Friday, October 21, 2011

"Much to learn, you still have..."

Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI said that the church needs to speak to youth using communication vehicles of their culture.  He made this statement out of concern that youth are fleeing the church at accelerating rates. 

Effective ministry requires reaching people where they are.  So it makes sense to use the same communication tools they use to reach them.  Thus we are starting to see clergy with blogs and Facebook pages.  The pope did not mention communicating over these media in a manner youth actually understand.  However, effective ministry also requires this.  Since the last two popes have been huge advocates for youth ministry, I am assuming that they would also support this concept. 

The last two popes are also the key forces behind re-translating the English version of the Roman Missal used at Mass and English speaking bishops are enthusiastically supporting its adoption.  Thus, all English speaking Catholics worldwide are being forced to use a new set of words at Mass. 

Putting all these factors together and after experiencing a few Masses using parts of the new translation, I can only surmise that the pope and bishops believe today’s youth are avid Star Wars fans.  I can think of no other reason for like Yoda, expect us to speak, they do.  Because, poor English grammar like Yoda, speak we shall, as we are expected to say things like, “and on Earth, peace to people of good will” rather than “peace to people on Earth”. 

If church leaders believe today’s youth are Star Wars fans, shouldn’t we just say, “May the Force be with you” instead?  This raises an important point about the translation.  There are two approaches to translation: dynamic and literal.  Dynamic translations preserve the meaning where literal translations translate every single word literally, regardless of if the resultant phrasing is awkward or makes sense in the target language.  Though “May the Force be with you” might express roughly the same meaning as “on Earth, peace to people of good will”, it is a dynamic rather than a literal translation of the Latin phrase “in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”.  Unfortunately, the new Mass translation is a literal translation.  

An example of how severely literal translations can violate meaning can be seen in literally translating the English phrase, “I am hot” which in the U.S. means someone feels the temperature around them is excessively warm.  Translated literally into Pope Benedict’s native tongue, German, we would say “Ich bin heiss”.  Unfortunately, in German that means someone is sexually aroused. 

Supposedly Pope John Paul II began this literal translation effort because each English speaking country translated the Mass into its own vernacular, arriving at different English versions for the Mass.  Since he traveled around a lot he experienced the English language variances that exist in the world and evidently he didn’t like the fact that English in the U.K differs from U.S. English or from Australian English. 

However, the previous English translation approach acknowledged the usage differences amongst English speaking nations.  For example in U.S. English a “napkin” is a thing with which a person wipes their mouth at a meal.  However, in New Zealand English, “napkin”, only refers to a feminine hygiene product.  The word “serviette” is used to describe the thing people use to wipe their face at a meal.  Thus, in forcing the same English translation upon all English speaking countries, John Paul II and Benedict are trying to force a uniformity of language usage that does not exist.  I guess we just have to hope that the new Mass translation doesn’t refer to a napkin anywhere.

Literal translations also introduce words that do not resonate in the target language.   Therefore instead of saying Jesus is “one in being with” we are supposed to say he is “consubstantial” with God.  If I polled the average kid on the streets of the U.S. and asked them what “consubstantial” meant, I anticipate many blank stares or sarcastic responses.  Thus, the translation violates another tenet of effective ministry - speaking the language of those amongst whom you minister. 

The 1973 and 1998 Roman Missal translations to English used dynamic translation approaches.  They focused on preserving the meaning of what was being said.  This is important because the Eucharistic celebration was not originally conducted in Latin.  It was in Greek.  The word “Eucharist” is a Greek, not a Latin word, for example.  Furthermore, Jesus likely didn’t speak Greek or Latin.  So the foundational event for the Eucharistic celebration, the Last Supper, probably was spoken in Aramaic.   The hope is that the meaning of what Jesus said and did was preserved from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English rather than having a word for word translation each time that renders gibberish.  Again, unfortunately, the 2011 English translation of the Roman Missal is a literal translation. 

Anyone who studies languages knows that literal translations produce very awkward wording in the target language and also tend to alter the meaning.  This raises the issue of theological problems with the new translation.  For example, the word “consubstantial” that we are now expected to utter means “of the same substance”.  However, the church teaches God is a spirit, not a substance.  How can Jesus, a human, be of the same substance as God, a spirit with no substance?  Some might say we should overlook the literal meaning of the literal translation that produces “consubstantial” and just know that this means Jesus has God’s spirit.  Yet, the church also firmly rejects the idea that Jesus was a human shell with God’s spirit.  This is a heretical belief that contradicts the church’s teaching that in Jesus, God and humanity are fully integrated.  So, “consubstantial” introduces very serious, if not heretical, theological concepts: 1) that God has a substance versus is a spirit or 2) that Jesus’ divinity and humanity are not fully integrated.

How many people will just mindlessly repeat whatever the Vatican and the bishops tell them to say?  How many people will be willing to sacrifice meaning and theological concepts in favor of not making a wave that might damage their esteem in the church?

I was at a college football game last weekend and lots of youth were wearing shirts with the Greek phrase, “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ”, printed on them.  The literal translation that renders is, “you receive”.  Any person educated in language knows to question the quality of a BabelFish translation because it does a literal word-for-word translation.  And in the case of translating this expression, that is wise advice because the expression means something quite different than what BabelFish renders. 

When the ancient Persian Emperor Xerxes came with 600,000 troops to trample little Greece, he offered to spare the lives of the Spartan king Leonidas and his 300 personal bodyguards if they would just surrender their arms and abandon their duty to protect the people of Greece.  Rather than surrender to save their lives, and despite overwhelming odds against them, Leonidas responded on behalf of the 300 Spartans with, ““ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ”, (Molon Labe) which actually means, “come and get them”.   This expression means even much more than “Come and get them”.  It is an expression of indomitable courage and profound defiance in the face of overwhelming odds opposing you.  It represents an unwillingness to be trampled by those of power.   

Will Catholic priests and lay people acquiesce to preserve their status in the church or will they cry “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” when they see the bishops, cardinals and popes try to overrun the people with poor Mass translations?  Where is the cry of “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” from women of the church being marginalized even further by reintroduction of sexist language in the Mass?   

Rather than respond with the new literal translation, “And with your spirit” that does not resonate with them, some youth who are Star Trek rather than Star Wars fans have suggested extending the right hand with fingers formed in a Spock-like “V” and saying either, “live long and prosper”, or, “my soul salutes you.”  May the Force be with those with courage to defend their faith and shout “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” in defiance of power mongers within the church.

I imagine that to the bishops and pope, Yoda would say, "much to learn you still have".

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Bride of Christ

Church leaders seem very preoccupied with marriage, a state of life most clergy do not experience.  For example, in the United States, one of the bishops' five published priorities and 6 of their 25 published objectives are on marriage.  Their marriage priority includes two goals: one to increase Catholics’ value of marriage and one to influence civil legislation pertaining to marriage.   Their objectives cover topics like human sexuality education, addressing marital challenges, strengthening family life, and defining marriage as one man and one woman.

Though a group of unmarried men asserting themselves as subject matter experts on marriage confuses many people, clergy believe they derive authority on marriage from their experiences metaphorically wed to the church.  They believe this metaphorical relationship truly gives them marital insight and experiences.  A priest’s parish is his spouse, its congregants his children. 

They base these beliefs upon theological foundations they constructed.  In a nutshell, the theology goes like this:  Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom (MT 22, 25).  Church leaders assume the church is his bride.  Since Jesus is a boy, the church must be a girl.  The Mass perpetuates Jesus marrying the church.  During Mass the part of Jesus is played by a priest, so the priest must be a boy.  The priest’s relationship with his parish is supposed to be a model for marriage much like Jesus marrying the church is.  According to the hierarchy’s teaching, salvation history crumbles if the priest is not male because it violates what they believe to be a “natural law” - that marriage is between one man (Jesus played by the priest) and one woman (the church played by the laity). 

All this hinges on church leaders’ assertion that Jesus, the bridegroom, marries the church.  The curious thing is that Jesus likens the faithful to wedding guests or bridesmaids, not his bride (MT 22:1-14, MT 25:1-13).  Actually, Jesus never used the analogy of the faithful as his bride.  Church leaders just assumed it and based extensive theology on it.   Laypeople unfamiliar with scripture never stopped to question or challenge it.

Furthermore, Jesus is considered present at Mass in four ways: in the priest, the Word, the faithful, and the consecrated bread and wine.  The church teaches Christ is most perfectly present, not in the priest, but in the Blessed Sacrament.  The Blessed Sacrament is supposed to be the most perfect presence of the “body, blood, soul and divinity” of Christ.   Thus if Jesus did think he married the church and did want his maleness preserved in the Mass, it would seem he most perfectly does this via his physical presence in the Blessed Sacrament, not the priest. 

As mentioned in a previous blog, many hierarchy members’ actions indicate they incorrectly believe that the church is the hierarchy rather than the people of God.  Regardless, the official voice of the church is the all-male hierarchy.  Thus, using the hierarchy’s logic, if the Mass emulates Christ marrying the church via priests marrying the church, we have a group of men marrying a group of men.  Actually the same group of men marry themselves as the hierarchy representing Jesus, marries the same hierarchy representing the church. 

First this sets an example of a many-to-many, same-sex marriage rather than a one-to-one, male-female relationship.  Perhaps of greater importance though, somehow a marriage that is nothing more than someone falling in love with themselves seems more reminiscent of the tragic Greek story of Narcissus’ meaningless death than of the joyful gospel messages about Jesus’ salvific death and resurrection. 

For those unfamiliar with the story of Narcissus, this mythical Greek hunter was very proud.  Nemesis saw Narcissus’ immense pride and lured him to a still pond where Narcissus saw his own reflection.  He subsequently fell in love with his own reflection not realizing it was just a mirror image of himself.  He became so enraptured by the beauty of his own reflection that he could not move from the pond and died staring at himself. 

As people increasingly flee the church due to a hierarchy, seemingly enrapt with itself, detached from and out of touch with the laity, is this analogy something worthy of deeper thought?  Have the clergy fallen in love with themselves and their thoughts?  Have they caused a deadly paralysis by their inability to move from positions of self-adoration and absorption? 

Laying aside the questions of foundational theological validity and possible narcissistic implications, if priests believe they marry their parish, much like Jesus married the church, what example have they set?  Priests often abandon one parish “wife” when they have the opportunity to wed a different parish more to their liking.  A pastor moves from one parish to another; a priest leaves a parish pursuing opportunities for hierarchical advancement; a bishop leaves his diocese for another larger one or to become a cardinal.  Dioceses actually have policies to move priests regularly so that they don’t become too attached to any one parish. 

It would seem therefore that priests provide a marriage example of divorcing wives to marry “trophy wives” rather than marriages of everlasting commitment.  One pastor, when he left my parish for another, explained to the parishioners that we were his family and would always be his family.  Perhaps for priests of that mindset, rather than divorcing one wife and marrying another, they adopt the ancient Middle Eastern practice of marrying multiple wives and establishing a harem.  In either case, does this set a good example for marriage?

Do we really want to fashion marriages after priests’ examples “marrying” their parishes?  If we want to strengthen marriage, do we first need to re-examine the underlying theology?  If the hierarchy have become enrapt with their own culture, what should the laity do? 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Nemo dat quod non habet"

James Fowler describes six stages of faith development.  His work has become a widely accepted standard for understanding faith development.   The end of this article contains a brief overview of the six developmental stages.  Each faith development stage is valid and not everyone develops beyond some of the simplest faith stages.  However, continued growth is important for everyone in their spiritual journey. 

The Latin expression “nemo dat quod non habet” carries great pertinence to faith development.  The expression means, “Someone cannot give away what they do not possess.”  In the case of faith development this means that spiritual leaders should be at a faith stage beyond those they direct because they cannot help guide others to a place they don’t know exists.  Therefore, it is reasonable to assume effective religious leaders need to achieve faith development stages 5 or 6 described below to encourage others’ continued spiritual growth.  Most people require life experiences occurring over time to arrive at these faith stages. 

Priests used to serve multiple associate assignments before being assigned as pastors. This allowed their faith to develop substantially before having an influential position over others’ faith development.  With younger and younger men being assigned as pastors, we have a less spiritually mature group of spiritual leaders.  Even under the previous model where older priests were assigned as pastors, many priests due to their celibate, childless lifestyles lacked sufficient life experiences to prompt their personal and faith maturation. 

There is a sad irony that the administrative prohibition against married clergy causes an artificial shortage of priests.  Consequently, bishops appoint young men to act as pastors.  Yet, married clergy often achieve the more mature faith development stages due to their family-based life experiences.  Because of their personal and spiritual maturity, married clergy often are more capable than celibate clergy to guide others’ spiritual development.

In addition to their own development being stunted, many shepherds seem to encourage their sheep to remain at the earlier faith development stages.  This can cause a systemic downward spiral in faith development but is the product of fear.  People in the earlier faith development stages feel threatened when they encounter people of later faith development stages.  Thus clergy of earlier faith development stages often foster their flock’s faith stagnation or regression and encourage childish dependencies that inhibit growth rather than childlike inquisitiveness that fuels it. 

Stages 5 and 6 are where people have enough personal security to feel either not or not as threatened by others’ beliefs and faith development stages.  They are starting to live the scriptural directive to “be not afraid”. 

Pope John XXIII demonstrated his spiritual maturity by convening the Second Vatican Council.  He was not afraid of inviting lay people, women, or people of other religious traditions to participate.  He was not afraid to share power.  In contrast, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI show their spiritual immaturity as they feel threatened by theologians and other people who question traditions.  Consequently, they reclaim more centralized authority and power.  They persecute those whom they fear.   

How do we develop our own faith in light of spiritually immature shepherds?  How do we patiently abide with others in their faith development stages?

Now more than ever, laypeople have an obligation to help develop clergy because many of the shepherds who are spiritually more well-developed have died, retired or been sanctioned.    How do we respond to the ministry of helping spiritually under-developed clergy grow in their faith development? 

Right or wrong, I patiently, passionately and persistently attempt to dialogue with clergy in hopes that the introduction of conflicting opinions aids their growth. 

Intuitive – Projective faith stage typically occurs for people between the ages of 3 and 7.  It is described as a “fantasy-filled” imitation of what adults around them do.  People emerge from this stage as they develop their own concrete operative thinking skills.   

Mythic – Literal faith stage occurs, usually in grade school, when the person senses they belong to a community because they share the community’s beliefs and actions.  At this stage, moral rules and beliefs are based on literal interpretations.  Symbols tend to carry literal meanings too.  During this stage a person may focus on perfectionism, “works righteousness”, or their own “badness”.  People develop beyond this stage as they begin to recognize conflicts in teachings, such as conflicts arising from literal scripture interpretation.

Synthetic – Conventional faith stage occurs, usually during adolescence, when a person’s sphere of operation expands.  New sources of information and values introduce complexity that must be synthesized with faith.  They resolve differences by acknowledging the world contains different kinds of people and some people don’t share their faith.  Consequently in this stage, faith, as defined by traditional authorities, becomes a key source of identity.  People in this stage tend towards being judgmental or even nihilistic if their judgment is inwardly focused.  Usually increased critical thinking skills, greater awareness of others, and leaving home prompt growth to the next faith development stage as people realize their childhood environment is not a universal norm.

Individuative – Reflective faith stage often begins in late adolescence or early adulthood as people develop critical thinking skills and take ownership for their beliefs and actions.  They see truth emerging from symbolic rather than literal meanings of myths but assume the group retains literal interpretations.  They grapple with the conflict of remaining true to their conscience while belonging to a group they value but see as imperfect.  They tend to over-value their newly developed critical thinking skills and move beyond this stage when they realize life is more complex than their mind can grasp.

Conjunctive faith stage tends to occur in mid-life as people gain greater awareness of their inner voice.  They have the maturity to revisit their personal context and grapple with polar tensions.  They are able to have close relationships with people of other beliefs without feeling threatened.  They are able to see truth within contradictions and see greater depth in reality from mythical symbolisms.  However, they remain divided between loyalty to conscience and acceptance by the group.

Universalized faith stage is achieved by few people because it involves genuine detachment from group acceptance.  Though rejection may pain them, they are unafraid to face it to do the right thing.  They work to actualize the oneness of humanity and community and, therefore, practice radical inclusiveness.  Some view them as contagious because their lives and thoughts liberate oppression.  Others view them as an infectious subversive threat to established structures.  Often people who reach this faith level are more honored and revered after they die.  They are seen as having special grace that makes them more lucid - able to extract the simple from the complex.  They are able to love and enjoy fellowship with people at every other stage of development from any religious tradition.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"...and a little child will lead them (Isaiah 9:11)"

Jesus calls us to have childlike faith.  As mentioned in a previous blog article, that implies an inquisitiveness inspired by a thirst to grow and learn.  In the Messianic prophesy expressed in Isaiah 11:9, we learn that one indicator of the Messiah’s presence among us is when we go beyond possessing childlike faith and actually are led by a child. 

To be led by a child implies a great deal of humility.  Children usually have fewer life experiences and lower education levels than adults.  From these data points, many adults extrapolate that children therefore must possess less wisdom and insight than them.  Clearly the child needs their “superior” leadership and guidance.  Permitting the child to lead is risky, they believe.  They tend to laugh “at” more than “with” their children due to their sense of supremacy.  Their lack of humility prevents them from being led by children.
Adults harboring such attitudes tend to dictate to children, ignore, dismiss or devalue children’s contributions, and feel children need heavy-handed direction and discipline “for their own good”.  Perhaps they believe God speaks more clearly to them than to their children, thus they place overriding value on their own opinions.  

Though such adults might believe they mould children in the image of God, they actually mould them in their image because they suppress the Spirit’s unique presence in the child rather than cultivate it when it deviates from their wishes.  Quite simply, they sometimes supplant the will of God with their own will and label it God’s.    

However, effective parents delight in what they learn from their children.  They realize that wisdom and insight emerge from many sources including and sometimes especially from the mouth of a child.   They are willing to be led by a child sometimes. 

These types of parents tend to listen to their children as much or more than speak to them.  They reserve lecturing as a teaching device only for certain types of lessons rather than making it their preferred teaching device.  They communicate with their children and thereby gain healthy, genuine intimacy with their children.  They joyfully laugh with their children. 

As I shift from literal parent-child relationships to ecclesial parent-child relationships, I see an unsettling trend where many church “fathers” treat their children like simple-minded, ignorant, disobedient children in need of lecturing and heavy-handed direction.  They don’t know their children because they speak “at” them rather than “with” them.  They treat interactions with them as condescension rather than a privilege.  They are threatened by relinquishing leadership to them.

A few questions I ponder of late are, “How do we let ourselves be led by children”, and, “How do church leaders let themselves be led by their ecclesial children?”

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of this blog.  I began it led by the advice of my children.  Here’s a shout out to my kids:  I realize I don’t listen to you as much as maybe you would like or I should.  But I want you to know that I learn some of life’s most profound lessons when I allow myself to hear the world through your ears, see the world through your eyes, listen to the wisdom of the Spirit coming from your mouths, and experience the world led by your hands.  May you be blessed with children in your lives who can help guide you as much as you help guide me.  You truly are a presence of Christ for me and for the world.   

 “…and a little child will lead them (Isaiah 9:11)”