One thing here in Papua New Guinea that always catches me by surprise is the trouble some people have with doors. The Sunday Mass at St. Fidelis is often attended by people from the nearby villages and quite frequently, a first time visitor from one of these villages will have trouble identifying the entrance doors to the chapel. If you look at the photo attached to this post, you will see the outside doors to the chapel. The solid brown door on the right leads into the chapel’s sacristy. This door is locked during Mass to avoid any problems with theft. The double doors on the left, with louvered windows, lead directly into the chapel.
Villagers will most often try the sacristy door and when they find it locked some will become confused and stand outside the chapel not realizing that the double doors are actually doors and not windows.
I am not being disparaging when I write this. It is simply a problem of experience. Living in the primitive villages of Papua New Guinea doesn’t give one much experience with all the different types of doors that one usually encounters growing up in America. At some point in my life I had to learn to distinguish different types of doors and how to use them.
Seeing this confusion as an educational issue has lead me to a new perspective on many things, including how we approach evangelization. There is much talk of a “new evangelization” in the Church, but I know from the work I’ve done in Catholic new media that I’ve made assumptions about what people know about God and know about the Church. Are we approaching people from the right starting place? I know it hasn’t occurred to me that some people would have no knowledge or experience of God at all.
When we approach people, are we saying, “Open this door and come in!” without first asking “Can you recognize this as a door?”
As each generation becomes more and more secular, and their family’s experience of faith becomes more and more remote, are we saying, “Come experience God!”, before asking, “Do you know what we mean when we say ‘God’?”
It’s something I’m thinking about, but I’m sure those with real theological and philosophical education are probably laughing at my naiveté.
What do you think? Have you thought about the assumptions you’ve made when sharing your faith with others?