A Two Year Gap

St. Thomas, St. Paul, and St. James the Greater

This is my side of the story told by Thuldandra here. Our recollections are not exactly alike, but such are the tricks of memory and perspective.

In Spring of 2006, I was in my third semester at Berkeley as a transfer student, studying for my Bachelor’s in English. It was a pretty hectic time for me, between classwork and commuting to school from Hayward. One of the many activities I was involved in was a group called Bookworlds, an organization of like-minded undergraduates with an interest in fantasy and science fiction novels. The primary purpose of Bookworlds, aside from the wild parties, was to facilitate DECal classes. A Thulcandra explains in his post, DECal stands for “Democratic Education at Cal”, a program that allows undergraduates with faculty sponsorship to teach classes for other students, for University credit. It’s an experimental program, but it’s very popular and has shown some good results so far. My experiences with DECal’s were pretty positive, all around.

I got involved with Bookworlds in Fall of ’05, when I had to drop my Latin course due to an incompetent teacher. In a panic, I looked to see what DECal classes were available, and found “The Lord of the Rings: History of Middle Earth”. This was convenient, as I’d already become a Tolkien expert through extensive research in Middle School, and the class turned out to be a blast. Nicole, one of the teachers of the course, really wanted to teach a class on George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series “A Song of Ice & Fire”, of which I am a fan. So I signed up to facilitate along with her and another friend, Erik, who was also involved in facilitating a DECal on Japanese movies.

Late in the semester, the instructors and students of the two DECals Erik was involved in in got together to share some Korean BBQ and talk about all things nerdy. One of his co-facilitators in the film DECal, Matt, was among those who came to hang out. I’m not sure what all everyone else was doing over the evening, but Matt and myself were engaged in a heated, yet civil, debate over religion.

It was a pretty normal evening hanging out with friends, until it somehow came up that I was a Christian, particularly of the Baptist Free-church variety. At this point, Matt revealed that he came from a non-denominational Protestant background, but was considering joining the Catholic Church. I was shocked and confused to hear this, and the debate began.

My parents never raised me to particularly despise the Catholic Church, or that Catholics couldn’t be saved. There was a general feeling of contempt for Catholicism, born partly out of my mothers background in the Church. My grandmother is a very devout Catholic, but of her 18 grandchildren, only a handful even identify as Catholic, let alone practice the faith. In my mom’s family, the only religiously active members are Evangelicals, and those that remain Catholic are quite nominal about it. My father always made a point that he felt his mother-in-law was a ‘real’ Christian, but that the rest were more typical of Catholics who followed the marching orders of the Pope (or, as my father calls him, “the pope-y guy”). There was a clear idea that the more ignorant a Catholic was, the more likely they were able to be a Christian amid the lies of the Roman church, but if they thought about things seriously they would become apostate. My father is very skeptical of the idea that a Catholic priest can be saved, as he feels they are leading others into grave error.

Now, my parents were not overwhelmingly anti-Catholic, but my high school history curriculum was, to a ridiculous extent. For 9th and 10th grade history, my texts came from A Beka Books, a publisher affiliated with Pensacola Christian College, whose main claim to fame is being even more Fundamentalist than Bob Jones University, in all the worst ways. My mom got the textbooks from a friend on recommendation, and didn’t really mind most of what it was saying. Being a naive high schooler, some of the more vicious points of propaganda sunk in pretty deep.

So, influenced by the lackluster devotion of my Catholic relatives, and the anti-Catholicism of my History education, I had a very negative view of the Catholic Church. My history classes at College level introduced some cognitive dissonance with my earlier education, but by no means had mellowed my feelings for Catholicism to anything better than disdain.

So when Matt, an obviously intelligent and educated man, coming from a Protestant Christian background, said that he was seriously considering the merits of the Catholic Church, I was blown away. It made me kind of upset, though I kept things civil, and I advanced a number of arguments against his decision. He held his own against me, however, and the debate was quite lively and memorable. We clashed for several hours before everyone had to get going, and we didn’t exchange contact information, so we didn’t see each other again before he graduated at the end of the semester.

While this debate was not one of the most decisive moments in my life, it stuck with me to an extent. It made me reconsider just how un-Christian the Catholic Church was, and provided food for thought. I would think back on it during other discussions with other people as an example.

Fast forward nearly two years later, to early 2008. I’ve come a long way, and come through faith to believe in the authority of the Catholic Church, started attending Mass, etc., which we shall cover elsewhere in due time. One of the groups that I had begun to be involved with was a lay movement known as Communion & Liberation (C&L), which we shall talk about at length in the future. All that is important right now is that I started attending the weekly School of Community meetings at Newman Hall in Berkeley. Around my 3rd week of regularly going, I was a bit late coming down to the meeting from dinner.

When I arrived, ready to make my apologies, a somewhat familiar face that I hadn’t seen at C&L before greeted my sight. I didn’t recognize him at first, but Matt immediately recognized me from our debate two years earlier, and promptly asked me what the hell I was doing at C&L, in a Catholic parish.

I simply replied that I was converting to Catholicism, and that I suppose he won the argument after all. It was an astonishing moment, both of us had to collect our jaws off the floor, and it continues to amaze me. We’ve gotten to know each other better the last couple of months, and shared about the adventures that occurred over the two-year gap.

It never ceases to amaze me the ways that God’s grace moves through our lives. The providential tapestry of life is beyond all understanding. Little moments that weave together to pave the path to eternity…

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen


~ by Sam Urfer on June 11, 2008.

One Response to “A Two Year Gap”

  1. Sam,
    What a wonderful testimony. My prayers are for you. When Christ calls it is often a surprise.

    Joe M

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