"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Friday, January 20, 2012

7th Grade Theologians

I have had the most interesting conversations about church with my middle schoolers lately.

The first conversation made me wonder about the "Catholic" identity here on the border. Given that most Mexicans would label themselves as "Roman Catholic," I expected to hear more testaments to the Catholic faith than what I have heard. In fact, at our monthly meetings that include most of the Christian churches and organizations in the downtown El Paso region, perhaps the smallest represented denomination present is Catholic.

While at a store in the mall with some of our middle school girls after an afternoon of bowling, a rack of necklaces caught the eye of one of the 7th graders. She was holding a cross necklace that very much resembled a rosary--it was pretty much the teenage hip version of a string of rosary beads. I commented on how pretty it was (it was a very appealing shade of turquoise), after which she responded, "Yeah it is, Miss, but I could never wear it. I'm a Christian." I made some sort of confused comment like, "Ok...but it's a cross...?" Only for her to look at me like, duh, this is for Catholics...not Christians.

Even today after a meeting with a woman who directs a center where many migrant women can take classes such as English, parenting, etc., she was explaining how yes, encouraging the women to become Christian is important, and Bible studies are even required, but that the organization's focus is not religious. But she did make a comment about how "only 20% of our women are Christian...cus the majority of them are Catholic."

Since when was Catholicism not a part of Christianity? I don't understand. It is such a fascinating understanding...or misunderstanding...of the Catholic faith.

Another conversation I had with some other middle school girls was more humbling than confusing. Recently I have been involved in organizing community members to give input in a recently presented community development bond. We invited many mothers to a meeting where they could give input on what they hope to see in their community. A couple 6th graders asked me about this meeting that their moms were going to go to after program that day, and after hearing me explain the bond, they lost interest very quickly, haha. Jokingly and slightly interested to see if I could regain their interest in the bond issue, I asked the girls, "Well, what would you like to see in your community?" After a few expected answers like more pools, bigger zoos, fewer school days, etc., one of them said "We need less churches...there are too many around here." and commented how on every street there seemed to be a church building. "They should all just go to one church."

What a revolutionary idea! This comment led to a discussion among us about denominational differences and how I don't think everyone would be willing or happy to go to just one same church altogether. The girls couldn't understand why. Church is church, right?

Differences in belief, tradition, and practice, and having a variety of faith communities in one region is a beautiful thing. Especially in a place like El Paso where I have seen wonderful ways folks of different traditions can work together to bring about change. But oh how wonderful it would be to have an innocent faith that just cannot grasp the idea of the necessity of having so many churches. And oh how much we can learn from such a faith.

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