Monday, October 1, 2012

How do I explain Lutheranism to a Mexican?

This weekend we celebrated the feast day of Saint Michael (San Miguel).  On Saturday a parade from the nearby Catholic church went through my neighborhood, and the bishop came to St. Michael's Anglican church yesterday to help celebrate.  As part of this celebration, flower crosses are made and handed out.  If you put it on your door, it's supposed to keep the devil away!

my front door, safely protected from the devil!
When I came home from church with my cross yesterday, my mom asked me if I knew why the crosses were popular, and then explained the story of St. Michael stomping on the devil's head to me.  Needless to say, my Lutheran upbringing has not made me all that knowledgeable about the saints!

After hearing this story, I commented that the Lutheran church doesn't have saints.  Only the virgin?  Nope, not even the Virgin Mary.  Then I tried to clarify.  Lutherans believe in a community of saints, that we are all saints (but I don't know the word for sinner, so I didn't even try to get into the theology of simultaneously being saint and sinner).

It's not hard to see why my host mom was confused.  There are largely two denominations of Christianity in Mexico: la iglesia católica, and la iglesia christiana.  La iglesia católica is the Roman Catholic church, whereas la iglesia christiana tends to be the more conservative, evangelical churches.  This distinction is maintained throughout the culture.  A Catholic isn't considered a "Christian", because the "Christian church" is completely separate.  Most people here don't know anything about the Lutheran church.  Andrea told us during orientation that it would probably be easier to explain the history of the Reformation and Martin Luther, or else to explain that Lutherans "are like Catholics, but without the saints," than it would be to actually explain what makes Lutherans different.

The church I have been attending in Cuernavaca is St. Michael's and All Angels Anglican Church.  It is an English speaking congregation, made up largely of foreigners living in Cuernavaca.  The community is great, the food at coffee hour is delicious, I receive communion by name because the pastor knows me already, and the entire service is in English!  Because there are no Lutheran churches in Cuernavaca, this Anglican congregation is probably the most similar to a Lutheran one, and many parts of the service are familiar to me.  But my host mom was still confused about WHY I attend St. Michaels.  I tell her it is the most similar to a Lutheran church, and it's in English.  While she accepts that explanation, it is one more example of me being frustrated with not possessing the language to explain myself.  How do I tell her that the Anglican church is similar to the Episcopal church in the U.S., and that I grew up with an Episcopal church in my parish?  How do I explain that, in the U.S., the ELCA and the Episcopal Church commune with each other? 

Most importantly, how do I explain my Lutheran faith, my Lutheran community, my Lutheran church, to my Mexican family who has no context for this discussion?  How do I share this part of my identity when I don't have the language to do so?

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