Division: Math and the Church

What I remember from learning division is this. After a good year and a half of practicing our multiplication tables, 2×2 is 4, 2×3 is 6, 2×4 is 8, and playing Around The World and doing multiplication color by product sheets, we began division. We took out our plain notebook paper and drew that little diving board and worked and worked. We found remainders. We left room halfway down the page because long division takes up space. We did not play Around The World. We did not do coloring sheets. Division is serious work.

There will be no joy in division.

That was just one of the lessons I learned in 5th grade at the catholic school where I attended. It was during those years that I began to feel very less than. I was not cool. I was not the brightest. I felt left out when the other kids in my class went up to receive communion and I couldn’t. I heard the messages of a certain older priest who had very little compassion for the two kids in the class who weren’t Catholic.

My mother had prayed for me before I was born that I would have Jesus in my heart. I was brought up in a Presbyterian church, very active in anything that was available to me there. When I went to Catholic school I was always top in religion, often receiving marks of over 100 because I did the bonus work.I did all the work to be confirmed into the Catholic church, because it was for the religion grade, but wasn’t confirmed. I loved the work and so I put in the effort, even though I knew I wouldn’t get the reward.

For years, I thought this was a Catholic problem, making me feel like an outsider, and I resented Catholicism as a result.

I went through high school and in my senior year, I decided to make my faith my own. At the time I had walked away from the church of my youth, tried a Catholic youth group, a different Presbyterian youth group and finally found a spot in an Episcopalian youth group led by a Young Life leader filled with kids who wanted to be there of their own accord. I went to college and was involved in a non-denominational campus ministry, went to a PCA church while at JMU and a “bible” church when I was home. I got married, and we went to a Church of Christ and a Methodist church before finding a home in a Church of Christ in Christian Union. Then we picked up and moved and landed in, after quite a bit of church shopping, a Nazarene church.

Through that journey I found that in almost every building I walked into, there was a decidedly us vs. them mentality. I would find that in one church I would never feel like I could wholly grasp where God would lead me, because I was a woman. In another, I would be ineligible for membership because I’d been sprinkled not dunked. In another, I found that grace ruled over the pursuit of holiness, and any encouragement to pursue righteousness would mark you as the next Westboro member. Some more so than others, but in nearly every church I’ve gone to has been hard nosed people so committed to their theology that they’ve lost sight of their first love.

But there sitting in the same pews are people like my mom and my aunt, both Catholic, who though they knew my time in that private school had stung and left me bitter, loved me through it, showed me that their devotion was as true as mine and softened my heart. There was a camp counselor who taught me the quote “in the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; but in all things, charity.” (Which has it’s faults, but is in my estimation, a good starting point). A very dear pastor who answered a frustrated email from me telling me that no, I didn’t have to be dunked to attend or join that church, and that I was welcome to come, as I was, and be as involved or uninvolved as I wished to be and they’d be happy to have me with them.

Those kind of  people have always brought to me the understanding that reconciliation is multiplication. It is coloring and games and joy that spreads.

I’ve been reading Corinthians, which begins speaking about divisions in the church. 1 Corinthians 12 says “What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

As someone who has walked into such a variety of denominations, that I struggle to call myself a title other than just Christian, this is so sweet to me. It allows me to go into any church and listen for the voice of God.

Saturday evening I dressed and went to mass with my mom. The scripture was read and I heard, “In Christ there is no Greek or Jew” and in my mind I added, “no Catholic or protestant.” I listened to a homily delivered by a young deacon who is journeying towards the priesthood on the theology of suffering that was timely and offered nourishment to my spirit. I got up the next morning and went with my dad to his Presbyterian church and sang sweet standard hymns and listened to the preacher encourage his congregation out of dull dry faith. I came home and read a section of The Ragamuffin Gospel and listened to sermons from a preacher from a nondenominational church.

I don’t know that I can encourage anyone to contemplate this passage in Corinthians, but I hope you will. My prayer is that God will bring reconciliation, multiplication, and apply it to our church in America. My hope is that it won’t take each member of our nation’s churches the 20 plus years it took me to understand that our heart should be to preach Christ crucified and resurrected, and not to seek only the intellectual high ground. My hope is that there will be people who are heard when they say “It is not important who does the planting or who does the watering. What is important is the God makes the seed grow.”