Friday, April 15, 2011

Maybe it is time to stop being a Protestant

"All roads lead to Rome",so the saying goes.Several decades after the Reformation in Europe it seems that they still do.I  believe that major reforms always come at times of momentous changes in global communication.Judaism arose at the time of trade routes opening and the development  of written languages.The Jewish scriptures were shaped during the Exile.At the time of Jesus,Rome had centralized communication within the Empire.Read the Gospel accounts in light of the centrality of Rome.Noticed how Paul in Acts appeals to the central power as a Roman citizen.All roads are leading to Rome.This fact has shaped and formed not only Western Christianity but the world's culture as well.In the West,we learned to think like Romans.We have exerted power through  empires modeled, well into the 20th century, after the Roman way.The way we have ordered society,law,education even entertainment has been  filtered through the "Eternal City".When in the 4th century c.e.Constantine "organized"the church after the Roman model,Abbots and Abbas got out of Dodge as fast they could.Rome was a corruption of the vision of Christ.When ever someone had another vision of the Kingdom of God,they ultimately had to answer to Rome.Poor Francis in Assisi (who just wanted to feed the poor and talk to the birds)or old Galileo(who just wanted to think out loud) got in trouble with Rome.When the printing press was invented suddenly, it was hard for Rome to keep the controls in place.People were becoming literate as never before and they were hungry to read,and to read the Bible.When Rome began to say"NO"you can't read the Bible because you don't understand it,people began to question,"who are you to tell me what to understand?".So reading the Bible and proclaiming the Scriptures as first,above and beyond what Rome says,became the cry of the Reformation.And if Rome tries to tell us anything otherwise,well we will just protest,protest and protest.That is how the Reformers became Protestants.Guess what?Rome remained central to the collective imaginations of Catholics as well as Reformers.If you are going to be a protester you must protest something.Hence,Lutherans,Presbyterians,Baptists,Methodists and all the other variations have been,in their own unique protests,Roman.Thats right;as long as the focus is on complaining about  the furniture,you never really leave the house,nor does it leave you.Protestants are still complaining about the furniture.As I understand protesting,it usually has a lot to do with anger,frustration,exertion of power,demands and expectations for the"other side"to act differently.This has pretty much summed up theological and church polity debates for centuries.Then came Vatican Council II and the season of ecumenism.We began the serious process of learning from and loving one another.Today much of the hostility has gone away,although there are still those who keep the the war aflame.I have a  Catholic relative who became a Methodist and then became so tired of hearing her pastor bash the Catholics she stopped going.The pastor called her at home to see why she wasn't in church.She told him and he began another tirade .She is a happy,liberal Presbyterian today.We are now in the midst of probably the greatest communication revolution the world has ever seen.Instant analysis and communication is at our fingertips.We are also in what is being called a post Christian,post denomination time.At the same time we are re-appropriating expressions of Christianity that were lost or suppressed in the West.New discoveries have and are being made in archeology and cultural history.New ways of forming community and retracing the bonds of early Christianity are being forged.Also,in this post Christian world,new sensibilities of the treatment of other peoples and their expressions of spiritual meaning and purpose,are welcomed ,partly out of the need for us to survive as a planet.Lastly,what I thing most Catholics and Protestants can agree on is that reform happens(and is needed).Many Roman Catholics want reform.They want a married clergy.They want open communion.They want women priests.What they don't want is to stop being Catholic.They understand that there is a world beyond Rome.They, like Luther, want the church to change, and not to banish more people from the pew or the sanctuary.They are tired and suspicious of the Protestant rants they have heard all their lives(especially on t.v.).They love the idea of Sacramental living-that their lives are holy, blessed and honored by God the Father/Mother,Son and Holy Spirit at sometimes significant,sometimes not so significant moments.They believe in the communion of saints,as well as the forgiveness of sins.They tell better jokes about the Church and Pope than Protestants.They don't want to protest,really,though they ache and long for the day of change.Christianity is in trouble in this fragile world.Isn't time for us ,to paraphrase Willy,Waylon and the boys,"to get back to the basics again...".The basics:See how they love one another.Language carries our communication so profoundly.The term:Roman Catholic(Universal)is really an oxymoron.It would be as if to say Houston Catholic(lord,deliver us from such a thought).Protestantism has run its course.It is time to stop defining ourselves as "anti-Catholic"It is time for us to unite as just plain old Christians as best we can.That way we can get on with the business of being transformed by the grace of God

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What church did you join?

A few months ago I was having a conversation with a gentleman from Fort Worth.An Episcopalian,he remained in one of the conservative congregations that rejects womens'ordination,gay rights etc.He told me that he had joined the church about 15 years ago.We talked for awhile and ruminated about the world of institutions and denominations.Then he shared something that really got my attention"My pastor once told me,"he said,"that you belong to the church you joined".You belong to the church you joined.That makes sense.Even if you were born into a denomination or a certain congregation,somewhere along the line you must make a decision to join a church.It got me thinking about the church I joined.Of course the label I have on my back is United Methodist.I was raised Roman Catholic.But the church I joined,the place I seem to really call home,is the church of change.If I had to slap a sign on the front of the building,it might be: The Church of Sacred Transformation.When I was young ,the church I was being raised in was the pre-Vatican II Catholic church.In the early 1960s along came The Second Vatican Council.Pope John XXIII opened the windows to let the Spirit blow in.Dramatic,Historical changes were made that had not been imagined in centuries.This is the church I joined.A church of change and transformation.A church of continual reformation.It gave me the wherewith all to eventually leave the Catholic Institution and seek grace in the Methodist tradition.I suppose one of the great theological pulls of Methodism for me was seeing Wesley as a kindred soul.He,too,embraced the church of sacred transformation.What I have found,though,in my years of ministry, is that most folks did not join the same church I joined.Change,to many,is most threatening.They will expend a lot  of energy in resisting almost any change.Peter L. Steinke in his new book,A Door Set Open:Grounding Change in Mission and Hope,states that change is the C word in many congregations.It is seen as a cancer inflicted on the faithful.It is denied and resisted in all kinds of ways,mostly in systems of denial and controlling  behaviors.The Church is in a time of what some call"deep change".I agree: we are in a time of great reformation and transformation.If this is so,then we would be wise to recognize the behaviors that accompany deep change:denial,chaos,control,anxiety,fear,etc.It would help,then,to step back and ask the question:What church did I join?How does the church I joined envision change?How does it deal with conflict?Is change the cancer with the big "C"?Might be good to dance with this for awhile..........

Monday, April 4, 2011

At play at PE

My favorite book is a little text written,and now out of print,by Hugo Rahner.MAN AT PLAY or Did You Ever Practice Eutrapelia?.Published in German in 1949.The ed. I own is an English translation by Brian Battershaw and Edward Quinn published by Burns&Oates of London in 1965.Rahner treats the subject of the virtue of Eutrapelia,practiced by one who "has the wit and wisdom to be the mean between the boor(the "agorikos")and the bufoon(the "bomolochos")".A way to understand the "eutrapelos"is that such a person is well-turned between the seriousness and the absurdity of life.The subject is treated in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics,and for Rahner,viewed through the lens of the Scholasticism of Aquinas.Rahner also acknowledges Aquinas'debt to the,"spiritual wisdom of the Fathers and monks of the primitive church".In a nutshell,in Ancient Greece,the bufoons would dance and act the fools before the sacrificial altar with the hope of securing a scrap or two of discarded meat.The boor stands aloof,without joy,but with dismissive judgement.The well-turned person stands out from both extremes,able to appreciate both the seriousness and the frivolity of it all.In the book,Rahner looks at God's play and our own(Theologia ludens):"(A)ll play has somewhere deep within it an element of the dance;it is a kind of dance round the truth.Sacred play has always taken the form of a dance;for in the rhythm of body and music are conjoined all the possibilities of embodying and expressing in visible form the strivings and aspirations of the mind-and also,of chastely veiling and protecting them(p.66)".This blog,PE for short,shall be the celebration of the dance first and hopefully serious enough to share and offer to you the scraps of the altar as we dance with God in the public square.....