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Catholic East Texas
October 3, 2008
Vol. XXI No. 23



When you start studying history, everything leads right back to the Catholic Church.

By SUSAN DE MATTEO
    GARDEN VALLEY, TX – Lori Harris has been there, done that.

    From her childhood in the Pentecostal church to a youth given over to “hippiedom” and celebration of women’s lib, and then from almost 25 years as an evangelical homeschool speaker and activist to her present life as a Catholic catechist and youth minister, she has definitely traveled a long and winding road.

    “What do you want to know?” she asked with a laugh. “Whatever it is, I’ve done it!”

    Lori, 51, came into the church three years ago and is a parishioner of Holy Family Church in Lindale, where she also teaches two Bible study classes and leads the youth group, along with Alan, her husband of 27 years and himself a Catholic since only last year. Number five and six of the couple’s seven children were confirmed and received their first Eucharist in July, and 24-year-old Juanita, the eldest, “will probably make the jump, too,” said Lori. “She’s in Slovakia on a mission trip with Kerygma Teams, the Catholic arm of YWAM (Youth with a Mission), and she loves it, so, yeah, I think she’s definitely looking at becoming Catholic.”

    As for the four older children, “they’re exactly what we raised them to be,” Lori said. “They’re good, solid evangelical Christians, and they’re happy with that. And if they’re happy, I’m happy. Right now, becoming Catholic is just too big a step for them. And that’s okay. We all have to meet God on our own terms.”

    Lori certainly has.
    She grew up in the Metroplex and in Mount Pleasant, a daughter of a Holiness Church pastor. She has fond memories of helping her mother bake the bread used at the church’s communion services. But as a teenager in the 1970s, she discovered an entirely different lifestyle.

    “It was the ’70s,” she said. “I was in public school in high school, and I just took in those values. I loved them! ‘I am my own independent self and I don’t need any authority.’ Heck, yeah, let’s go! It was the ‘me first’ generation, hippiedom at its best, and I fell right in. It was the climate of the times, even here in East Texas – sex, drugs and rock ’n roll. Even a lot of good kids went bad.

    “Now, I don’t think I was that bad,” she said. “I had a job that kept me busy. But I loved women’s lib. I was working my way up the corporate ladder at Safeway – I was a manager in my 20s – and I’d do whatever it took to do the job. I ran a stocking crew of all men, so I had to be better and tougher than them. I was all for women’s lib, because I was living it.”

    But she was also coming to see the emptiness of that life, and, by 1981, had rediscovered Christ, quit her job and moved to Garden Valley near Lindale, site of YWAM headquarters, to enter a discipleship program.

    “This area is known as ‘Jerusalem West’ to evangelicals because of all the mission groups out here,” she said. “David Wilkerson was here, Keith Green, Teen Mania, YWAM, you name it. All the Jesus Music people started moving here in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s just kind of a center of evangelical activity.”

    Inspired by her stint in the three-month discipleship program, Lori went down to Nacogdoches and Stephen F. Austin State University, where she got involved in a street ministry program.

    “It was a youth outreach ministry,” she said. “We took in kids, discipled them and put them back on the streets to evangelize the campus. I loved it.”

    She also began hearing about a young man named Alan Harris, another evangelist.
“He did concerts, music ministry, and I did street ministry,” Lori said. “People kept telling me, ‘Oh, you two should get together!’ I did meet him, but I just didn’t like him!” she laughed.
    That changed soon enough, and the two began dating, then were married. Together they began a lifetime of ministry that would take them all over the country as speakers, teachers and lobbyists, with a particular emphasis on homeschooling.

    “We did the homeschool national circuit,” she said. “I taught and spoke at conventions, we wrote columns on practical homeschooling issues, and we were very involved politically, lobbying in Washington on parental rights and separation of state and school. We traveled around in a minivan with a trailer of books behind us and our kids strapped into carseats. We had a ‘real’ business in California, as reps for Big Tex Trailers, but that was just to support our work in the homeschool field.”

    Involvement in homeschooling came very naturally for the couple, Lori said.
    “We were very interested in worldview issues,” she said, “in developing a Christian worldview and understanding what constitutes a Christian worldview, so homeschooling fit right in. We had very strong opinions on family issues, like family planning, and had already decided to practice NFP. All very Catholic things,” she added with a laugh. “We were Catholic 20 years before we realized it.”

    Educating children, and their children in particular, in accordance with Scriptural teachings made perfect sense to Lori and Alan, and allowed them to instill their religious and moral values in every aspect of their children’s lives.
    Of course, it also required them to educate themselves.

    “We were always reading, always studying, always learning,” Lori said. “If you’re going to teach a Christian worldview, you need to know what that worldview is. You need to know Scripture, but you also need to know history and doctrine. So I was always studying theology. I was always searching for answers.”

    And she looked everywhere.
    “I have read everything,” she said with a laugh. “Lutheranism, Dispensationalism, Calvinism, Arminianism, (Dutch) Reformed – you name it, I’ve read it. And I’d talk to anybody. As we got more radical, we’d hang with anybody, from Orthodox Jews to Catholics.

    “Of course, we were also very active in pro-life causes, and there were always Catholics involved in that. So I was exposed to Catholics, and I didn’t have any problem with them.”
    But that wasn’t always the case with others.

    “The (Evangelical) homeschooling circuit is pretty closed,” she said. “There are huge Catholic, Jewish and even secular homeschool movements, but you’d never really know it from the Evangelical side. And you’d never have a Catholic speaking at one of those conventions for fear they might say something, you know, Catholic, even though nobody listening would know what it was.”

    One of Lori’s girlfriends on the circuit converted to Catholicism, “and she was blackballed,” Lori said. “She was suddenly unbooked from speaking engagements, her name was removed from endorsement web sites – it was all very ugly. And I was deeply offended by it. She and I had taught together for years, and I’d never heard her say anything that I would disapprove of or that I couldn’t agree with. I couldn’t understand why she was suddenly ‘out,’ and I was angry. I remember telling people, ‘If you don’t want her, then you probably won’t want me, because we teach the same things.’ I was really shocked to see her blackballed by all these supposedly ‘loving, tolerant, accepting Christians’ just because she was Catholic.”

    Of course, said Lori, “I knew there were things in the Catholic faith that were different – the pope, Mary, Purgatory – but those weren’t friendship breakers to me. They just weren’t my gig. I hadn’t studied them out because I didn’t see the need. But Kathy had studied them out, and she went that way. I kind of started to think.”


    And the more she read, the more she thought.
    “See, here’s the thing,” Lori said. “When you really start studying, then you always have to go back. Want to study the Bible? Great. But where did the Bible come from? Want to study doctrine? Great. But eventually you’re going to end up back at the Apostolic Fathers. Everything keeps leading back, and it all leads right back to the Catholic Church. And for a lot of people, that’s a problem.

    “For Protestants,” she said, “church history stops at Martin Luther; they don’t go back beyond that. Why should they? But if you’re teaching a Christian worldview, you have to go past that or Luther has no meaning. It’s not enough to say ‘Luther exposed the sins of the church’ – which he did. You have to talk about the church, and you have to admit that Luther didn’t just expose the sins of the church, he also created schism. But there are a lot of people who just won’t go there.”
    Lori did go there, though not always willingly.

    “There is a line that most Protestants, and most Evangelicals, just can’t cross,” she said. “If you tell Protestants that what they believe is Catholic, they’ll shoot you. But if you just keep taking them back through history, back through Scripture back to the Apostolic Fathers, then eventually they’re gonna have to go, ‘Oh, my God, we’re C- C- C- Catholic!’ Eventually they’re going to have to take the plunge and practice what they believe, even if it’s C- C- C- Catholic, or they’ll say, ‘I can’t deal with that right now. I’ll just ignore that. I don’t want my boat rocked.’

    “When you tell people it’s time to jump the Tiber,” she said, “they just can’t do it.”
    She had a difficult time herself.
    “There were all these things I thought I knew or believed,” she said, “but the more I read and talked with friends who were Catholic, the more I realized just how dumb my objections were. Most of them were based on prejudice and started to sound really stupid, so I just tossed them aside. And little by little I realized I had to do this. I made my peace with the big issues – Mary, the primacy of Peter, Purgatory, all the usual suspects – and I knew it was time for me to make the jump.”

    Once she decided what she had to do, the hardest part was telling Alan.
    By 2004 the Harrises were back in Garden Valley and heavily involved in YWAM and Mercy Ships, where Alan still works. Lori was reading Catholic theology, history and doctrine and corresponding regularly with a good friend who was Catholic, and, like Paul, felt the scales falling from her eyes. Seeing no other alternative, she entered RCIA at Holy Family.

    “Alan really didn’t think anything about it,” she said. “I’d always taken religion classes and I was always reading. He’d see me with one of my Catholic books and just shrug. So when I finally told him I had decided to become Catholic, he went, ‘What?!’

    “It still hadn’t clicked with him,” she said. “He had his own set of issues, and he had to answer them in his own time. But, for me, once I got the last one nailed down, that was it. It all made sense to me, it was all so logical. Here was everything I’d been looking for, all in one beautiful package!

    “And I wish more people could understand that,” she said. “Evangelicals are always talking about having a closer relationship with Jesus, a deeper love of Jesus. Trust me, you don’t get any more personal, any deeper or closer, than the Eucharist! And I’m always urging people to go to adoration. When my Evangelical friends ask me about getting close to Jesus, I tell them, ‘Try adoration.’ It really is awesome.

    “I have a friend, an Evangelical, who went to Lourdes,” she said. “She told me when she got there, she thought it was the biggest tourist trap in the world. But she kept looking because she figured there had to be something there since it had been around so long. And she found the adoration chapel.



    “I asked her what happened, and she said, ‘I sat in the back because I didn’t know what to do.’ She said it was just a little dark, quiet chapel, with ‘the thing’ – the monstrance – on the altar. ‘Lori,’ she said, ‘I heard it calling to me!’ So I asked her again what happened, and she said she moved closer. ‘And it called to me again.’ She said it kept calling and she kept moving, and I told her she should have just gone on down there and lain down there in front of the altar. And she said, ‘I did. I didn’t know what else to do. It just kept calling and calling, and I had to get closer.

    “’Lori,’ she told me in a whisper, ‘it was Jesus!’ And I went, ‘Yes!’

    “But, see, that’s the thing,” Lori said. “The Catholic Church has all these wonderful treasures, and so many cradle Catholics just take them for granted because it’s all they’ve ever known. It’s just always been like this. Then converts come in fully armed, because they’ve had to study it all out, and they’re like, ‘Dude, wake up, you’ve got everything! I’ve been looking for this for 40 years! Where have you been?’”

    Lori came into the church three years ago, and Alan, finally resolving his issues, came in last year. As newcomers to the feast, they are determined to help others at the table understand and appreciate the banquet that is the Catholic Church.

    “When I started working with the kids,” Lori said,
“I’d ask them what being Catholic meant to them. Well, most of them could tell me what Catholics did, but not why they did it. And that just blew my mind. If you can’t articulate what you believe, how can you defend your faith? So that’s what we’ve been concentrating on. And the great thing about Catholicism is that you can prove it all, you can show where everything comes from. I love it when we get to something like the primacy of Peter, and when the kids can see where we got that, they go, ‘Wow, I never knew that!’ Their eyes light up, and I’m like, ‘Yeah!’

    “There is so much here,” she said. “It’s like a huge playground with something for everybody. There’s the monastic side over here, where you have men and women who are consecrated to a life of constant prayer for the rest of us – how cool is that? – and, for folks like me, there’s the Charismatic side over here, where we can let go and let the Spirit take over and have Mass.

    “That’s the big thing,” she said, “that’s the clincher. Everything the church does and says and teaches and proclaims points right back to Jesus. In the liturgy, it’s all about Jesus. The Catholic Church is very clear that, hey, it ain’t all about us. And we need that. We keep trying to make life and the world and everything all about us, and we can’t understand why that doesn’t work. But the church understands, and is always pointing us to the one way that does work. And, again, that’s the wisdom and love of God. He knows we’re gonna get lost, he knows we’re gonna wander all over the map, so he’s given us his church, this amazing light, to guide us.”

    Her own days of wandering all over the map are done.

    “I’m home,” she said. “I’m where I’m supposed to be, I know that. It’s been a heckuva ride, but, hey, at least it’s never been dull. I’ll tell you what,” she laughed, “God does keep things interesting, doesn’t he?”