Crossing the Tiber – Pt 2
October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
Wading in the Surf
…continued from Crossing the Tiber – Pt 1
As our time back in Oklahoma settled down and we got our feet on the ground, I had time to rekindle relationships with old friends. And the group with which I have remained closest are the pals with whom I helped found the first conservative newspaper at the University of Oklahoma. We have been as close as brothers and though we all moved away for school and work, we have all come back home and remained close-knit.
We’re a group that is as much an accountability council as any are. We challenge each other to resist the tide of secular culture; to hold fast to the call that Christ has placed on us; to lead our wives and raise our families to fear God. We are iron forever sharpening iron. It is within this group of men that my intellectual sword is constantly sharpened. We challenge each other never to become idle, to stay on the leading edge of the mandate that is on our lives. And chief among these things is our spiritual lives.
Within this group are men who represent several denominations: Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Baptist. Though we have differences of opinion on non-essentials, we are all unified in the centrality of the Gospel and the truth of the Apostles’ Creed. And among all the deep conversations that we have–on politics and family and economics and politics and faith and marriage and politics and culture and politics–one thing continued to goad me as a thorn in my side. Whenever the conversation turned to doctrine, the Reformation, and church history I always fell silent. I had nothing to contribute because, though I have always had a deep love and understanding of history, I had never delved specifically into the history of Christianity and the development of the Church over the last 2000 years.
This troubled me greatly because my one fear in life is not knowing, not having an answer. But I kept pushing this to the back of my mind. Finally, one night almost exactly one year ago from the writing of this post, four of us men went on our annual camping trip to Eufaula. This is an iconic manly expedition in which we pitch some cheap tents on the shore of the lake and lounge around a small bonfire drinking various malted libations, eating fish we’ve caught and other fire-roasted meats while talking all things politics, culture and religion. On that night my three comrades launched into a two-hour conversation about the differences between con-substantiation and trans-substantion. I had no clue what they were talking about, so I sat in conspicuous silence. I was ashamed that my knowledge of the doctrine and of its history in the church was dismal. That night I drew a mental line in the sand and committed to myself that, come what may, I would no longer rest in ignorance of the history of my faith. I knew what I had learned in church, but I had no clue about where our faith came from and who had played critical roles throughout history in addition to the Apostles.
So, I began to dive into church history and began reading like a madman…
But I must stop there and roll back a bit. After my father died in 2008, I began writing my book about his legacy and our family’s history of service to our nation. And as I began to lay out the book and conduct research on our family’s history, I discovered (which should not have come as a surprise) going back well over 300 years that our Irish family in America was overwhelmingly Catholic.
But this was true, of course, of all the Irish that came to America and of those over the preceding thousand years. And what I discovered as well was that the Irish Catholics were not just Catholic, they were the culture that saved Europe from the brink of self-destruction in the late first millennium. Through the leadership of St. Patrick, Irish culture led the way in establishing new universities and families and culture that revivified Christianity when the occult threatened, first in France, and then throughout Europe to take over. This deep-seated faith in Christ and close-knit, family-oriented culture was brought to America at a time when it was needed most.
But something struck me as odd. How could these devout Irish Catholics, so many of whom migrated through the South into Georgia, then Louisiana, and finally to Oklahoma end up becoming Baptist and Methodist and Disciples of Christ and Church of Christ and so many other various denominations? So I dug for more information. What I discovered was that the poverty that was so rampant in the South after the Civil War and moving westward, combined with the lack of parishes, forced people to do precisely what we had done after our move from DC…to pay attention only to putting food on the table. So faith winnowed and flagged until it was no more because there was no institution to support it. When finally communities had sprung up in the rural south, including Oklahoma, the later generations had no memory of their family’s faith. So they gravitated to congregational denominations that offered a place–any place–in which to worship.
This reality answered another pressing question that had plagued me: why was I Baptist or even Protestant? I did not choose this tradition, rather I practiced it merely because it was all I had known. But confronted with the reality of our family’s history through so many hundreds of years, the Baptist trend was a mere novelty, a new thing. I started to yearn to return back to the things that made our Irish culture what it was. Not just religion, but family, food, education, marriage, child-rearing, everything. As John Quincy Adams’ character is quoted in Amistad, “Who we are is who we were.”
So back to my research into church history…