The following is the introduction to the book Ascend:
Christianity gets something of a bad rap today. Those who scramble to be interviewed in the media as representing Christianity are sometimes the least Christian of all. They often list rules or spew hatred. As more and more news formats are designed not around “talking heads,” but around “shouting heads,” this is perhaps inevitable if lamentable.
So when one hears of “Christians” doing something, one might assume it involves some sort of intolerance. Fundamentalists have arrogantly insisted that the term Christian applies only to them. Unfortunately, the media have accommodated them. A comparable scenario would be for Rhode Island to rename itself “The United States of America” and tell you, “We’re Americans. You’re Californians.”
Of course, the rise of modern fundamentalism has not only affected Christianity. Muslim fundamentalists have hijacked the perception of that faith so that a tiny percentage of Muslims have given Islam a violent face. Jewish fundamentalists are working to make Judaism synonymous with some of the extreme policies of the State of Israel.
Catholics especially have been affected by this hijacking of Christianity in the United States by fundamentalists. ”We’re Christians. You’re Catholics,” we’re told over and over again. Such statements show not only intolerance, but also ignorance of history and theology!
Unfortunately, we ourselves must sometimes admit to some deficiency in our knowledge of history and theology. This book is one way you can be a part of the solution: by advancing your own understanding of Christianity. Maybe you had religious education classes as a child, but you realize you need a better understanding of what Christianity teaches for your life today.
This book is for you because you have faith and you want to grow in that faith. But the world intrudes. Your job is demanding or your children require a lot of time. Maybe your church doesn’t have an adult faith formation program, or it’s scheduled at the same time as your daughter’s ballet class. Or you missed the first session because you had a business trip to Cincinnati.
Maybe you’re not Christian, but curious. This book’s for you, too.
Perhaps you thought you might pick up a book at the bookstore. It was full of polysyllabic words like hypostatic union and mediatrix that made Christianity seem kind of academic and boring. And you set aside that book to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, never to pick it up again. Been there, done that.
So here’s your chance. This book can be put in a backpack or a carry-on bag to read on a plane. You can slip it into your briefcase to read at lunch. It will even fit in your purse so you can read a chapter while you’re waiting for your kids’ soccer practice to end. Doesn’t fit? Get a bigger purse!
Later on you can pick up your Bible to read some of the scriptural passages referred to. You can check out the Learn More section and maybe order a couple of the books that sound kind of interesting.
And that’s the key: explore those aspects of the Faith that appeal to you. Each Christian has different interests; these may come to us from the Holy Spirit, and they vary in each of us. It’s up to you to discern what aspects of Christianity rock your world. Then go out and rock the whole world!
May the Lord be in your heart and mind as you read this book, enabling you to be a confident and compassionate Christian in the modern world.
How to Use This Book
Use the chapters as starting points
We didn’t want to make this book complicated, so it’s written in an easy style with short chapters. So this book isn’t a comprehensive explanation of the Christian faith. But we did want to make sure you have some suggestions for how to learn more than we can put in such a compact book. Here’s how we’ve done that:
In the text of the main topic, there are times when we refer you to a fuller treatment of a subject in scripture. In these cases, the citation is provided like this: John 1:1-18.
Also in the text of the main topic, you will see some words in boldface. This means they’re defined in the glossary. We’ll only do this the first time the word is used.
Books that will help you to learn more about a subject area are listed by chapter in the section at the end of the book entitled, oddly enough, Learn More.
If you’re reading this book as a group (like a book club, adult education class, or even RCIA), we’ve provided a section at the end with discussion questions. If you’re reading it alone, you may find these questions helpful for reflection.
If you’re interested in learning about other books or resources available, go to www.catholicstory.org. There’s also a blog there you may find helpful as an extension of this book.
If you like this book (and we hope you do!), consider giving a copy to a friend. Remember what Jesus told us:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)
Is this book only for Roman Catholics?
No. The authors are Roman Catholic deacons; let’s be honest about that up front! However, the vast majority of what’s in this book is equally applicable to Eastern Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans (Episcopalians), Lutherans, and members of other traditions that consider themselves Apostolic Churches. We’ve attempted a presentation of Christianity rather than concentrating on disagreements. Probably less than 5 percent of this book is specific only to Roman Catholics. Where practical, we denote that by prefacing any such statement with something like “As Roman Catholics we believe.…” So even if you’re not of the Roman tradition, this book is for you.
What’s your agenda?
In our polarized society, one often assumes anyone who speaks about religion has a hidden agenda. We’ve tried to steer clear of that. Our purpose is to provide young adults living in cities with a contemporary look at Christianity from a Catholic viewpoint so they can be more knowledgeable about their faith and live it more wholeheartedly.
What’s the idea behind this book?
Some of us grew up with catechisms that presented the faith in one way for everybody. Often these were lists of questions and answers. This isn’t that kind of book, so be not afraid! Our concept for this book grew out of our work in jails, where we needed brief explanations of Christianity that were easily understood. It has since grown into this book, an exploration of Christianity in manageable chunks, tailored to the needs of specific individuals, one they can read on a plane or in the park or a café or wherever they are.
Should I know anything before I read this book?
No. Just get started! Enjoy it with an open mind.