was I would get free food at just about every stop! Everybody would offer me something to eat! It got to the point where I would just take a soda, I couldn't eat so much. One of these Taco Shops was El Ranchito in Santee, where I met the girl who would steal my heart forever. We didn't start dating until 1984, 2 years after I graduated, moved to San Francisco for graduate studies at a Southern Baptist Seminary, then moved back to San Diego because I had too many problems in the Seminary.

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary is located on a beautiful spot of land called Strawberry Point, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Mill Valley, California. I went there in January of 1983 to start my studies there for my Master of Divinity degree and to start my career as a minister. Apparently, the theological mindset from CHC rubbed off on me too much for GGBTS standards and I ran up against theological thought that I did not agree with. I  became stubborn in my views and it cost me a semester of academic probation. During that time, I was working as a Youth and Music minister in a small So. Baptist church in Concord, Ca. My second semester, I was working 30 hours in the church and taking 12 units of graduate studies, and commuting 50 miles each way twice a week. Needless to say, I burnt out pretty quickly and found myself back in San Diego.

     I started helping out in another small Baptist church, and also started to pursue a certain cute Mexican girl who at first didn't want anything to do with me. Martha finally relented and agreed to go out with me for one date.....we've been married now for over 26 years! During our dating, we both made the conscience decision to focus on the commonalities of our faiths instead of the differences. We found more in common the more we shared. There was still a cultural divide to cross, or to bridge, and it took a long time to do I said, we've been married 26+ years, we still are building bridges together.

     When we were first married, I was still helping out in my parents church with the music (to this day I find it ironic that I was doing music ministry, since I don't even read music, but I can read and keep time). It was my mission to "convert" my wife into the Baptist church, I never voiced that, but it was always in the back of my head. We eventually moved out to Lake Elsinore, California, where again, I was helping out in a Baptist church, but by now, Martha had started longing to return to her Church. There was a small Catholic Church in the downtown area, and we would go to the Spanish Mass on Saturday and the Baptist Church on Sunday. I would not go up for communion at Mass, because I was aware of the doctrinal differences that prevented me from doing so in good conscience. It was at this time, that I started to look into the Catholic faith, but only to satisfy my own curiosity. I spent many a long talks with the parish priest who was very patient with me and answered all my questions the best he could. He put me on the path that would inevitably give me the answers I was looking for. He mentioned a three volume set by Jurgens called "The Faith of the Early Church Fathers" and was a collection of the writings of various early Church fathers, from Ignatius (who was a disciple of the Apostle John) and Polycarp (a disciple of Ignatius) to Augustine and Justin Martyr. It was by reading these men, who lived so close to the time of Christ, and in the case of Ignatius, was a disciple of one of the Apostles and could have actually know Jesus, that I started to see teachings that were not consistent with what I understood about my Christian faith. They way they worshiped, their liturgy, was so much different than to what I grew up with. This is what led me to investigate further the claims of the Catholic Church. In those investigations, I fell in love with the liturgy, the teachings, the sense of wholeness in the church.

Does this mean that I had turned my back on all that I had learned from my parents, my instructors, my pastors? No. Like I said in Part 1, I am forever grateful to my parents for bringing me to Christ. It is the primary responsibility of the parents to "bring up a child in the way they should go, so when they are old they will not depart form it". My parents taught me to be inquisitive, to ask questions, to be open to what God has for my life, and then to follow Him wherever He might lead. God has lead me home to the Catholic Church. My spiritual journey continues to this day. Like all of us who are on that journey, it will not end until 10 minutes after we die, then it will be a forever homecoming in Heaven. Until then, we have a home here on earth, that is in the Body of Christ, His Church. My journey continues, but it continues within my home, where I can explore the riches of all that God has, I can look honestly at myself and never worry about being rejected, for I am accepted just as I am.

A Short History of a Conversion Part 1

I have been asked many times to put down on paper the story of how I came into the Roman Catholic Church. Here is my story.

     I was born into a Southern Baptist family in the Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood in 1960. My Father was a deacon in the church, my Mother sang in the choir. My paternal great grandfather was a circuit riding preacher for the Methodist Church in the Oklahoma Territory during the last part of the 19th century, so I come by my Christian Heritage naturally. We, my sister, brother and I, were raised in the love and admonition of the Lord. We went to Sunday School and morning worship, Training Union and evening worship every Sunday (even if I had preferred to stay home Sunday nights to watch Wonderful World of Disney), and Wednesday night prayer meetings. On most Saturdays, my Dad and I would go to the church to mow the lawn and clean up for Sunday worship. We would go to the Rescue Missions on Skidrow in Los Angeles once a month or so to sing, preach and help feed the men (in those days it was mainly men on skidrow). I was shown, by the life of my parents, that this was how you showed your love for Christ. You went to Church, prayed, and shared the Gospel with those around you. I memorized many verses from the King James Bible as a child, and as a high school student moved up to the New American Standard Bible (Ryrie Study Bible Edition), since it was so much easier to read and we actually spoke the same had been a few hundred years since anyone spoke like Shakespeare, except in Drama Class. To say that my parents brought me to a saving knowledge of Christ by their example of life would be an understatement. I owe them a debt of gratitude I could only hope to repay by being the same example of a loving Christian to my wife and family and those around me.

     I was baptized when I was eight years old, it was a decision I had made because I saw myself as one who needed Jesus in my life as my Savior, so I asked Jesus into my heart at that young age and was baptized  at Bellwood Baptist (SBC) church a few weeks later. I was one who was not afraid to share my faith. Jesus was real to me (he still is) and I wanted others to know to love that I knew because of what Jesus did for me, for all of us. This lead to a lot of bullying when I was in Junior High, because the bullies knew I would not fight back....that is not what Jesus would want. My friends at that time can bear witness to the fact that I talked my way out of many a fight, I also out ran many a bully too. (Sometimes I wish I could get into a DeLorean and fire up the flux capacitor and go back to the mid 70's with the knowledge of my second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and teach those bullies a lesson! But as Mr. Miyagi would say, "Karate for defense only"). I digress. In high school I was fairly well known on campus (I did not realize this at the time, but found out years later from alumni who I had not known at school, since we were 3000 in the school, and they came up to me and introduced themselves. I had to go back to the yearbook to verify who they were, and I still didn't know them!). I was part of a student led lunchtime Bible study group and in the Shutterbug (photography) club, I loved to take pics of the Friday Night Football games (ok, I took more pics of the cheer squad than the game, but this was high school for crying out loud.). I also played waterpolo and was probably in the best shape of my life during those years. I also had a very good friend with whom I forged a great friendship....he was also a committed Catholic. Randy Laya and I would have many talks about our respective faiths, and while I was never Anti-Catholic, I never really knew what to think about the Catholic Church. I knew they were Christians by their profession/creed, but it was too "high" church for me I guess.

     It was during high school that I heard the call of the Lord to what I thought was a full time Christian Ministry. I knew that God wanted me to follow him, I was working in our youth group at First So. Baptist in Long Beach, and helped with many other ministries in the church, along with my best friends Ken Cunningham and Bryan Richardson (Bryan would later "jump ship" and come into full communion with the Catholic Church years before I did, unfortunately I have lost contact with Ken). It was during this time that I had made friends with a kid that I met while visiting my sister and her husband in El Cajon, California. I was a junior in high school, and I went to a skateboard park to ride. I had all kinds of Christian Stickers on my helmet and was not ashamed to share my story with anyone who wanted to listen. One kid thought the stickers were cool and we started up a conversation, so started a friendship that would change my life. David Sciacca was a student at Christian High in El Cajon, his parents lived in the upper class neighborhood of Mount Helix (those who live in San Diego know that Mt. Helix is not a subdivision, but and actual Mount, a very large hill that is even used as a landmark by pilots at nearby Gillespie Field.) Frank and Connie Sciacca took a liking to me and invited me into their family. soon I was driving to San Diego, not to visit my sister, but to visit David and his family. Frank was into land development, and in the late 70's, San Diego was smoking! They knew of my desire to go to a Christian College and become a minister, they also knew of our limited finances in my family. One afternoon, after I had already finished high school and had enrolled at the local JC, I was talking with Frank on the phone. He asked me what I was going to do with my life. I responded by telling me I had started talking a few classes at LBCC until I could save up money to go to BIOLA and start my Bible degree. He told me I would never finish college by taking two classes at a time, and that he and Connie and been talking and praying about it and decided to give me a year at Christian Heritage College if I wanted it, Room, Board, Books...a full ride! (That one year turned into all 4 years, to which I am forever grateful to the faith they had in me). I told my parents, who were absolutely thrilled! I went to my boss, where I had just started working for a Christian company and his reaction was, "GO, just GO, this is God's call! Son in the Spring semester of 1979, I was enrolled at Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, California. This is a college that was founded, in part, by Tim LaHaye, famous preacher and author of many Christian books including the "Left Behind" series.

     In college, I started to learn so much more about my faith. I learned that there were other ways of looking at the same event or problem or Bible verse for that matter. Much of my head butting at college had to do more with the "practice" of my faith rather than the substance of it. We had "rules" we had to follow, the school consider themselves as "en Parentis loco" or as they would say, in "place of parents". This was a new concept for me, since we were in college, all over the age of 18 and were paying for the privilege of going to this school. Most of the rules were easy to follow and pretty common sense, curfew at such and such time, etc. But the music rules and radio station rules were way too strict. The administration wanted to micro manage our lives and many of us (me included) secretly rebelled.

     It was during this time of my life that I experienced bigotry against my beliefs, but not by Catholics, but by my own college classmates. I also learned what the term "fundamentalist" meant. We had some fundamentalists at Heritage who basically told me that because I didn't go to their church, believed what they believed, that I was damned and going to Hell! So much for the love of God! Here I was, a student at a Christian College, studying to be a Missionary pilot, to bring the Gospel to the heathens in Africa, or New Guinea or wherever, and I was told it wasn't good enough, I had to believe a different way, dress in a suit and tie, cross my t's and dot my i's. It was a brutal introduction to Legalism, and I rejected it as Jesus rejected the Pharisees' legalism.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Who will be our next Pope?

We certainly are living in exciting times these days. A new Pope will be elected soon, perhaps this week of March 10th, 2013. I am sure that many, if not all of us have heard all the speculations of who might be elected as Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Christ on Earth and leader of the world's billion plus Catholics. However, he is not just responsible for the souls of his flock. Each Bishop is responsible for the souls of all who live within their respective dioceses, so the Pope has the responsibility of the entire world. No wonder the Cardinal, after he is elected, goes into the "room of tears" to weep with joy (and trepidation, no doubt) for the mission that he now faces.

The world's eyes have been turned to Rome for the last few weeks, but the world does continue on and many other things are taking place besides what is going on in Rome. Today, I was at a retreat for the children who have been in Catechism for their 1st Communion. The kid's parents were also at the retreat and they received their Catechism too. One thing we see is that families want their children to receive all their Sacraments, yet, afterwards, we see many of those same families leave the Church, or become C, A & E Catholics (Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Easter). Why is that?Many people are Catholic because that is how they were brought up, they are Cultural Catholics, not knowing their faith, never having a true relationship with Jesus, through prayer, Eucharist, fellowship and study of God's Word. They don't live the life that they are called to live, and that is sad because all of us, by our Baptism, are the Body of Christ, and we need to be working together for the good of the Body and for society in general.

So who will be our next Pope? Only God knows. But whoever he is, we are called to be faithful to the Magesterium of the Church and to live the faith as taught by the Church. We are a city set on the hill, let's let our light shine so that all can see the Kingdom of God in our lives.