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And We Prayed

Fri, Mar 21st, 2008
Posted in Commentary

Many of us, of certain age and blessed or handicapped as long time Minnesotans, know religious diversity as Lutheran vs: Catholic. What the Lutherans had in numbers the Catholics battled with fully uniformed nuns and movies starring Bing Crosby. Even in Minnesota, our world has expanded considerably. How different is different and how much is common?

In the diversity we knew in Minneapolis, where I grew up, intellectual property and logical case presentation held no weight. It was a team sport and took its championships by sorting out ethnic hordes. I was a marginal Lutheran among swelling herds of Polish Catholics. Their team held down every corner of the neighborhood with either an Our Lady of Mystery Church or a smoky bar full of burly foundry workers. These were the team planning locations for all those Catholic parents trying to keep their daughters pure by forcing them to wear ugly plaid pleated skirts. I could have told them it wasn't working but they didn't consult with the youth from the other team.

Protestants were so diverse in their branches, synods and prayer books that they did not appreciate their kinship in blandness. They did not touch, they would lip sync the hymns so never to break the ritual of silence in worship. They were a team only in respect to their distrust of Catholics. All those kids, you know. It's not right. We were churched, baptized, confirmed and well trained in the kneeling, or Not, crossing, or Not, confessing, or Not and I was glad to be on the team that Did Not.

The other side still patrolled the streets and kept us uneasy. The nuns were out walking the neighborhood, two by two like Mormons, crosses the size of Olympic medals swinging on beaded chains from within folds and pleats of acres of black fabric. The city had no need for police presence in Catholic neighborhoods because the nuns had it covered. Even a Protestant kid knew, a cop could send you to some juvenile detention center but those nuns, they could send you straight to hell. It was an equal opportunity God Squad. Any kid was within their reach.

Jewish kids existed in their own neighborhoods and I bet they didn't have nuns scaring them over there. Mixing Catholics and Protestants together was enough diversity for a few decades. A kid named Goldstein? Oy. Muslims were unheard of. So far, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and vaguely, Abraham, were quite enough to sort through. Mohammed? He was yet to appear and did not enter our landscape until the Somali immigration and 9/11 but we are getting decades ahead of ourselves now. Aren't two or three teams on the field enough for any cheerleading team?

So here we are now, in the Twenty First Century, confronting a much larger world. Actually no, that larger world was here before the great, collective We. Jesus was a Jew? Trained as a Rabbi? Oh dear. The people of Abraham rejected a woman and her child and from that small family became the heritage of Mohammed. The masses of the Far East that worship multiple deities in Hindu tradition gave birth to the Buddha along about the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

One wonders, if Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Mohammed and Buddha were political, which team would they bat for? Which bar would they drink in, what would they think of the current definition of morality?

It would appear that "fundamentalists", be they Muslims, Orthodox Jews, or Evangelical Christians, share more in philosophy with one another than they do with any of the mainstream of their respective populations. Perhaps we ought to give them all space, maybe Montana or Nevada, and let them fight those philosophies while the rest of us waltz around each other and try to find common purpose. How different is a birka from a nun's habit? Jews and Muslims don't eat pork. Until recently Catholics didn't eat meat on Friday. Why should those traditions threaten anyone?

Until the 1970's, what did Minnesota know of Amish tradition? And here we are, glad for their expertise and skill in so many ways, lanes built in the highways to allow for their horse drawn buggies and long past the curiosity, calling them our neighbors. Prejudice may well go out the window when experience is allowed an open door.

When I worked as a young nursing assistant in a nursing home I was feeding an aged Catholic woman, she demented as I was arrogant, on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I was spooning blended turkey into her toothless mouth and she asked, "What is this?" I replied, "Turkey." She pinched her lips shut and then said, "It's Friday, I can't eat that." (She didn't know what century it was, but that week she knew it was Friday.) I didn't miss a beat and lied, "It's fish." She took another bite. Did she go to hell for that supper, or, will I?

Many claim the one true path to heaven, and have poetic images of what we will find there, but most of us are crawling through the deep grass and from where we are, the brambles scraping our knees are as similar as our hopes and goals.

Beadrin Youngdahl of Peterson is a regular Journal contributor.

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