Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Always Learning

It's not that I, or we, are necessarily overly humble, but we have learned something in the course of living abroad.  One must ALWAYS remain a student; willing to learn. Everybody can teach you something, if you are only willing to learn.

In his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood author Duane Elmer says "...learning is the ability to glean relevant information about, from and with other people." We often stop learning before we have learned everything we need to learn.  We stop being teachable.

So what have I/we been learning?  Well, we took a day of learning with our 2 Ascend interns.  This day was led by dear friends of ours, Joaquin and Martha.  We began the day with a lovely breakfast together at a fabulous restaurant of their choosing.
left to right: Martha, Me, Allison, Jessy, Ernie and Joaquin
Although breakfast was because we needed to eat (which we all love to do),  all good events happen around food, and relationships are built around the table.  It was here that we talked food, culture and slowly headed toward the topic of the main event of the day - the Catholic faith and religion.  This whole event was happening because Allison had to do a paper on the religion of her host country (as part of her requirements for Columbia Bible School).  She had a few questions and Joaquin graciously tried to answer.  It was very informative.

From there we headed to the big cathedral of Zapopan:

Here we saw many images, alters and various signs of faith or fanaticism.  Joaquin says that where faith is weak fanaticism is most evident.  They pointed out people who were praying at an alter, or image, and not even listening to mass.  They showed us the wall where people place pictures or charms of miracles that have been granted.  They took us to the store at the front of the cathedral where you could purchase 'relics' of the faith (crosses, images of the virgen, rosaries, candles, etc).  They explained to us that if we would have arrived prior to mass beginning we would have seen people crawling on their knees towards the cathedral.  Throughout the outer and inner courtyards people were selling things similar to those the store was selling.  

From there they took us to another church, which was closed, awaiting a funeral mass.  So, they took us to their church, where they normally worship.  This was drastically different.  Let me show you with a picture, for a picture is truly worth a thousand words. 

This church is mostly empty of images, except for a cross and a picture of the Virgen Guadalupe on the back of the platform.  The walls are bare.  Joaquin explained that these two extremes, so to speak, reveal the vast difference between the different orders within the Catholic tradition.  In this church, the confessionals are not like you see in the movies, with the person kneeling before a hidden priest.  Here you sit in front of your priest, conversation style, and confess.  It was quite distinct from any of the Catholic places of worship we had been in previously.

After looking around we returned to the church that had been locked.  They chose to attend mass at that one because the funeral was for a friend's family member.  Joaquin informed us that the mass here would be very similar to one they would experience in their church {We plan to join him on another occasion}.  

It was a good service, and the priest had a good homily, which we were basically in agreement with. The liturgy was interesting, the participation of the congregants was thought provoking, the order of service could be followed in a program of sorts.  How the 'funeral' was incorporated into the mass was also interesting.  

What were my 'take aways'? I went to learn, to understand more of the traditions of my friend's faith.  I did not go primarily to evaluate or to criticize, but rather to examine my own faith.  My friend Betty Koop shared a quote from Philip Yancy's book "Vanishing Faith" which applies: "As a Christian my main concern is not to downgrade other's beliefs but to examine my own." I think we need to continually pursue truth, and to make sure that our faith is vibrant and solidly based on truth.  This is truly what the day made me do, examine my own faith and the traditions it brings with it.

I think it is a healthy thing to get to know people of other faiths, or people who are also pursuing Christ, but from a different theological tradition.  I think having a 'teacher' take you on that journey is wonderful.  We are so thankful for this day and all the learning we shared in; it was mutually beneficial I believe.  I love that we enjoy rich evenings together in Bible study with our Catholic friends.  We are all on a journey of faith and are learning from one another. 'Earning' the opportunity to contribute to that kind of a discussion requires respect for others, as well as personal convictions, and an openness to learn as we do 'exegesis' in community!

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