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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Drive-By Theology

May 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Apologetics, Paul McCusker

Life, As I Find It

One of my experiences with my Evangelical-Protestant friends after I became Catholic involved Drive-By incidents. You know the kind: a fast comment, often sarcastic or corrective, with little chance for response.

So, I would get hit with Drive-By Bible Verses that are meant to rebuke Catholic teaching, or receive the instantly dismissive “that’s not in the Bible.” Or a Drive-By Comment that may be derisive or simply wrong (“you worship Mary”). Fortunately, a good friend had told me to expect this. What I hadn’t really thought through, unfortunately, was how to react.

In those moments when the Drive-By happens – when I’m at a social function or in a meeting or having a casual conversation – I suddenly feel like the Terminator. Not that I want to kill anyone, but it’s as if a screen suddenly pops up in front of my eyes with the various options for a response. Like, A) Say something amusingly caustic or, B) Say something witty, or C) Summarize why the comment is theologically wrong in ten words or less, or D) Just say “Huh-uh!”

None of which work very well. A) and B) are contingent on humor. My experience, thus far, is that any joke I might make – no matter how funny it really is – won’t be funny to the person I’m talking to. C) is obviously problematic, for reasons mentioned in a moment. D) simply makes me feel like I’m in grade-school again.

I was in a meeting with a co-worker who suddenly launched into how she had visited the Vatican and found it offensive, even repulsive, because of the opulence and how the Catholic Church had clearly pillaged all those items from poor nations everywhere.  She said the experience made her physically ill. The Terminator mode kicked in and my possible responses were:

A)   “I’ll send a message to the Pope recommending that he strategically place barf bags around the museum for people like you.”

B)   “How terrible. Then you must have been a wreck if you ever visited the Smithsonian or the British Museum.”

C)   “Well, you understand that part of the Vatican is a museum, with items freely given by many countries from 2000 years of history.”

D)   “Huh uh!”

In the spur of the moment I opted for a variation of B), which caused her to look at me puzzled. Then, when she got what I was saying, she quickly redirected with a “We’re not here to talk about that anyway” and moved on quickly.

So, here’s what I’ve learned (but don’t always practice) when it comes to Drive-Bys…

[] Make a joke, it won’t be funny. Not because it isn’t really funny (though it may not be), but because the person or people you’re talking to don’t really want to laugh. They’re too busy thinking about the point they’ve just scored against Catholicism in the name of Jesus.

[] Respond seriously with something akin to a genuine answer and you’re being defensive or contentious (or both), no matter how intelligent your response may be.

I don’t remember committing Drive-Bys as an adult Protestant. More than likely, it’s because I wasn’t often in the company of Catholics. Or, if I was, I didn’t presume to know enough to offer a comment about what they believed – and why talk to a stranger like that?

So I began to wonder why these Drive-Bys were coming specifically at me, and often from good friends or even family. Here are a few variations of what may be happening:

[] I have betrayed them by becoming Catholic. I joined the “other” team. They don’t want to know why, they simply feel betrayed and want me to know it. It’s an expression of disapproval.

[] My decision has made them nervous. It may make them think about things they don’t want to think about. If I became Catholic, then it’s possible I’ve seen something they’re not seeing – and they don’t want to see it. No one likes challenges to their core assumptions.

[] Or, as I already mentioned, they really believe they’re going to score one against Catholicism in the name of Jesus – as if I might suddenly slap my forehead and cry out, “What was I thinking? Of course Catholicism is nonsense!” and rush back to the welcoming arms of my true kin.

So, what is the right response to a Drive-By? A good friend advised one of two courses of action – neither of which seem very satisfying to me, but are absolutely correct. First, smile and say, “if you want to talk about that seriously, then let’s have a meal together.” If they want to talk about it seriously, then they’ll follow up. If not, then it won’t matter.

The second is even harder. Smile, nod, and say nothing. Let them have their Drive-By. No reaction is better than a bad one. Or, if you have to do something, then silently pray for them. If it won’t help them, it’ll certainly help you.

And such is life as I find it.

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About Paul McCusker

Paul McCusker is an author. He converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in 2007. He still works for an Evangelical organization. Paul has over 40 published works, including novels, plays, scripts, and lyrics.

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  • rjk123

    I’m a Catholic, but I have frequently encountered what you describe. My husband and all our friends have been and are Protestant and I taught for many years at a Christian school where I was the only Catholic. No response was ever satisfying to me. I came away feeling like whatever I did was wrong and didn’t make a difference. Mostly I tried to defend the Catholic Church. Now as we pursue the New Evangelization, I believe that that was what I was trying to do all the years. The results are up to God. I still worry about what to say and am trying not to just give up. Your last option of not saying anything, which always left me feeling guilty–is really where I am now. I’ve just come to the conclusion that God didn’t give me the gift to evangelize others. But do you think that’s ok? Are we doing our part to Evangelize if we don’t respond?

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Rachel – Paul is describing conversations that we have had so I can jump in here. My advice, in context is this, if someone is unwilling to listen or does not have a true desire to engage for the sake of learning, growing, and potentially changing their views, then Jesus calls them “swine” and admonishes us not to waste our time – not to “cast our pearls” before them. To be very clear, you are called to be an evangelist. Every Catholic is called to this – specifically. However, that doesn’t mean you are called to be an apologist, or a street preacher, or a writer etc. You have unique talents and gifts. I know your mind to some degree and it is clear that you are a bright woman – and thus very capable of helping people to escape hell and find the joys of heaven in this life and the next. I often speak on the topic of “Apologetics of Extraordinary Love.” My message is simple. “Love builds a bridge over which truth can pass.” If you can love, you can evangelize. I have no doubt about your abilities in both loving, and communicating His love and truth to others.

      • rjk123

        Thank you. I see your point exactly, and I will look for opportunities that the Lord presents to evangelize with love and trust the results to Him. God bless you. Rachel

      • Desert Sun Art

        ” “Love builds a bridge over which truth can pass.” I may have heard this phrase before, but I can’t remember. It is a keeper and I must not forget it in the future. Thanks, Dan and Paul.

  • LizEst

    I love this post and the last two courses of action recommended by your friend. They are responses filled with love…which is how people will know we are His disciples and will come to know the fullness of love and truth that resides in the Catholic Church. God bless you, Paul…and keep on loving!

  • Lea Ann

    Thanks for the article. I will certainly be using the line “let us have a meal together”.
    We made the journey to the Church in 2008 and have found family and friends not sure what to do with us, except offer the drive-by comments.

    Thrilled to know that you are home!

    Do you have some specific Catholic works going on? We so enjoyed your Adventures in Odyssey series for many years. It would be great to have a story series from a Catholic view point.


  • Jeffrey Arrowood

    Excellent post! It’s so hard not to get defensive for the sake of the Church we love. But we need to consider whether or not our responses are effective. I love the idea of inviting them to share a meal with you. That gives you time to think through your response, the ability to test for openness, and a relaxed non-drive-by atmosphere in which to engage in serious dialogue.

  • Camila

    Your post reminded me of the quote in the movie The Song of Bernadette.
    “For those who believe in God no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible.” The Catholic God is mightier than the protest version, we don’t presume tell Him what we’ll believe in. He tells us.

    St. Anselm comes to mind too “faith seeking understanding”. We bend, surrender, consent our minds to a Church that God Himself founded. The lack of popularity should say something about it, not the other way around.

    I like your silence idea. They need grace, no amount of human words will move their hearts, only God’s. “only say a Word and my soul will be healed” no?

  • Oxyoke

    Great post. Those drive by comments can be so frustrating, because they are so off the mark, and often, so universally believed by non-Catholics. As a fellow ‘convert’ who used to be pretty cynical about the Church, I have been able to start a few conversations by smiling and nodding and replying something to the effect of “I know, right? I used to think the SAME thing!” which catches them off guard. Then I offer to share what changed my mind. A lot of the time there is no time for an in depth conversation, but it seems to create some empathy, while at the same time register the fact that I no longer agree with the comment. It has also lead to a few good discussions. Other times I replied “Oh man, I wish I had time to visit with you about that!” with similar reactions.

    I guess my goal was to communicate a genuine passion for the Church and her teachings, as well as an enthusiastic desire to share those teachings, without being defensive or arrogant. It seems to be generally well received.

    When I was a Protestant I would make arrogant comments about the Pope or the Real Presence or Confession, and not ONCE did I come across a Catholic who was eager to defend their faith. It left me with the impression that Catholics didn’t know their faith, or didn’t REALLY believe in those tenants of the faith that I was attacking. In fact, once the Catholic I was challenging said something to the effect of “well, no one really goes to confession anymore, and it’s not REALLY Jesus” to which I responded “well come on over to the dark side because you are more Methodist than you are Catholic!”

    In retrospect, I know that many of those Catholics really didn’t know their faith well enough to respond, but I so wish that one of them had been willing to engage in a real conversation. I might have come into the Church decades earlier!

    • LizEst

      You’re absolutely right. We need to be more educated about our Catholic faith and Scripture. There are no substitutes, save for mystical infused knowledge given by the Holy Spirit.

      • Oxyoke

        I would be very happy to have mystical infused knowledge :)

        • LizEst

          Likewise…and I’m sure many others here would be thrilled as well! God bless you, Oxyoke!

      • Carol V.

        It would be great to have mystical infused knowledge, but I guess I will have to apply seat of pants to seat of chair and crack open the Catechism more frequently than I do!

        • LizEst

          That’s good Carol. God doesn’t want us to take our faith for granted and to presume on His generosity, even though we know He is most generous and merciful. ps. While you are “on the way” in studying, He may just give you some of that knowledge!

    • Camila

      Oxyoke, you sound like one of the few that would have been open to learning who unfortunately did not find an educated Catholic. However, it is funny because the other day I was asked about the church’s teaching on contraception and well… I explained to them. After our conversation he asked me “why would I have to study so much to know the Catholic faith” – can you see my blank face !?!

      It’s very hard to know what the drive-by really wants and/or needs. Are they seeking the truth? Are they just being defensive? Are they even aware of what they actually believe and why?

    • Mary@42

      Oxyoke, that is why I have advised above that Converts – and indeed all of us – need to, first and foremost, study and internalize the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I have always believed that those who confront me challenging my Faith are, in a sense, sent by the Holy Spirit so that I can share with them what He blessed me with when He decreed I be born in this Faith of my childhood so that He can open the doors for them to “Come Home”. He also invites us to always be “Evangelizers” by sharing the great Graces He has bestowed on us by making us Members of Christ’s Mystical Body. However, when you sense someone is not interested to know the truth, the best thing is to kindly ask them to invite you to their home so that you can generally discuss the Salvation Mystery which Jesus Christ brought to us all. That normally sends them away.

  • LRooney

    Thank you for the insights on responding to the drive-by comments. Another good way to respond, if you have a few minutes, is simple to ask them “What do you mean by that?” in a friendly and open manner. It stops them short that you are giving them an opening to voice their objections and gives you time to cool down, pray, and think a bit about what they are really saying. Keep asking for clarification or follow up with “How have you come to that conclusion?” to get down to the real problems – who has the authority to interpret Scripture or what is Truth? No need to close the deal, you can stop at any time in a friendly way, but it lets them know you are open to discussion on a friendly basis when they are ready. Love your writing and experience, Paul, – thank you so much for sharing your gifts with us!

    • Dan Burke

      Great insights Lynn! Miss you guys.

  • Godalone

    When I was a newbie at the faith I too had confustion when I heard these ‘Drive-By’s’ (I kept reading it as Drive-ins’ thinking food which I now think is appropo). My experience tells me drive by’s (shoot down the Catholic) are not really that at all, because I hang out with genuinely Christian folks; it is ignorance, fear, anxiety and a host of other maladies, but usually not meant to strike down the lone or many Catholic population. Even the fallen away Catholics, who live in fear because they might actually have miscalculated are uneducated because “if you really know the faith you never leave the faith” Who in their right mind leaves God, truly present, on the altar! So what do I do…usually I listen and pick one (becaus there are usually a lump some of drive bys to choose from in one situation). I pray to the Holy Spirit, because only He knows why this person feels so threatened by the one true church and how to reach them. Then I practice what I call the Lila Rose method, speak calmly but firmly and correct and inform. Be truthful from the heart. So in this case because it was a group function I am thinking that the Holy Spirit would wish me to guide her and with a demeaner of humble authority, Pope Francis comes to mind, let her finish, then calmly correct her “you know that part about the Vatican stealing from poor nations, well, that is historically and culturally incorrect.” I can give you some resources if you would like to know the truth. Then go home find resources and send them, even if not asked for, because just the statement itself is begs of “drive-in fast deliviery…the food of truth”. Nothing heavy, just simple selections that prove the untruth of the statement. If the person is vicious, I hope not, then you can bow out later, but chances are there are several overhearing the conversation and are ripening for the picking, so the Holy Spirit is in a win win moment and graciously is using you!!!

    • LizEst

      This method works well with those who are sincere about what they are saying and are seeking to grow in all truth. I’ve used this with fellow Catholics who are convinced of what they believe but nevertheless don’t have all right information. If one gets the official Church documents for them and let them read it for themselves, they get a better appreciation for what the truth is. Of course, only God can move the heart; all we do is do our part!

      God bless you, Godalone!

  • $49717721

    I live in an area of the country where people often ask, “is that in the Bible?” A recent encounter with a Baptist-raised friend asked me “do you believe in Purgatory?” To which I responded, “Absolutely”, then he asked me, “is that in the Bible”, to which I said “yes.” I know the word “purgatory” is not in the Bible. I do know where the Bible talks about the “fire” and cleansing of souls. I think it shows up only about 3 times. And I know the word “trinity” is not in the Bible. So I could have used that rationale. Is there something better we can say when our other- than-Catholic Christian friends ask us these things, short of telling them to study the history of the Church, and how the Bible is NOT the only source of Truth???? I find that I am very willing to engage these conversations….and I often feel badly that I don’t have the EXACT right words to say when I get one of these “drive-bys.” I do believe sometimes they come from people who want to understand, and they are NOT just bullet to the chest. I must say though, the ones about the RICHES of the Catholic Church really throw me. And I always try to point out that the riches (monetary) are used for the poor, and that the Catholic Church is the greatest contributor to charity in the world.
    Defending the faith, and defending the observable actions of the Church is often difficult. I pray always to have the right answer and the right time.

    • Mary@42

      M. you will probably find that you disconcert your “adversary” when you politely point out to them that the Bible was compiled by the Catholic Church and they understand it very, very well. That always surprises the Protestants. You then calmly explain to them that the Catholic Faith is based on the Three Pillars : The Scriptures, the Tradition and the Magisterium. After that, invite them for Lunch where you can explain to them, in brief, what our Faith is as opposed to what they believe it is. That usually dries the tap of attacks. My humble advice to Coverts is to study and internalize the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In it one gets all the answers to the barbs we get from the Protestants.

  • GMarquez

    This is so interesting, because for many years, after having walked away from the Catholic faith, I was on the side of the “drive-by’ers”. Then the Lord called me back to the Church, and for a period of over two years, I studied what the Church REALLY taught; not what Cahtolics do, but what the official teachings of the Church are. I was amazed: what beauty, what soundness, what depth, what rich theology and solid, Biblical foundations! And I had to face that pretty much all the questions and challenges I used were based on misinformation.
    Now, I try to help in my parish as they hold Bible studies, and encourage my fellow parishioners to get to know their Church, and like me… to fall in love with her.
    However, we do need to be aware of, and acknowledge, that many of us carry on with customs and traditions that are not necessarily based on official teaching… and it is oftentimes these practices that the Protestant/evangelical contingencies latch on to.

  • Jackie Barry

    I kindly remind my Methodist husband, after coming back to the church after being Methodist myself for 45 years: “Although we many not think alike, may we not love alike,” a phrase associated with John Wesley, founder of Methodism.

  • Brad

    I ask them if they really want an answer or if they are just trying to score a point. This usually separates the chaff from the wheat very quickly.

    • Dan Burke

      My point exactly. Before you jump in and try to engage, determine if they are actually interested in engagement…

  • gregoryvii

    I will usually answer with this: “My goodness, how you must hate our Lord Jesus Christ.” That certainly decides whether or not they are interested in engagement. Their jaw drops so far, they have to pick it up from the floor. Then it is they who must answer some questions. It is an opportunity to instruct about Jesus, and the mystical body, which is His Church.

  • Laurie Gay

    I’m from the Northeast, and unfortunately I’ve experienced these “drive by” comments from former Catholics, turned Protestant, and more often, by “Catholics” who should know better. I’ve been at Cursillo gatherings, where I’ve heard more negatives about the church and how we should change it, than I’ve heard from Protestants. I’ve heard the phrase, “That’s not in the bible”, at Catholic gatherings, and I used to try to explain the church’s rich traditions that have grown from 2000 years of teachings, etc. I have family members who left the Catholic church to become “house church” Christians, who make up their own rules from their own interpretation of the Bible. They delight in trashing my “religious, Pharisaical” beliefs. After years of trying to engage these drive by’s, I have learned that the best approach is indeed to smile and say nothing, and offer it to God. Occasionally I will use a well placed comment, and there have been times where I could NOT keep silent, and I flew in the face of their comments, but after 20 years of liberal rants and derisive comments, I feel a smile and a prayer have served me best.

  • Carol V.

    Even when I was away from the Church for several years in my early twenties, snarky remarks about the Catholic Church offended me (snarky remarks about anyone’s religious beliefs, as long as the religion has as its fruits true charity for one’s fellow human beings and reverence for God, however they express it, offend me as well.)

    I can’t remember specifically which snotty drive-by provoked me to think seriously about the Catholic Church again, but there was one that did serve as an impetus for me to go back home to the Church. So it did result in a good purpose, in my case.

    I think the Holy Spirit has a sense of humor.

    Nowadays, when someone makes a snotty remark about Catholicism, I do say, depending on the social circumstances, that if they want a real answer to their statement, I’d be happy to discuss it with them over coffee or dinner, or get them some literature that might answer their questions. So far, nobody’s taken me up on the offer. What has happened, however, is that some marginal Catholics in my workplace have asked me specific questions, and I’ve been able to answer them to their satisfaction. A few of that group have returned to the practice of their faith more ardently.

    The one exception is my Lutheran husband: He is honestly curious about the Catholic Church, but his catechesis in his tradition back in the sixties focused so much on the abuses of the medieval Church that he had decided prejudices concerning such things as indulgences (I had to do a lot of research to explain that to him,) and what he thought was Marian worship (he’s gotten over what I call the “Mary thang.”) We’ve even gone to each other’s churches (we go to both a Lutheran candlelight Christmas eve service and then Midnight Mass, neither of us receive communion at the other’s church, and we do the Easter Vigil Mass and the Lutheran Easter sunrise service.) I have no idea whether or when he will convert, but he is one of the people I would consider as an “honest seeker.”

    Ultimately, it’s all up to the Holy Spirit. I know that firsthand.