From earlier this month...
Gloversville, New York, is about an hour away. It's a small upstate New York town, hard luck, trying to get by....AND IT HAS SOME FIERCE COMPETITION IF YOU'RE SELLING ICE CREAM.
Let's be clear: one ice cream vendor followed another vendor's truck, verbally heckling/abusing this latter guy, playing loud music (Fur Elise? Pop goes the weasel? Do Your Ears Hang Low? or something with a little more edge?), and shouting "this is my town!".
The really scary part: last summer these guys succeeded in getting rid of the competition--ran some other poor guy off.
And if you're wondering "OK, Spiritual Diabetes....ice cream, I get it, too sugary, bad for us, good stuff tastes bad but...."
NO, that's not my point.
I thought of the Gloverville ice cream wars while out biking this morning. Went past one of Albany's pentecostal churches and remembered last summer when they hosted a good ol' fashioned tent revival. All the folks in the surrounding housing development must've loved it: drums, electric guitars, parking in the yards, etc. Quite frankly, apart from the sign announcing it as a "revival" you'd be hard pressed to separate it from a local rock band performance.
This morning the same church had a sign out in Korean. So they've recognized the globalization of Christianity right here in Albany. We now have contemporary music...AND we reach out to ethnic Christians too. FEAR US.
That's kind of my point. Ice cream wars, pentecostal Christians, and John Paul II wrote about this, basically, in Redemptoris Missio back in 1990:
Fidelity to Christ and the Promotion of Human Freedom
39. All forms of missionary activity are marked by an
awareness that one is furthering human freedom by proclaiming Jesus Christ. The
Church must be faithful to Christ, whose body she is, and whose mission she
continues. She must necessarily "go the same road that Christ went-namely
a road of poverty, obedience, service and self-sacrifice even unto death, from
which he emerged a victor through his resurrection."63 The Church
is thus obliged to do everything possible to carry out her mission in the world
and to reach all peoples. And she has the right to do this, a right given her by
God for the accomplishment of his plan. Religious freedom, which is still at
times limited or restricted, remains the premise and guarantee of all the
freedoms that ensure the common good of individuals and peoples. It is to be
hoped that authentic religious freedom will be granted to all people
everywhere. The Church strives for this in all countries, especially in those
with a Catholic majority, where she has greater influence. But it is not a
question of the religion of the majority or the minority, but of an inalienable
right of each and every human person.
On her part. the Church addresses people with full respect for their
freedom.64 Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes
it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals
and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those who for
various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the
doors to Christ!
Here I wish to address all the particular churches, both young and old. The
world is steadily growing more united, and the gospel spirit must lead us to
overcome cultural and nationalistic barriers, avoiding all isolationism. Pope
Benedict XV already cautioned the missionaries of his time lest they
"forget their proper dignity and think more of their earthly homeland than
of their heavenly one."65 This same advice is valid today for the
particular churches: Open the doors to missionaries, for "each individual
church that would voluntarily cut itself off from the universal Church would
lose its relationship to God's plan and would be impoverished in its ecclesial
One of the many things John Paul II sets out here is that Christian missionaries--any Christian missionary--enjoys full human freedom. I wonder how many non-Catholic Christians realize this; the Catholic Church sees itself cutting out some space for other groups. Of course, at the end it's abundantly clear that John Paul II nevertheless sees Christian missionary work as thoroughly Catholic (and by that I mean "Catholic with a capital C" and "catholic with a lower-case c"); it's universal and thoroughly imbued with the Roman Catholic Church's identity. Furthermore, John Paul II, in the heady days of 1990, foresaw an end to isolationism that, sadly, we haven't yet realized. Still it's a lofty reminder.
That brings me to this: effectively the Catholic Church 'competes' in the missionary field with other churches, some of whom are going to use that Gloversville ice cream guy's methods: intimidation, threats, bribery, etc. The Church, though, remains free to preach Christ and "proposing, not imposing" sets before the same crowd the Gospel. Coercing people into accepting your offering isn't true, authentic religion; it's fearful, aggressive territoriality. It's difficult to counteract that sort of 'work' but we can hope and pray that the message gets through.
(And yes, I recognize that Catholics very easily fall into this same trap--but at least with John Paul II's writings--among others--we have a firm platform for internal reform. That, quite frankly, is one of the reasons for shame when we do fall into this very human trap; we're supposed to be doing it better. Where's the internal check-and-balance for the Gloversville ice cream guy?)
Furthermore, ice cream sales in Gloversville required legal intervention. John Paul II's writings and legacy recall a potent lesson for the 21st century: the Gospel and thus the Church operate freely. What forces at work today seek to curtail that freedom?