Weeds: Religious tolerance, sorta

So, I’m happy to report that all is quiet on the western front. Brown County’s western front, that is. Outside of occasional skirmishes, Lutherans and Catholics in Sleepy Eye have been living together in relative peace.

It wasn’t always that way. In The World That I Grew Up In, the town was divided by the railroad tracks. Main street was a demilitarized zone. That isn’t to say that you couldn’t venture into the other side of town. You just didn’t get out of your car.

There was the Catholic grocery store and the Lutheran grocery store. We Catholics trusted that we would be reminded not to eat meat on Friday by the Catholic grocer. The Lutheran grocer would gladly make a sale at the expense of your soul. There was the Catholic drug store and the Lutheran drug store. If there were contraceptives at the Catholic drug store, they weren’t getting used much.

There were Catholic gas stations and Lutheran gas stations, with fuel specially blended for Catholic or Lutheran vehicles. Before my time, there had been Catholic and Lutheran undertakers. By the time I came along, there was only one funeral home. We figured, if you’re dead, you probably aren’t going to care all that much.

There was a Catholic school and a Public School. We all knew that the “Public” School was a cleverly disguised Lutheran school. They had public financing; we had nuns. We both thought the other was getting a heck of a deal.

Going back in time, Sleepy Eye was originally settled by a group of English businessmen who were Episcopalian. Soon after, Germans came to farm. The English found their company quite tiresome and the polkas simply loathsome, so they left.

Catholics and Lutherans were never sure what to make of Episcopalians. But epistemology is the “branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge.” We Catholics and Lutherans were always more concerned about what was for supper. We also shared a suspicion of Unitarians. What’s so great about “unity?” And we weren’t sure about Ornithologists either.

Gradually Germans who didn’t like shoveling manure moved to town. Sleepy Eye ended up about equal parts Catholic and Lutheran. We also have a handful of Baptists and Methodists, because, gosh darn it, we believe in diversity.

Remember, it was only a few generations previous that our Catholic and Lutheran ancestors were at war in Europe. This went on for centuries. During one of these spats called The Thirty Years War, one quarter of Europe’s population died as a result of slaughter, famine, and disease. See, Sleepy Eye’s not so bad!

While there is one gimongous Catholic church on the north side of town, there are several Lutheran churches on the south side. We Catholics always thought that was for purposes of establishing a defensive posture.

There have been attempts to solve our disputes by drastic means. When the Berlin Wall was constructed, there was talk of running such a structure through town. The DOT wasn’t too keen on a wall running down the center of Highway 14. There was also concern that the Catholic grocery store would have been in unfriendly territory. It was feared that marauding bands of Lutherans would go in there and steal the fish.

We were all glad when the Carter Administration got involved. After Anwar Sadat and Menechem Begin met and brought unlikely peace to Egypt and Israel, the State Department was on a roll. Folks in Sleepy Eye said, “What the hey. If they can get along, why can’t we?” Out of those feelings of conciliation, the Schultz Caf Accords were drawn up and ratified by the various factions.

So, an uneasy peace prevails. Catholics and Lutherans have even fallen in love. Some have married and had little pan-denominational children. They have Rosaries that only go up to five Hail Mary’s.

That isn’t to say the old-timey debates don’t continue. You might hear the distant echoes of Martin Luther vs. the Vatican on any given day in town. Stop in at Meyer’s Bar some afternoon and there might be a Catholic Old Guy (COG) and a Lutheran Old Guy (LOG) on barstools having a Grain Belt.

LOG: “So, you been worshipping Mary again?”

COG: “Ach, du bist a dumkopf. We don’t worship Mary. She’s the Mother of God, dontchaknow.”

LOG: “You’re a dummer kopf, God don’t need no mother. Yous Catlics and your saints interceding for you in Heaven. I agree you need all the help you can get.”

COG: “Ja, and you Lootrans, you tink you got God on speed dial, don’t you?”

LOG: “Vell, I know I’m not gonna be hangin’ round wit you in Purgatory when we’re gone. I be waving at you from above.”

COG: “Oh, you might be wavin’ alright, might be kinda warm where yous gonna be.”

LOG: “Nope, I’m saved by faith. I got my ticket. Not sure what yous gonna do to get in.”

COG” “Dere you go with your ‘Get into Heaven Free Card!’ Ja, us Catlics tink it takes a little work on dis side of the grave. Justification by good works.”

LOG: “Justification, schmustification, you been inhaling too much of dat incense again.”

COG: “You know what you need. When yous finish dat beer, you should get your rear end to confession. Yous might be in dere an hour or two.”

LOG: “Oh, I can confess alright. I just don’t need to run it through your priest dere.”

COG: “Ach, I’m not sure why I hang around with yous anyways.”

LOG: “Hey, maybe God tinks it’s good for us.”

COG: “Ja, God’s funny dat way.”