I'm a Baptist by trade, title, birthright, or whatever. But, not only am I a Baptist, I'm a Southern Baptist which basically means I'm really special, in some Scarlett O'Hara kind of way. You bet I've got relatives named Louise and Janie and have aunts and uncles as far as the eye can see. It's a pretty straight-forward religion I suspect-services at eleven, traditional hymns, and the passing of the collection plate towards the end which, if the preacher nailed the sermon, was filled with ones and tens by 12:01. There's nothing really fancy about the Baptists, unless you count the food, which consists of fried anything, vegetables swimming around in meat juices, and about ten different versions of banana pudding. It's really quite a charmed, unpretentious religious upbringing compared to other groups like the Pentecostals or the Holiness folk who have to kiss snakes and make up their own languages right off the cuff. Now, that's some pressure, brother, set far apart from my Baptist buddies with our predictable routine of hymns, prayers, hymns, prayers, hymns, preaching, and more hymns right before the collection plate comes 'round. Oh, and then there's the hugs and "bless your hearts" before heading out to a two-hour gorgefest at the local Golden Corral where you have to hug and do the "bless your heart" thingee with the other Baptists across the county that you haven't seen in a "coon's age." But, there is some comfort in knowing that about 2,000 fellow Baptists are praying for you as you battle that nagging stomach ulcer or prepare for the knee replacement that's kept you homebound for the past six months.
At best, my knowledge of other religious cultures is limited and, in my egocentric mind, I know that I'm heading straight to heaven with a fast pass to Saint Peter himself. But, it really doesn't matter what's happening in the world around me, as the "End of Days" is always looming around the corner, giving me a mischievous nod and a knowing wink that shows he's got me covered when all hell breaks loose. There's quite a bit of comfort in knowing that I've got God on my side while the rest of the world's heathens are eating my dust as I sprint toward the pearly gates. So, you gangsters out there can have it for all I care with your signs and drive-bys and pretty pictures on the sides of trashcans. We'll just see who ends up on top.
Such has been my existence until a Catholic entered my life. Rebecca is my very good friend and a devout Catholic girl who has met every stereotypical expectation I've ever envisioned about the Catholics. Rebecca is one of seven kids who, as generations before her, is Catholic through and through. She's raising her two children in the Catholic faith as well, despite the fact that her husband is a Baptist, albeit in birthright only. I guess you could call him a non-practicing Baptist, which basically means he doesn't go to church on Sundays but has several King James versions of the Holy Bible on display at his house. So, the other day Rebecca tells me that she and her non-Catholic husband were required to participate in marriage classes prior to the wedding to make certain that he could be a potentially viable non-practicing husband of a Catholic and an acceptable father to the destined to be Catholic as yet to be conceived kids. What a clever gate-keeping tool this is as it not only keeps out the riff-raff, but also ensures plenty of fodder for the priests as they drink in the utter "Baptistness" of the grooms and brides to be. Then, there's this compatibility test before the wedding that the non-Catholic has to take and PASS before getting the proverbial nod of the priest. Talk about pressure. I guess marrying a Catholic is sort of like jumping in a Wisconsin lake in December. It's the getting in that's the hard part.