15 November, Bishops Don’t Speak for All of Us

Increasing numbers of folks are saying “the bishops don’t speak for me”. Some would go so far as to say, “the church does not speak for me”. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that what the bishops say does not square with what folks experience in their own life.

We encounter God in life as we live it, not as somebody else tells us it ought to be. We hear the Gospel in the setting of whatever is going on in our life. There is a lot going on in all our lives these days, much of which has not happened before, and the Gospel offers context and insight. It is the same God who reveals His/Her Self in each of us with all our differences and our sameness. Since God’s first self-revelation is creation, the more we understand about creation the more awareness we have of God. In the words of Benedict XVI, “Every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, everyone is important, everyone is necessary, none of us is an accident”. How then can the bishops declare anyone to be “intrinsically disordered”?

Folks today do not react well to threats, so they do not pay attention to the bishops’ threats, among which are: declaring that folks who vote for a particular candidate are committing serious sin; if a person is not strongly enough against abortion they cannot receive Communion; if a person lives an unapproved lifestyle they cannot receive Communion and are going to hell; priests who are in favor of the ordination of women can be silenced, excommunicated, or thrown out of their religious order; any person or governmental agency that does not wholly agree with everything the bishops say is violating the bishops’ religious freedom; the list goes on.

The bishops have been very effective at driving folks away, and many seem to be smugly proud of their performance. They pontificate on the “hate the sin love the sinner” phrase, which folks know is at the same level as “separate but equal” of a generation ago – false, misleading, abusive. They are either unaware of, or don’t care about, the pain they are inflicting on very many good folks. How does it feel for parents of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to hear their children condemned as “intrinsically disordered” from pulpits and in the media? How do our same LGBTQ brothers and sisters feel when they hear themselves so condemned? Always, of course, in the name of Jesus who never did such things himself.

There are, though, compassionate and pastoral bishops who have found less confrontational ways to serve their people. They just keep quiet about it, and who can blame them? Many of their peers can be very nasty. Often they have been pastors, not bureaucrats, functionaries, or diplomats, and have a feel for their people, walk with them, and, in the words of Francis, “have the smell of the sheep”.

The bishops are very big on “religious freedom”, but it seems this only applies to the bishops themselves. Good folks of other or no traditions who do not share the bishops’ ideas are said to be interfering with the bishops’ religious freedom. Others it would seem, have no right to this freedom. The bishops seem to think that strict enforcement of absolute obedience to increasingly detailed laws and practices that have nothing to do with doctrine imitates Jesus and brings people to him, and that folks are to fully accept these dicta even though their living experience shows they are neither valid nor true. It is no wonder people are just walking away.

Francis is not telling us what to think, but showing us how to think — through the lens of Jesus’ loving mercy. Jesus calls all of us to live this way. Many folks on the street get this, even without using approved words or ideas. They know it is not right to cause people pain because someone disapproves of them or their lifestyle. They know the people in their lives and recognize the good will that all of us have in some way. We are all trying to do our best in a life that is not easy or fair. We do not need others who have no idea of what our lives are like telling us how to live. We need to love and support each other, not threaten or condemn. We do not have to agree always, but we have to be as like Jesus as we can.

If we are serious about following Jesus our responsibility is to look for him and the Holy Spirit in our lives and go where this takes us. For some this might mean closely following the bishops’ dicta, for others it might mean moving in a different direction.

The bishops don’t seem to get it. They are still issuing edicts and cramming miserable liturgical translations down folks’ throats. Other bishops’ conferences have rejected the mandated liturgical translations as bad. Not so the American Bishops’ Conference. They eagerly direct yet more wretched translations of other rites and ceremonies. Does anybody really care? Probably not, except the priests who have to make sense of the verbiage, and who often are quite creative.

Years back a bishop told me, “Do what you think is right, I don’t have to know everything”. Not much of that these days. Some priests are doing just that – helping folks as best they can, and just not publicizing it. In all honesty, there is good feeling in this. We are just trying to follow Jesus as we know him in our own prayer life.

Just saying   .   .   .

14 November, Current Church

In the Gospel Story for this Sunday (Luke 21:5-19) Jesus speaks of the end times when things will get bad before he comes again. In many ways this Story can be talking about the Church in our day.

Let me begin by saying I firmly believe Jesus meant it when he said, “I will be with you always, even till the end of time”, and, “ the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you”. I believe this is what is happening in our day.

Apocalyptic Stories like today’s Story were written to encourage Jesus’ followers back then, and when we let them, they can do the same for us in our day as we look at what is happening with the serious problems in our church today:

  • diminishing numbers of priests – male and celibate; yet in our own local diocesan area there are approximate 100 validly ordained priests who are not permitted to function because they have felt the call to marry and raise a family; they way they are treated shows the vindictive nature of an institution that claims to act in the name of Jesus who was not vindictive; the hierarchy prefers to deny people access to Eucharist and instead maintains its own power by insisting on celibacy.
  • the most serious sin in the church today is publicly being in favor of the ordination of women; a number of priests have been silenced, excommunicated, expelled from their religious orders for publicly supporting women priests; there are several groups of women priests who are prophetically blazing the way.
  • while the hierarchy is dead set against marriage equality, increasing numbers of folks are in favor of it; also, the way our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are treated by the hierarchy reflects neither the experience nor the attitude of increasing numbers of folks.
  • the hierarchy demands total obedience to non-doctrinal orders that reflect neither the gospel, Jesus’ own way of living and reaching out to folks, nor our own experience of life, which is, after all, where we encounter God.
  • many folks, especially the young, are just walking away since the church has no meaning or importance for them, and there are fewer church baptisms and marriages; many of these young families are living quite well without church involvement, and in their own way are living the virtues the church teaches (in words not often not by example), as when a young family chooses to share their lives by adopting a baby without laying down conditions, just moving along together in love and trust.
  • decreasing relevance of the hierarchy as fewer and fewer people pay any attention to what the bishops say about anything; the pontifications of the bishops on matters they know nothing about has demonstrated in the eyes of many their incompetence and irrelevance, and so they are ignored; very few bishops know first hand the challenges of family life from the husband-wife or mother-father perspectives, yet they presume to tell these couples how to live the most intimate areas of their relationships, and thus are promptly ignored; some bishops presume to practice medicine by condemning good folks who have with good will and and abundance of medical and ethics experience chosen a course of action that bishops don’t like.
  • the perception that the church management is more interested in its own privileges than in the welfare of the people and is not following Jesus, who reached out in love to everyone, but is more interested in controlling who can get to God: labeling LGBTQ as ‘intrinsically disordered’, keeping folks whose first marriages failed and whose second attempts to find happiness are not within church norms, from sharing fully in Eucharist.
  • rather than reaching out to all by living Jesus’ gospel and life of mercy, the institution sees its role as controlling access to God by keeping out any who do not subscribe to all its believe or who do not use exactly the right words, etc; keeping the rules of the institution is seen to be more important than following the example of Jesus as folks see it in their own life and according to their own conscience.
  • the hierarchy’s practice of silencing and punishing priests who dare to talk about matters which by church edict cannot even be discussed: optional celibacy, women priests, etc.; also the style of many bishops who govern by fear and threats, either stated or implied.
  • there seem to be two churches – the church of the hierarchy, and the church of the folks in the pews or who used to be in the pews; increasingly folks are writing off the former as embarrassing and irrelevant, while maintaining some connection with the latter; many ignore both.

I believe the Holy Spirit is teaching us what it means to follow Jesus in our own life today. God happens in real life – our life as we live and understand it, and not as someone else tells us it should be. As Benedict and Francis have said, our primary responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to live an open and trusting relationship with him and go where it takes us. Many folks are doing just that. The turmoil of these days shows the Spirit is stirring things up, and raising up courageous folks living prophetically at great cost to themselves and their families.

Structures and institutions are good servants but bad masters. They tend to develop their own goals of self-preservation at all costs. They have to be questioned constantly as to whether they still have the values of the reason they were created – in the case of religious institutions, do they live Jesus’ gospel? Do they facilitate folks’ learning from and following Jesus, or just the opposite?

A question for all of us is whether or not to get involved, or just to sit back and do nothing. Each of us has to answer for ourselves. The recent request from the Vatican (in preparation for next fall’s Synod on the Family) to consult with everybody down to the parish level shows some glimmer of awareness that the ordinary folks know things and have a lot to contribute, and that the Holy Spirit does not guide only from the top down, but often from the bottom up. We are all the People of God.

Having a prayerful and trusting relationship with God however we know Her/Him is essential these days. While we can share our thoughts, we cannot impose them on others, no matter who tells us that others who disagree with us have no rights.

Just sayin   .   .   .

25 October, Some Thoughts on Bishops

Recently Pope Francis said bishops are to serve, not dominate, their people. These words have generated a lot of commotion. I think, though, if I really believe that Jesus is with the Church always even to the end of time, and that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, there are certain consequences and responsibilities.

Let me begin by saying up front that I have made several complaints and registered my concerns about our local bishop to the Nuncio and to the Vatican, and I will do so again if I think it is appropriate. None of these have been acknowledge, which shows that common courtesy does not apply to the church bureaucracy which claims to act, as some documents begin, “in the name of God”. So I am writing these words primarily for myself. If I think there are problems with what a given bishop is doing or not doing, I believe I have a responsibility to speak up somehow, I have and I will.

In the Spirit of docility to the Holy Spirit, I think I have to posit good will with our bishops. They love the Church in their own way, which may not be my way, or the way I think a given bishop should. Just because I do not like the way a given bishop is doing things I cannot say he is not a good bishop, or that he is a bad bishop. I have been misjudged and misinterpreted many times myself, and I know it is not an enjoyable experience. This does not mean that I must agree with everything a given bishop does. If I feel I have solid grounds for registering a complain or a concern, it is my responsibility to do so. I believe I can posit good will to myself, too.

Like all priests I made a promise of obedience to my ordaining bishop and to his successors. I do not consider that promise to be one of blind, unquestioning obedience or subservience. After just shy of fifty years serving as a priest I think I am qualified to have my own thoughts and opinions, and to choose my own courses of action, to say what I think needs to be said. I am thankful to be “independent” in that I take no support from the diocese or any places I help out. I feel both a freedom and a responsibility to say and do what many other priests might be hesitant about. There is a big difference between what priests say among ourselves and what is said publicly. This is understandable in the light of the perceived power the bishops have over their priests.

There are bishops, though, whose mindsets seem to be in another historical era, who really think they are princes. Without attributing to them any malice, they just don’t know that they don’t know.They have no contact with their folks’ lives. They really think they know better than everybody else. Some even seem to practice medicine. Their idea of following Jesus seems to be one of limiting  access to him to those who follow their own crippling ideas. They seem to be more interested in protecting their own power and prerogatives at the expense of folks having access to Eucharist. Many of them choose to protect and value the image of the church above ministering to folks, especially children, who have been hurt by their malfeasance or nonfeasance. They really seem to like their bling and finery, so Francis’ mode of simplicity might be generating some angst in them.

There are some bishops who seem to believe that people are made to serve the law, and so are less important than the law. The law is paramount regardless of the suffering it causes, and real live people seem secondary. They forget, if they have ever known, that the folks they are abusing (and I don’t think this is too strong a word) are the “consequence of a thought in the mind of God, are important and necessary, and none of them is an accident”. Perhaps some bishops might think about trying to learn from their folks and stop dictating and threatening.

One of the very common remarks I heard over and over gain in the Army was, when a person came in with some sort of difficulty, “We’re going to help you with this, but I don’t know exactly how right now; can you come back in an hour or so?”. This reflects a military attitude of helping folks. Too often the attitude of the church system seems to be, especially with couple in second marriages, “we’re not going to help you; you did this to yourself”. To me the military attitude is much closer to the Gospel. Good leaders want to help their people move forward, not keep them down. I have known some very caring and creative military leaders. There are probably some in the church, too, but they are keeping their heads down and caring for their people quietly under the radar. Then, some folks and couples are making their own decisions and caring for themselves. I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in all this.

While a given bishop may be personally caring and pastoral, he might not be able to translate this into pastoral leadership. Perhaps folks are expecting him to do something he just cannot do. Some bishops just do not know how to listen to the folks. They go through the motions of listening, but it is obvious that they have already made up their minds on whatever issue is at hand. Something has to be done. In some dioceses it will take a very long time to recover from the damage and harm certain bishops have inflicted on their people, and especially on the priests. In some places the deteriorating morale of the priests is manifesting in varying degrees of physical and emotional sickness.

Just saying   .   .   .

 

25 October, Pharisee and Tax Collector

In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector the Pharisee thanks God for making him better than others, while the Tax Collector simply asks God’s mercy.

A modern version of the Story might be something like this: “A ‘good catholic’ stands at the front of the church and proclaims, ‘I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity; I know all the right words to use, all the right things to believe and not believe, all the rules for how everybody else has to live their lives; I have no doubts, and am certain that I know everything and that I am always right, and anybody who disagrees with me is wrong.’ Pope Francis stands at the back of the church and says, ‘O Lord, I am a sinner, I don’t know everything, I have doubts and questions, I am often unsure of what you call me to do, have mercy on me’. I tell you the latter went home justified, not the former.”

The Pharisee’s kind of prayer can often be self-righteous and self-serving – “I am so much better than those who do not agree with me or think as I do. I am much holier than they. I don’t need anything from God because I already know it all, and I have no doubts. I can judge others as less worthy than myself. I must protect Jesus from any who disagree with me, to keep out any who do not think as I do. I am a guardian of orthodoxy, vigorously attacking any who do not use my words and ideas. The rules of charity and respect for others do not apply to me because I am right and they are wrong.”

Recently Pope Frances warned against making the Catholic tradition into an ideology, reducing it to a complex of definitions, dogmas, and rules. He said this actually prevents folks from coming to know Jesus as mercy, love, forgiveness, tenderness. When a person reduces following Jesus to an ideology, they actually lose the faith by turning it into rules and ideas, and do not encounter the real Jesus. Instead of becoming disciples of Jesus, they become disciples of whoever’s ideology they are following. They set up many rules and conditions for anyone who would want to know their version of Jesus. He reminds us that this is not Jesus, but only the Jesus they create to make themselves feel powerful and in control.

Pope Francis unabashedly states publicly that he is a sinner and needs God’s mercy and forgiveness. He encourages us to see ourselves in the same way, and to rejoice that Jesus is always with us, reaching out to us, and offering us loving grace and support as we do our best to live a good life with whomever is in our life. He also says there is always some uncertainty in our efforts to find God. We cannot hide behind rules and dogmas because they are not God, but our own creation to make ourselves feel safe and comfortable. If we have all the answers, he says, this is proof that God is not with us. He says we have to leave room for the Lord not rely on our own certainties. We have to be humble and willing to let Jesus lead us. When we claim to have all the answers, we will find only a god that meets our standards, and so ignore the God who is.

He reminds us that we are all good people trying to do our best in life. Our life is not a scripted play with our roles written out for us, something often described as God’s plan for each of us. Francis reminds us that God’s will for us is a relationship that we work out with every choice we make, and that we are bound to make mistakes, and that Jesus is always with us inviting us to trust and move forward, continuing to do our best as we see it. Ideologists forget this, and see others simply as categories who have to fit into their ideology. They overlook the fact that that these are real people whose marriages have failed and who have tried again to find happiness and fulfillment, or whose lifestyles some ideologies have branded “intrinsically disordered”, to mention just a few. These are persons who are “consequences of a thought in the mind of God, important, necessary, none of whom is an accident”.

He reminds is that following Jesus is not a code of conduct and a book for doctrines and definitions. It is a Parable of a Loving Father who sends his Son to live and share his love for all of us. As his followers he calls us to reach out in love and caring to all who are in our life, and to let others reach out to us. Doing this does not involve demanding that folks accept our definitions and rules, but simply letting our prayerful relations with Jesus guide us through our days.

We cannot encounter Jesus only by thinking or using our mind. We also really have to be open to mystery and possibility, ready to take chances, always open to the possibility that we might be wrong. It is exciting to try to be open to Jesus and then learn from time to time that he is real, that he does walk with us and offer to guide us in our choices and actions, that we are not in any way alone. He leads us to see our life and everyone in it as ongoing revelations of goodness and mercy, not judgment and condemnation. Every day becomes an adventure in the mystery of Jesus among us.

Loving, accepting, and walking with others and Jesus comes first. All the other stuff comes later.

Just saying   .   .   .

Some Thoughts on Military Chaplains These Days

Let me begin by saying I am a retired Active Duty Army Catholic Chaplain, having served for 27 years, and I have never felt my religious freedom to be threatened. A core value of the Army Chaplaincy is to “perform or provide”, something we are justly proud of. We help the soldier and family member who is in front of us, and if we cannot do what they ask, we find someone who can. We do not judge. We serve constantly with other chaplains who do not share our beliefs, and we support each other in taking care of our folks. We might disagree, but we do not condemn each other. I have, and if I were still on active duty would continue to d so, helped any soldier or family member, any commander, any unit, in any way I could. Also, I strongly resent anyone saying that soldiers I have served honorably and enjoyably with are “intrinsically disordered”.

Chaplains_Crest_3

Recent statements from religious “leaders” concerning how their chaplains must conduct themselves in regards to soldiers in same sex marriages disturbs me. Some of the writers of these statements have served as military chaplains, others have not. Those with military service write from their own experience, which may have been different from mine. They are certainly entitled to their opinion. I am concerned with those who have had no military service experience at all. Undoubtedly they form their opinions based on what others tell them. I wonder, though, if they have any solid frame of reference to provide context for what others tell them.

As I see it, perhaps due to my own prejudice and narrowmindedness, there is precious little in the guidelines of some writers reflective of either Jesus or Pope Francis. Francis is turning away from many issues that cause folks to wonder or even leave. He has spoken out against things like careerism, authoritarianism, clericalism, . He has indicated he is against rigid dogmatism and an excessive focus on morality that closes the door to meaningful dialogue. He says the church’s first proclamation is Jesus and his mercy, not a code of conduct: “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious iperatives”.  He does not want the church to be a small chapel for a few, but a large church for many. He tells us to go to people where they are, let our prayerful relationship with Jesus guide us in living his mercy.

I don’t see anything remotely resembling this in the guidelines issued by some church agencies. They are more along the lines of, “I love you, but first I’ll tell you what is wrong with you and what to have to do to earn my time; only I and those who think as I do are the way to God, and we will tell you how to get there, and we’ll decide whether you are worthy of us letting you in; we’ll try to be nice to you until you come around to our way of thinking”. Some of these guidelines claim to have been written to avoid scandal, but Pope Francis says, “sanctity is greater than scandal”.

Life is messy. We can’t avoid this. Rarely is it neat and orderly. The role of any who would be followers of Jesus is to have a prayerful relationship with him that lets us follow him where he calls us. When we took the Oath we asked to help us in our ministry to the men and women in the military. Because of our Oath this is where we found God – in our soldiers and famiies. We tried to live Jesus’ mercy wherever we were. For Francis the priority is the person. In the words of Benedict, “Every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God; every one of us is important, every one of us is necessary, none of us is an accident”. When we know Jesus in our own prayer life, we come to recognize him in others, and we  learn to walk with him in whomever he brings into our life. We try to let uur relationship with him lead us to love and care about whoever is with us at any given time. In spite of guidelines, we do not have the answers for how everybody else has to live or what they have to believe. We do not know their story.The only Story we do know, and hopefully try to imitate, is Jesus and our Father’s love and mercy. This is what we proclaim.

Our mission as chaplains is to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen, all of which is supremely honorable, and compatible with following Jesus in any tradition. Francis says, “I see the church as a field hospital afer battle . . . heal the wounds, heal the wounds”. Don’t cause them. He tells us to heal the wounds first, then we can talk about everything else. Many folks already feel hurt and rejected for any number of reasons. They don’t need to feel rejected by their chaplain. He also says, “In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany the,starting fromtheir situation; it is necessary to accompany them with mercy; when that happens, the Holy Spirit inspiries the priest to say the right thing”.

Many traditions claim to follow Jesus. For some. however, while this is a nice sounding stated value, it certainly is not an operational value. It could very well be that a chaplain who is acting in given situations in accord with what he or she feels to be the call of Jesus, moves in a direction that does not please managers of a given tradition. Nasty things begin to happen, always in the name of Jesus, and as Jesus would act if he had all the facts. Precepts are written (evidently this is a big thing for some traditions).

It is a humbling privilege to be asked by a soldier or family member for help, to be asked by a Commander to provide input on anything, or to take part in a service or ceremony. At these time we can follow Francis as he calls priests “to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to stay close to the marginalized and to be ‘shepherds living with the smell of the sheep’”. He also said, “God anointed his servants so they would be there for others, serving the poor, prisoners, the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone”.  Military chaplains certainly do this. Not sure about some guidlines writers. We do not bring Jesus’ healing power to folks by saying, “Let me tell you what is wrong with you first”.

The message of the Gospel is, “My Father loves you”. No conditions, in spite of the guidelines. Jesus might be in trouble with some folks.

Just sayin   .   .   .

27 July, More Questions

Another question: what does it mean to follow Jesus? Is a person to follow Jesus as she/he is coming to know Him, or are they to follow a Jesus someone else tells them about? If someone is coming to know Jesus as one among us who loves each of us beyond anything we can describe, how are they to deal with a Jesus presented as someone to be feared and obeyed, and whose dictates conveniently correspond to those of a given religious institution? On one’s journey is it possible to be firmly committed to be open to Jesus as we come to know him, and yet reject rules and demands that clearly conflict with the Jesus one is coming to know? If Jesus tells his followers to love God with their whole being and love their neighbor as themselves, how does one’s relational or marital status affect their ability to do this? Or how does anyone get the right to tell others whom they can love and how?

What is a person to do when they come to realize that the operational values of an institution purporting to be the only way to Jesus clearly do not reflect the values that Jesus lived and taught to his disciples? What happens when a person realizes that, while Jesus said people will know his followers by the love they have for each other, many who claim to be his followers conduct themselves in a self-righteous, judgemental, belittling, and abusive way, castigating any who do not agree with them? What happens when folks on their journey come to realize that the Father presented to us by Jesus is not an angry God who plans to send people to hell for missing Mass on Sunday, or not thinking holy thoughts about him all the time, or the occasional sexual lapses or “bad thoughts”, and so on?

What does it mean when a tradition teaches that each of us without exception is made in the image and likeness of God, is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, each of us is important, each of us is necessary, and none of us is an accident, and then some institutions claim in God’s name to lay down qualifications and standards as to what God really had in mind, and it is not some folks if they are in certain categories? What does it mean when a person is coming to know profoundly in their own life the experience and meaning of the “Our Father” as being in direct contact and relationship with God, and then encounters a system that imposes its own interpretation with itself as the sole intermediary and means of access? What does it mean when persons, perhaps aware of God with them on their journey, perhaps not, find themselves in a strong and committed relationship and some institutions condemn them for this? How are these folks to feel? While they might know somehow God loving them, they do not find his love in some institutions that claim to speak and act in his name. What are they to do?

What are folks to do when they approach representatives of religious institutions with serious life impacting questions and receive all-knowing answers which clearly do not reflect real life issues and relationships? Can an institution really have relationships? Is there a difference between relationships as studied in books and classes, and as lived out in real life? What happens when a person on his/her  journey comes to realize that Jesus doesn’t always provide answers, but very often raises more questions?

What happens when persons who are suffering the pain of coming to know their own sexual identity are told by an institution claiming to speak on behalf of God that, unless they follow a lifestyle that is in accord with the institution’s norms they will be punished for all eternity, as will their parents if they do not change their offspring’s behavior? What gives any person or institution the right to tell these images of God that they are “intrinsically disordered”? Where is Jesus in all this?

What about an institution that claims to be the only way to a loving God, yet keeps its ministers in line by threats and silencing, and the perceived power to damage their livelihood – in other words don’t rock the boat, speak the party line, or you will be in trouble? Faced with this, few ministers speak out publicly what they think and say privately, and who can blame them? Many who have had the courage to speak out loud are paying the price.

Is this what Jesus had in mind when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another; as I have loved you, so you must love one another; by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”?

Just wonderin   .   .   .

26 July, This Week’s Questions

There  are some big questions surfacing these days about what it is to be a follower or disciple of Jesus, and what is the role of the church, or of any religious system, in all this.

For example, is sharing in Eucharist the right and need of all people, or is it a reward for good behavior and thinking right thoughts, and threat of its withdrawal a weapon to keep folks in line? Is society really evil and a threat to religious freedom, or is society where the Reign of God happens since it is where people are and live? Which is is more important in a relationship – its quality or its mechanics? Why is there such a disconnect between the lived experience and pastoral needs of folks on the one hand, and on the other the disciplinary and management structure of the church? Why does church management (it certainly does not qualify as leadership) consistently ignore the lived experience of the folks, their talents and wisdom, the practicalities of their daily living, and instead attempt to impose its dictates on all? Is it time for the church to stop carping on marriage and focus instead on Holy Matrimony?

Celibate males, who seem to have been calling the shots through much of church history, rarely have any firsthand experience of the pain of a failed marital relationship. They cavalierly issue decrees on how folks have to fit in with given norms and similies of marriage, and if they don’t, punish them for their failure and pain by denying them Eucharist, always, of course, in the name of Jesus who never did any such thing during his time among us. They take the position, it seems, that this is how Jesus would act if he had all the facts. The lifestyle of church managers keeps many of them from having to experience the pain and messiness of ordinary folks’ daily life.  Relationships are rarely neat and orderly, and often messy, but they are real and happen among real persons, not subjects of a law. Management, whose decrees are far removed from many folks lived experiences, claim to speak for Jesus. And so they establish procedures for folks to get back to the good graces of the church, procedures that are often experienced as humiliating, invasive, and abusive. Put bluntly, the system neither recognizes nor cares for the pastoral needs of the folks.  Maintaining power, order, and control is much more important. Apparently that is ok, because “The Church Says  .  .  .”. Always in the name of Jesus. Jesus said “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Management seems to reverse this, teaching that folks have to obey management’s rules first before they can draw near to Jesus. Its consequences for folks remarrying after divorce is a good example, as are those for “unacceptable” relationships. Folks who would offer sincere pastoral care are often brutally sanctioned for their efforts.

Is society really evil? Francis doesn’t seem to think so. Fortunately it doesn’t look like our young folks think so either. American church managers see society as dangerous to religious freedom. Whose religious freedom? It seems that in their minds they are the only ones entitled to this. Any who do disagree with them are not. Francis points out the good that is happening in the midst of evil and suffering, and encourages folks to let their relationship with Jesus move them to get involved and make things better. He might be saying the same thing about the evil that is in religious institutions and systems where folks are being mistreated and abused, punished for thinking and questioning.

A number of respected theologians throughout the world are asking if it is time for the church to get out of the marriage business and focus instead on Holy Matrimony. Marriage is a civil matter with civil consequences, none of which need concern the church. In many countries a couple must get married civilly before they can have a religious ceremony which has no civil impact. Sounds to me like a good idea. If a civilly married couple chooses to have a religious dimension to their marriage they can approach a church and ask for a religious celebration of Holy Matrimony. Their choice.

It seems, rightly or wrongly, that in many cases the only way to get any good done in many areas of the church these days is through some form of disobedience. Many priests and pastoral care ministers are faced with this on a regular basis. But, then, Jesus did the same. He welcomed and ate with folks deemed unclean by the religious system of his day. He touched the untouchables, spent time with outcasts, spoke and acted forcefully against abuses, lived and moved among the people. He reminded them constantly that they had direct and immediate access to their Father, and lived his Father’s love. It seems in many ways he is doing the same things today through his followers, many of whom are experiencing the same mistreatment as he did.

It must be said that there undoubtedly are many wonderful and pastoral church managers whose decisions reflect their own personal pastoral care and courage. They just are not well-known outside their own territories. If they are known, often they are sanctioned in some way.

There is another basic question: which is more important – meeting the pastoral needs of the folks, or keeping an institution’s self-preserving laws? Often one has to make a choice, as often the two are mutually exclusive. As both Benedict and Francis have said, the basic role of any who would be followers of Jesus is to live in an open and trusting relationship with Jesus, and go wherever it takes them. And be ready to take up the cross.

Just sayin   .   .  .

30 June, Journey

In the Story Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” where, according to Luke’s perspective, he would be put to death for his unacceptable ideas. He invited several folks to follow him, but they were concerned about what it might cost them. Jesus said things like: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head”; “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God”. He doesn’t offer much comfort and security as we understand them. He doesn’t offer fancy clothes, bling, nice houses, comfortable lifestyle. What he really offers is a chance to follow him in suffering. This is serious stuff. He does not promise popularity or approval. On our journey each of us has to do what we think is right. While we might share our journey with others, we cannot ipose it on anyone.

Jesus does not call his followers to an easy life, but often to suffering. There are many folks who believe Jesus is calling them to take unpopular positions on controversial topics, which bring them into conflict with a religious institution. Can anyone say for certain that folks who feel their journey with Jesus calls them to come into conflict with a given church’s position are not truly following Jesus?

In the current commotion around DOMA and Prop 8 there are many folks whose perspective is not that of the hierarchy. Can anyone say for sure that these folks are not doing what they believe Jesus is calling them to do? Can anyone say for sure, as some are, that the Justices who voted either way were not following what their consciences and Jesus told them was right for them to do?

Can anyone say that parents of children who are described by church hierarchy as “intrinsically disordered” are not following Jesus’ example in loving and supporting their children? Or that persons who minister to the gay and lesbian community in ways not approved by the hierarchy are not following Jesus as they are coming to know him?

Any idea of Jesus, no matter how great or grand it might be, is nowhere near who Jesus really is. Anyone’s idea of Jesus tells more about them and their perceived needs than about Jesus. If we find that Jesus always agrees with us on everything, we might have to relook and rethink. No one has the right to impose their notion of Jesus on anyone else, or to judge someone whose idea of Jesus is different.

Many of these folks are already coming to experience what Jesus meant when he said that his followers had to take up their cross daily and be his disciple. Our crosses show us Jesus and teach us about ourselves. Jesus tells us not to judge, but to walk with each other and help each other with our crosses. We need a prayerful relation with Jesus to bring us all together. There is a lot of pain these days. Each of us has caused some for others. Each of us can also bring healing to others. This is why Jesus tells us to follow him and spend time with him, so we can come to know him, and gradually move towards living as he lived.

We need to give serious though as to how serious we want to be about trying to be Jesus’ disciple. It might be pretty costly. Look how his journey turned out.

Just sayin . .

 

30 June, Call down fire ???

In today’s Gospel (Luke 9:51-62) Jesus’ disciples are upset that some folks won’t treat them as they felt they should be treated, so they asked to call fire down upon them. Jesus rebuked them. In our modern day parallel, some religious institutions, decrying the terrible state of affairs around not getting their way, demand that civil laws be passed to impose their viewpoint on others, and punish any who do not agree with their point of view on, currently, marriage equality, among other issues.

It is common these days to assume that anyone who does not agree with a given set of values is wrong. This is unpleasantly obvious in the blogosphere, op-ed pages, and some church managers. Succinctly put, “I am right and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong, and should be punished” is a fairly common attitude. This was the position of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day, and it is the position of religious establishments in our own day, as is reflected in the current institutional reactions to DOMA and Prop 8. Some religious traditions and institutions go so far as to say that they are the only way to God, and thus folks who do not agree with them cannot get to God. As one bishop put it, a community who does not knuckle under to him does not have the real Jesus, whatever that means. This self-righteously judgmental attitude is painful on many levels. Often folks who act this way feel they are speaking on behalf of Jesus, who himself did not treat folks this way.

Something that also seems painfully obvious these days is management’s use of threats and punishment to enforce a given “party line” on whatever topic is under discussion. One favorite approach is to demand that folks who espouse a given viewpoint be denied Communion. Folks who follow this approach claim to be acting in the name of Jesus, who made himself available to everyone.

From one perspective it seems there are two churches these days: the church of the hierarchy and their loyal minions; the church of the folks who really don’t pay much attention to the hierarchial rantings and threats. In general the former come across as angry and judgmental, while the latter just ignore a lot and try to do what they think is right, often by walking away. As an institution the hierarchy is becoming ever more distant from, and less influential with, the folks. They don’t seem to get this. Jesus spent time with people, talked with them, ate with them, especially with those the religious institution of his day declared as outcasts for one reason or another. These day’s management’s idea of spending time with folks and listening is along the line of “we’ve listened to you now do what we tell you”. Sounds to me like religious leaders in the gospel stories.

We all follow Jesus in fits and starts, not always getting what he is trying to teach us. We might give some thought to being a little more understanding and less self-righteous with each other. We are all, on all sides of every issue, good folks trying to make the best of life that is not always easy. We need each other together helping, not apart judging.

Just sayin   .   .

28 June, DOMA, Dolan et al

In reaction to SCOTUS on DOMA and Prop 8, Cardinal Dolan, president of the NCCB said, “This is a tragic day for marriage and our nation”. Archbishop Cordileone said, “the future of our democracy is very, very worrisome”. They are company men, and so they have to say things like this. Perhaps they just don’t know any any other way. Their performances strike me as similar to the disciples in this weekend’s Gospel Story who wanted to call down fire upon the folks would wouldn’t treat them as they thought they should be treated. Jesus rebuke them. Hmmm  .  .

If we believe Jesus was serious when he said he would be with us until the end of time, and that the Spirit would teach us to observe everything Jesus taught us, and I do believe this very strongly, then we have to believe that everyone on all sides of these issues is in some way being guided by the Spirit. What we bring to the table is our human condition with all its gifts and limitations. The work of the Spirit is to bring together. The work of human limitations is to drive apart. If we believe the Spirit is involved, then how about we let the Spirit lead us to dialogue.

If any believe they alone have all the answers and so there is nothing they can learn from anybody, there is no possibility of dialogue. Honest and open dialogue means, among other things, respecting others, attributing good will to others, looking for truth in others, and a willingness to listen and learn. It does not mean watering down one’s own beliefs.

Either we believe we are all created in the image and likeness of God, or we don’t. None of us, any person or institution, gets to determine what is or is not a real image of God. For any person or institution to state that their way is the only way for everybody on anything seems to me vacuous and inane, not to mention arrogant. A fundamental basis of Christianity is a relationship with Jesus – an open relationship that leads us to accept Jesus however he comes to us, and doesn’t set conditions on how or in whom we will recognize or accept him. It is dangerous when any religious institution sets itself up as the only way to God, or states that obedience to its rules is more important than a person’s own relationship to God.

No tradition has the right to impose its will or viewpoints on anyone else. As the Jewish Council for Public Affairs said, “We live in a democratic society in which we are all free to express our opinions about social issues and to advocate vigorously for those opinions  .  .  .  No one group and no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic”.

It does not seem to me that there is much difference between the religious leaders of Jesus’ day demanding that he be punished by Rome for not following their religious rules, and the way some religious establishments in our own day are reacting to folks who don’t go along with them. Fortunately Washington didn’t react today as Rome did then. Perhaps managers might leave their fancy clothes, bling, and nice lifestyles and start moving among the folks to find out what life really is like for so many.

Just sayin  .  .  .