I was born and raised Reformed Presbyterian.
My grandparents were all Reformed Presbyterian.
My parents are Reformed Presbyterian. As are many of my Aunts, Uncles and cousins.
So, naturally, I wasn’t especially cognizant of the different church practices of other types of Christianity. I knew what made us different from them. I knew the arguments and was aware that other Christians did things differently in their churches, but I wasn’t aware exactly of what those differences always entailed.
So, you can imagine my confusion when, at the age of 18, I was working in a small nursing home in a small, predominantly Catholic town on Ash Wednesday. My coworker showed up for work and had a very obvious black mark on her forehead. I doubted it was some kind of “make-up” accident, but I considered that if I had a huge black mark on my face, I would want someone to point it out to me. When we had a moment alone, I said,
“Did you know you have a…” pointing to my forehead, “a black mark on your forehead?”
“Yeees?” she said, looking a little dumbfounded.
“Well, did you want it to be there?” I continued, confused.
“It’s Ash Wednesday.”
“And that means?”
“You don’t know what Ash Wednesday is?!” she asked, again dumbfounded.
Of course, I’d seen the words Ash Wednesday on the calendar before, but I never paid much attention to what it meant. I thought it was something like Canadian Labor Day or Australian Mother’s Day. Obviously not pertaining to me, so why ask questions.
So, I got my first lesson in Catholic practices that day. And I never made that mistake again, although I’ve done a double take several times since, when, seemingly out of the blue, I’ll see people walking around with big black marks on their foreheads.
It was not to be the last of my “education” though.
A year later, I was attending a Christian College in PA. I got up early on a Saturday (!) to attend a review for my first chemistry test on Monday. When it was over, I walked back to my dorm with another guy who had also attended the review. I’d seen him around and he was a friend of another friend, but I hadn’t really spent much time getting to know him. We chatted as we walked, and when we had almost gotten to my dorm, I casually asked him what kind of church he attended.
He said something to the effect of, “a Charismatic church”.
I stopped mid-stride, dumbfounded.
“You call yourself a Charismatic?!” I exclaimed incredulously.
“Yeah.” he said confused.
“I thought that’s just what we called you. I thought it was a derogatory term.” I said, though I wish I’d realized at that moment I should probably not say everything that I think.
I don’t think he held it against me, thankfully, because he’s a very nice guy and I still consider him a friend.
I’d like to think I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut about things-I-know-nothing-about, but I really can’t be too sure.