I pick up on a line of thought from a post over at the Foraging Squirrel that got my juices flowing and my mind ticking so much so, that I thought I’d follow suit with my version of having ‘lived in the middle.’
I hail from the Rainbow nation of South Africa – that beautiful country on the Southern most tip of Africa. I grew up during the 60’s , 70’s , 80’s in a country wracked with racial tension, discrimination and later on violent overspill from the townships. In the late 70’s I met my spouse, whose family had decided to make the life-changing move to South Africa as Mozambique was in the throws of a civil war. The Portuguese/Mozambican settlers experienced their fair share of discrimination in their places of work, schools and in society in general as they had moved into a nation laced with suspicion of ‘outsiders’ and a racist world-view that overshadowed every part of life. My spouse was not spared from discrimination, and yes sadly, did experience some tough times with the older members of my family. I was for the purposes of this post caught ‘in the middle’ here. Although I knew exactly where my loyalty rested, I had to make some difficult decisions about my relationship with my partner, bite the bullet and face the music head on.
We celebrated the birth of our first-born in 1990 the year that Madiba (Nelson Mandela) was released from 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island, a momentous year for both our family and our nation. The majority of my family leaned to the right politically with individual members veering off to the left. At this juncture of my life I ‘d planted myself firmly ‘in the middle’ politically. In retrospect, I was not as involved or informed on the political front as I could’ve been but I was certainly caught up in the day-to-day relationships with fellow citizens whose political stances swayed back and forth with varying amounts of force and in different directions. As far as my Faith Journey is concerned, I considered myself to be a ‘good Catholic’, as I attended Mass weekly, made sure that we baptised our children and said my prayers regularly. This holy engine was kept running quietly in the background of a very busy life. It was not as yet, at the forefront of our lives.
The escalating violence and the stress of living in a society wrought with poverty of the majority and two small children forced our hand as parents to make the excruciating decision to move to the U.K. (Excruciating for me, as I left my entire extended family behind). This decision proved to be challenging on many levels. At this juncture we faced criticism and bias about our decision, but knew that our decision was made out of love for our children (and our own emotional well-being), looking forward to the positive prospects and opportunities for them in a ‘first world’ country.
The first two to three years after our big move was testament to our blood sweat and tears in establishing new roots in a new community and culture. The one constant in our life, our Faith and Worship, was continued uninterrupted at our local parish. Our TRUE NORTH. It provided us with moral reassurances and spiritual support we so needed and was the one place where we fitted in without having to prove our worth. We were lucky that our children had received places in excellent local Catholic schools. For me, the holy engine of Faith was becoming more of the motor for sustained living which continues to drive our decision-making. It rose up on the horizon as a beacon of Light and Love and Sustenance, as I began to become more involved in the life of our parish.
As I ‘ve matured both in years as well as along my journey of Faith my world view is decided by the tenets upheld by the Faith and my relationship with God. England is a secular country, boasting secular values and ways of life. Living here has brought Faith issues to the fore and continues to do so on a daily basis. Because of this I ‘ve had to make a conscious decision about how I am to live as a Catholic Christian. There’s no room to manoeuvre half-heartedly through the secular mazes I’m confronted with from day-to-day. I’ve had to make my position as a Christian quite clear, and for me there’s no going back on this. It’s too important.
This brings me to an experience which relates indirectly to the post referred to at the Foraging Squirrel called ‘Where’s the Love?‘. About three years ago I was approached by a fellow Catholic who was searching for reasons to remain Catholic. From her perspective , the Church held no convincing reasons for her to remain as a member of it, and it failed dismally in the area of ‘hands-on Christianity’ that her fiance’s denomination provided. She approached me and a myriad of others for advice and conversation around these issues, finally deciding that the Catholic Church was no longer for her. We know her family well and I had developed a professional relationship her through our work. The weight of her decision fell heavily on the shoulders of her family, and I floundered as I didn’t seem to have the answers she wanted to hear or needed to hear at the time. A few weeks after she’d made her decision, we received an invitation to her ‘baptism’. I was flabbergasted and very uncomfortable. Attending the baptism would validate her decision, show our support of her decision and negate all of the soul-searching we’d done. It would place us as Catholics in ‘no-man’s-land’. Neither here no there. After careful consideration and debate, the fact that she’d already been Baptised swayed us to make the decision not to attend the baptism. Once Baptised always Baptised. You cannot be Baptised again. In this situation we were forced to show our hand as Catholics, there was no middle ground.
I think about her often, and wonder where she’s at. I do not regret our decision, but it was not as straightforward as one might initially think it to be. There are many factors to consider, least of which was her feelings, and those of her parents. I pray that one day she’ll understand and appreciate our stance and perhaps one day, she’ll return from across the other side of the Tiber.