Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Holding things loosed or bound...

In this past weekend’s gospel reading, two Apostles lobby for positions of perceived greatness.  James and John ask Jesus, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left (MK 10:37).”  A few interesting things happen subsequently.

Jesus rather curtly tells these two Apostles they are clueless, “You do not know what you are asking (MK 10:38).”  It inspires all the Apostles to argue (MK 10:41).  And, Jesus settles the Apostles’ argument by saying:

Church leaders stress some of Jesus’ sayings but this does not seem to be amongst their favorites, especially lately.  “Lording it over” others based upon perceived authority seems to be standard operating procedure for many clergy.  How many of us have heard statements like this from an ordained minister?
  • I’m the boss
  • I’m in charge
  • I’m the pastor
  • Do it my way
  • If you don’t like it my way, then leave

These attitudes which directly contradict Jesus’ “anti-lording-it-over” message in last weekend’s gospel stem from something else Jesus said - specifically, “…you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (MT 16:18-19).” 

From this MT 16 passage, church leaders justify general apostolic authority as well as the pope’s supreme authority, following in the tradition of Peter.    The pope even has an official title associated with that passage, “Successor of Peter.”   However, the pope has another official title based upon last weekend’s reading too, “Servant of the Servants of God” (“Servus Servorum Dei” in Latin).  This title does not get much airtime these days.  Why not?

The MT 16 passage isn’t the only place Jesus grants authority to hold things loosed or bound.  Later, in MT 18:18 he tells his disciples (not just the apostles), “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  It seems Jesus grants the same authorities to all followers that he granted to Peter, and chronologically does so after granting them to Peter.  Why isn’t this emphasized by church leaders?  Why instead do they fixate upon papal and apostolic authorities?     

Furthermore, the story about the Apostles arguing and Jesus instructing them not to “lord it over” others also appears in Matthew’s gospel.  Reading through these events in Matthew’s gospel we see these three events unfold with the following chronology:
  • Jesus grants Peter authority to hold things loosed or bound (MT 16).
  • Then Jesus grants all disciples (not Apostles) authority to hold things loosed or bound (MT 18).
  • Then Jesus tells the Apostles (not the disciples) not to “lord it over” others and to be servants of all (MT 20).

Somehow it seemed ironic to hear that gospel instruction read shortly after people responded “And with your spirit”, one of several wording changes directly resulting from today’s apostles “lording it over” each other and the laity.   

Hierarchical leaders are not the only people “lording it over” others.  Some laypeople in their zeal for their perception of God’s or apostolic approval, “lord it over” others too.  Thus, we have some “evangelization” efforts that closely resemble bullying as people try to protect the terms “Catholic” and “Christian” from people they choose to hold bound to various things, or try to impose their beliefs upon others.  It would seem that the “apostles’ way or the highway” crowd try to save the church (the Body of Christ) from precisely the people Christ came to save, or some might say, from Christ himself. 

Take heart.  Jesus told the Apostles and disciples many times including in last weekend’s reading that they are clueless.  Saying you get to hold people bound or loosed doesn’t mean you get to write the rules.  You get to decide how they will be enforced. 

Interestingly enough, last weekend’s Psalm gave guidance on enforcement as it spoke of God’s mercy (Ps 33).  Similarly, Jesus repeatedly tells his followers God desires mercy not sacrifice (MT 9:13, MT 12:7).  Thus stringing all these thoughts together, perhaps the message is that we all can hold things loosed or bound but we are to err on the side of holding things loosed (i.e., showing “mercy”). 

Mercy is showing compassion versus cruelty, indifference or hatred.  It is offering forgiveness when it is within your power to punish, censure, or blame.  It deters or alleviates suffering rather than imposes it.

What is our balance of holding things bound versus loosed?  How do we show mercy?  Do we follow people who hold more things bound or hold more things loosed?   

Think about today’s societal topics and reflect upon your attitudes:  How do you treat the jobless, homeless, poor, uneducated, weak?  How do you treat people whose sexual mores differ from yours?  How do you treat their children?  How do you treat the immigrant?  How do you treat people whose religious beliefs and practices differ from yours?  Do you wrap yourself in self-righteousness (i.e. hold things bound) or do you emit mercy (i.e. hold things loosed)?

Do we spend time senselessly arguing who is greatest?   If you are in a position of power, do you lord it over others? 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: In search of a consistent ethic

Many thanks to guest contributor, Ray Temmerman, for his blog article below.  
Our Catholic leadership has taken, and continues to take, a strong position on life issues, especially where sexual ethics and the first nine months of human life are concerned.  They have made it clear that any deviation from a sexual norm determined long ago is considered an intrinsic moral evil.  And any activity, or indeed any method of acting, which is contrary to the natural order of things is not considered morally acceptable.  They are to be applauded for their clarity of vision, and their determination to hold life sacred, allegedly from conception to natural death.  

But I find myself wondering, and questioning.

If the natural order of things is so important, should not nature as understood today be considered, and the findings of present-day science considered when determining that natural order?  If, for example, we now know that there exists in nature a spectrum of sexuality, can heterosexuality still be deemed to be the only "natural" order?  Or should our understanding of what constitutes the natural order be updated to reflect the natural order that we observe happening "naturally" around us today?

If the natural order of things is so important, why is not the entire spectrum of "disorder" not included in our hierarchical condemnations?  For example, if "the pill" is such a moral evil, why are all those who knowingly involve themselves in the design, development, manufacture, marketing and distribution of "the pill" not equally condemned?  Why are the owners and operators of PMU (Pregnant Mare Urine) farms, whose sole purpose and intentionality is to produce the raw materials used in the manufacture of "the pill", not condemned for their direct participation in this moral evil?  Why is it that condemnation is directed only at those who actually use "the pill", i.e. women?  Where is the consistent ethic?

Arguments have been made that by using "the pill", women are going against nature by forcing the body to do what it is not meant to do, and thereby burning out the body for the natural order of conception, pregnancy and childbirth.

If that argument is sound, then why do I not hear equal condemnation of the use of fertilizers in food production?  Why is there no condemnation of introducing into our food chain, and hence into our bodies, at the rate of one pound per person per day, a whole range of chemical and other fertilizers designed specifically to make nature do more than it is naturally meant to?

Why do we not hear condemnation of the use of chemical pesticides, designed to destroy or at least frustrate specific components of nature, and introduced through plants into our food chain, there to wreak havoc in our bodies?  Where is the consistent ethic?

Natural Family Planning (NFP) has been determined to be an acceptable method of planning family sizes and spacing of children, based on the idea that through its use, a couple "collaborates" with nature.  But Humane Vitae, while saying that, also says that each and every sexual act must be open to procreation.  Is this not about method rather than intentionality?  And is intentionality not of greater importance in moral decision-making than is the method of implementing the decision?  How is the intentionality in using NFP, except for the express purpose of having more children, any different from the intentionality of using Artificial Birth Control (ABC)?  Are not both methods expressive of a common intent not to be open to procreation in this sexual act at this point in time, and hence in contravention of the teaching of Humanae Vitae?  Why is there condemnation of the method, but complete silence on the intentionality?  Where is the consistency of ethic?

If life is sacred throughout its entire range, why is there so little focus on the environment, that envelope in which we live, on which our intentions and actions so severely impact, and whose consequential changes will so severely impact those not yet born?

We hear condemnation of all actions which jeopardize or terminate millions of lives in their first nine months.  Why do we not hear equal condemnations of actions which jeopardize, and may terminate, the lives of billions in their remaining nine decades?  Why do we not hear sound condemnation of the greed and rapacity which we now consider "natural" but which contribute untold tonnes of carbon to our atmosphere, thereby raising temperatures and changing the whole natural order of things such that food crops cannot grow, precious water becomes scarce, and people are forced to migrate or die – and perhaps to die even as they migrate?  Why, having failed to speak out against practices which force migration, we then refuse to welcome to our shores those who suffer the consequences of our greed?  Where is the consistent ethic of life?

When will our hierarchical leaders listen to the voices of the Spirit of God in the people, including the scientists and naturalists in our midst, and learn from them of the presently understood realities of the natural order?  When will our hierarchical leaders begin to speak out in support of life at all stages, not just on the first nine months but on the full ninety years?  When will their voice begin calling for a consistent ethic across the entirety of life?

Unless and until that happens, their voice will be heard, then dismissed as being out of touch with the natural order of things.  The consequences, for people today and for generations yet unborn, are too great to be set aside.

Ray Temmerman

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thoughts on church leadership...

Earlier in 2012, the Pew Research Center released a study with a statistic that 70% of U.S. Catholics are satisfied with the leadership provided by the American bishops.  That statistic breaks down as follows:
  • 24% “very satisfied”
  • 46% “somewhat satisfied
  • 13% “somewhat dissatisfied”
  • 12% “very dissatisfied”
  •    5% “don’t know”
In surveying, the order of satisfaction categories typically goes something like this:
  • Completely satisfied (meaning 100% positive)
  • Very satisfied (almost 100% positive but there are a few insignificant issues)
  • Satisfied (lots of good things but enough negative that it doesn’t merit an amplifying adjective)
  • Somewhat satisfied/Somewhat dissatisfied or sometimes categorized as “neutral” (when the glass has 50% water and 50% air, it can be described as “half full” or “half empty” but the amount of water is the same either way)
  • Dissatisfied (lots of negatives but enough positives that it doesn’t merit an amplifying adjective)
  • Very dissatisfied (almost 100% negative but there are a few redeeming things)
  • Completely dissatisfied (nothing redeeming about this)
Typically, only “completely” and “very” satisfied responses are considered positive ones.  Since “somewhat satisfied” implies a person is also “somewhat dissatisfied”, these responses are often combined into one category representing the tepid, “eh…” response – the type that is expressed accompanied by wrinkled nose and shrugged shoulders.  However, the Pew study did not pose the question in a way to capture the “eh…” response explicitly.  It must be derived by adding the two “somewhat” categories. 

Therefore, instead of thinking 70% are satisfied, it might be more realistic to say 59% think, “eh…”  The combination of “eh…” and negative responses yields insight that 71% of U.S. Catholics are less than thrilled with the American bishops’ leadership.  Yeah, that sounds about right.

Competent leaders should see these results as identifying a very big problem, one that many Catholics would like to see addressed.  Successfully addressing such a problem requires following a simple problem solving methodology:
  1. Admit there is a problem
  2. Understand its causes
  3. Address the causes
1.  Do the bishops admit there is a problem?  I do not know but I personally doubt they do.

2.  Making a bold assumption that they do, the next step is to understand underlying causes such as the bishops’ lack of credibility.  Examining the credibility issues’ causes might reveal people perceiving the bishops as:

A.      Asserting authority on topics in which they lack expertise such as science, biology, sociology, psychology, sexuality, medicine, women, marriage and family life
B.      Denying new understandings on those same topics
C.      Clinging to theological concepts that are based on flawed understandings of those topics combined with flawed logic
D.      Making decisions that impact people negatively based upon those flawed understandings
E.       Violating the 6th Commandment pertaining to sexual impropriety
F.       Violating the 8th Commandment pertaining to telling the truth  and bearing false witness
G.     Being hypocritical such as declaring themselves the ultimate arbiters of truth while repeatedly demonstrating difficulty telling it
H.      Prioritizing preservation of hierarchical power and traditions over Scripture, the Commandments and ministry
I.        Inconsistently and arbitrarily applying rules or Canon Law
J.        Fearing women, laypeople, science, change, sin, sinners, death, facts, the media, sexuality
K.      Focusing on their shepherd association more than on their sheep
L.       Focusing on trivial matters like the new liturgy translation
M.    Pretending things that happened didn't, such as covering up priest sexual abuses, or denying the history of ordaining women deacons
N.     Pretending things happened that didn’t such as claiming Jesus ordained anyone, or said women couldn’t be ordained
O.     Lauding and rewarding bishops and clergy who exhibit bad behavior
P.    Contradicting gospel messages

To the last point, I've only gotten as far as Chapter 27 in Matthew doing a categorization exercise but from getting that far in that one gospel I’ve read Jesus:
  • 33 times reprimands religious leaders
  • 22 times heals people
  • 19 times rails against hypocrisy especially amongst religious leaders
  • 12 times reprimands/corrects his closest followers (the apostles let's say)
  •   9 times says that children and/or the weakest shall be the highest valued
Bishops say they are superior imitators of Christ and from this claim their authority.  In doing so, they call themselves to a higher standard.  Regardless, all Christians are called to imitate Jesus.  Therefore it is reasonable to ask of ourselves and the bishops:
  • What are we doing to reprimand religious leaders? 
  • When and how are we healing people? 
  • What are we doing to address hypocrisy especially amongst religious leaders?
  • What are we doing to correct the Apostles? 
  • How do we put our weakest members and children first?
We can and should be concerned about the bishops’ poor credibility but we should also be concerned about our own.  By challenging them, it will help ensure we institutionally admit our problems and also that we delve into why they exist so we can fix them. 

3.  How can the bishops address their credibility issues?  It’s not difficult to name what must be done.  Due to human nature, the challenge emerges in executing the steps.  This isn’t an exhaustive list of ideas to address the bishops' credibility issue but it’s a start: 
  • Tell the truth and build a culture of openness and honesty instead of obfuscations and secrecy or one that tolerates convenient lies
  • Do not fear – loss of power, science, facts, logic, women, laypeople, future, change, death, the media, sin, sinners, sexuality
  • Keep your pants on and zipped and when someone doesn’t, deal with the situation in honesty instead of obfuscation and secrecy
  • Re-read the gospels and pay close attention to what Jesus actually does say and what he doesn’t say – not what you want him to say, not what you think he says, not what you hope he says, not what you insist he must say to justify what you’ve been doing
  • Truly imitate Christ and don’t worry about who does it better – nobody does it perfectly and you look like a pack of fools trying to figure out who is the most superior amongst a flawed, sinful bunch
  • Stop lording over others  - which will be an automatic byproduct of doing the previous steps
  • Dramatically simplify and revise Canon Law so that it’s aligned with the gospels keeping in mind that Jesus simplified 613 Mosaic laws to 2 – imitate that “KISS” principle (“keep it simple, stupid”)
  • Spend at least twice as much time with the regular folk as you do with your staff,  books, other clergy, or in solitude combined
  • Listen more than speak; learn more than teach; practice more than preach; give more than take
  • Hold yourselves and each other accountable – be quick to admit your shortcomings
  • Stop rewarding bad behavior
I think if improvements were made in even a few of these areas, the church’s leadership crisis would abate significantly.  Then we might genuinely have 70% or more of Catholics expressing satisfaction with the bishops’ leadership instead of 59% saying “eh…” and 71% being less than thrilled.