In my last blog, I had mentioned having "Catholic" and "daughter of God" bubbles in my identity Venn Diagram - the former living inside the latter.  Having both bubbles is important to me because my family and many of my religious experiences are interdenominational.  However, my struggle within the Venn Diagram project, and a good chunk of my life, was determining how I treat those two aspects of my identity in relation to each other.  What it looks like to claim the identity of "Catholic Christian" versus simply "Catholic."  During high school, I started by trying to understand what it means to be a Christian.  In undergrad, my pursuit shifted to me deepening my understanding of Catholicism.  It was during this time that I also became aware of divisions I had been blind to most of my life.

It was within this journey that I volunteered to talk at the Christian Unity Prayer Service being held by my Newman Center and the University Lutheran Church last year.  My main reason for doing so was a sense of duty to honor my background.  I knew that on paper I looked like one of the more "qualified" people from the Catholic student group to speak.  In reality, I felt far from it because of my increasing awareness of the divides within Christianity.  I remember mentioning to the Lutheran speaker that I was going to base my talk on my previous summer's experience working at an interdenominational mission trip site and him warning me to not make this about myself.  I inwardly chuckled because I knew the talk would fall flat if I were the main character.  I knew the witness of numerous preteens of numerous denominations would speak louder than my own works ever could because they reminded me what unified Christians can do.

Below is a copy of my talk. I hope you get as much out of reading it as I did out of writing it.

The Vine and the Branches

John 15:1-11 is one of my favorite passages from scripture.  It speaks of connectedness.  Of the tender, attentive care the Father gives each of us so we can grow.  Of the beautiful sweetness we can all bring to this earth.  All of this by remaining centered in Christ.  By being a Christian.

We gather here representing different branches of the same Christian vine.  Jesus says the Father “takes away every branch in [him] that does not bear fruit,” and that “a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine.” I can attest that Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and others bear good fruit.  The Father has not removed any of us from the vine.

I grew up with a Catholic mom and a Lutheran dad.  Relatives on both sides of my family represent many denominations.  They all have taught me so much about our shared faith and their lives attest to the beauty it brings. When we live in unity, we talk of the Christian life and grow in it. We can reach each other in our painful moments and together praise God for the blessings He gives us.  We bear fruit. When we act in ignorance of Christian unity, we create painful moments and separate ourselves from God.  Then, we are no different than a branch detached from the vine of Christ.

One of the commonly cited reasons why non-Christians don’t give Christianity a chance is because of the conflict between denominations.  In it, they do not see the love we are all called to embody.  Between the dismissive smirks, cutting comments, and cold shoulders I’ve witnessed, I see their point.

I have also seen the incredible things that happen when Christians of all types come together with open hearts.  The tightest of friendships form in the matter of days.  The outcasts and brokenhearted encounter peace.  Burdens are shared and anxieties are soothed.  These fruits bring people to Christ. 

I had the privilege to run an interdenominational mission trip site one summer with two other amazing people.  Let me tell you, if you want to see Christian unity at work, this is the perfect setting.  I will never forget about the impact our campers made at one of the service sites.  It’s an outdoor learning lab garden shared by the charter schools in the area.  They needed help keeping it up during the summer, so our organization stepped in.  An elderly Japanese immigrant named Miss Yoko worked alongside the kids and let them know what their tasks were for the week.  Week 1, she told me how she didn’t believe in God and was amazed how these Christian kids traveled from all different states to help her.  Weeks 2 and 3, she would cry when the new groups of kids came and left because she was so overwhelmed by their selflessness and love. Their dedication to serve and what they shared during devotions.  By the end of the summer, campers told us Miss Yoko wanted to become a Christian.  This is what can happen when we choose to embrace what unifies us as Christians.  This is the fruit we can bear together.  
Christ is the vine, and we are the branches.  When we remain in Christ, and him in us, we bear much fruit.


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