Your God, My God, and God


February 15, 2019

The most important element in the Third Millennial Reformation is something I have not yet touched on: a contemporary spirituality. As a good friend said recently: “we need a reform in the direction of contemplative consciousness/living/being: Teaching people not just prayers but an experience of prayer.” Without this, whatever we do will end up superficial.

This week-end therefore, a reflection about God, from a spiritual master whom I greatly respect: Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He posted this on his website in July 2014.

It takes a long time for us to allow God to be who God really is.

Our natural egocentricity wants to make God into who we want or need God to be. It’s the role of the prophet to keep people free for God. But at the same time it’s the responsibility of the prophet to keep God free for people. This is also the role of good theology, and why we still need good theology even though it sometimes gets heady.

If God is always mystery, then God is always on some level the unfamiliar, beyond what we’re used to, beyond our comfort zone, beyond what we can explain or understand.

In the fourth century, St. Augustine said, “If you comprehend it, it’s not God.” Would you respect a God you could comprehend? And yet very often that’s what we want—a God who reflects our culture, our biases, our economic, political, and military systems.

The First Commandment says that we’re not supposed to make any images of God or to worship them. At first glance, we may think this deals only with handmade likenesses of God. But it mostly refers to images of God that we hold in our heads. God created human beings in God’s own image, and we’ve returned the compliment, so to speak, creating God in our image. In the end we produced what was typically a tribal God. In America, God looks like Uncle Sam or Santa Claus, or in any case a white Anglo-Saxon male, even though it states in Genesis 1:27 that “God created humankind in God’s own image; male and female God created them.” That clearly states that God cannot be strictly or merely masculine.

Normally we find it very difficult to let God be a God who is greater than our culture, our immediate needs, and our projections.

The human ego wants to keep things firmly in its grasp; and so we’ve created a God who fits into our small systems and our understanding of God. Thus, we’ve required a God who likes to play war just as much as we do, and a domineering God because we like to dominate.

We’ve almost completely forgotten and ignored what Jesus revealed about the nature of the God he knew. If Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) then God is nothing like we expected. Jesus is in no sense a potentate or a patriarch, but the very opposite, one whom John the Baptist calls “a lamb of a God” (John 1:29).

Our History


February 8, 2019

I begin with an observation from the American historian, Eric Alterman. Writing this week in the New Yorker about “The Decline of Historical Thinking” he says: “Last year, Benjamin M. Schmidt, a professor of history at Northeastern University, published a study demonstrating that, for the past decade, history has been declining more rapidly than any other major, even as more and more students attend college.”

I am not surprised about this development because, for many Americans, historical awareness and sensitivity have long been secondary issues. Many would resonate with Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) the founder of the Ford Motor Company, the father of the assembly line and of mass-production: “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history that we make today” (Chicago Tribune, 1916).

The current White House occupant, so well-known for his lies, falsehoods, and ahistorical assertions is an example of the ahistorical person gone wild. Historical ignorance, whether willful or not, distorts reality and misleads people.

Historical ignorance and ahistorcal assertions impact religious beliefs as well. That is my focus today.

As the Third Millennial Reformation continues to unfold, historical knowledge is becoming the big change agent. History clarifies, questions, and challenges.

Today I offer historical reflections about some key ecclesiastical issues: bishops as successors of the apostles, women in ministry, seven sacraments, the first pope and church structure, and sexuality and sexual abuse.

Bishops as successors of the apostles: I remember a friendly chat with an American archbishop. He attended one of my lectures in which I stressed that all who are sent out to proclaim the Gospel are truly successors of the apostles. He reprimanded me (privately) and reminded me that at the Last Supper Jesus went around the group and ordained the apostles as the first bishops. I asked him, with a chuckle, if Jesus also gave each of them a pectoral cross, ornate episcopal ring, and a pointed-hat miter. He was not amused.

Early Christian history is quite clear. Jesus did not ordain anyone. There were male and female disciples of Jesus and male and female apostles. An apostle is one sent out to proclaim the Gospel.

Women in ministry: Pope Francis, and his papal predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have been emphatic: “women cannot be ordained as priests.” With all due respect, popes too need remedial and ongoing education. History in fact says judgments against women’s ordination are wrong and based on a mistaken view of history. In the early church, heads of households presided at Eucharist. We know that women as well were heads of households. We know that several women were key leaders in the early church. Fortunately today we have women historians and women scripture scholars who help us see beyond male prejudices and narrow stereotypes. And, most importantly today we have a growing number of ordained women! To assert today that women cannot be ordained is like standing in a departure hall at O’Hare Airport and saying “women can never fly.” I recommend two books about women in ministry: Crispina and Her Sisters, Women and Authority in early Christianity by

Christine Schenk, and The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West by Gary Macy.

Seven sacraments: After the sixteenth century Reformation, the Council of Trent (held between 1545 and 1563) proclaimed that the historical Jesus instituted seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, eucharist, confession, marriage, holy orders, and extreme unction (anointing of the sick). Historically there is no foundation for this dogmatic assertion. As Joseph Martos points out in his excellent book, Deconstructing Sacramental Theology and Reconstructing Catholic Ritual, the New Testament makes reference to rituals such as baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the laying on of hands, but it never calls them sacraments. The scriptures also talk about forgiveness, about healing, and about ministry, but they speak only indirectly about rituals that may have been connected with them. Sacramental rituals were created by the Christian community, not as something one received but rather as ritual moments in the Christian life and ministry. History tells us we can and we should be freely creative in our ritual celebrations of Christ’s presence in the community. It also tells Catholics to be a bit more understanding of “Protestant sacraments.”

The first pope and church structure: I have touched on this in some detail in previous posts. History is quite clear about Peter the Apostle. He was never a bishop of Rome. It is only with a highly symbolic theological imagination that he can be described as “the first pope.” Church structure? Imperial Rome has had a great and long-lasting impact on the Roman Catholic Church. One of my friends yells at at me (an email yell) that “the church is not a democracy!” when I criticize the power-hungry and self-serving behavior of institutional church leaders. Ok. I agree. Nevertheless, it should not be an imperial and monarchical authoritarian organization either but a fellowship of believers in which compassion, collaboration, and shared decision-making prevail. There are still too many holdovers from ancient Rome in contemporary Catholic structures and behavior.

Sexuality and sexual abuse: Here history haunts us. Sexual abuse of children, young people and adult men and women has a long history. Priests and bishops have been perpetrators. Priests and bishops have known this history for a very long time and have closed their eyes, covered their ears, and closed their mouths about it. This history now haunts us and will continue to push people away from the institution. A big part of the Third Millennial Reformation has to be an enhanced understanding of human sexuality and a healthy living-out of human sexuality. There is indeed a problem with mandatory celibacy and a still unhealthy approach to sexuality within the church. Church language and teaching about sexuality has to be examined and changed. Too many innocent people have suffered because of the failure of those in authority to face up to this haunting historical issue.

Well my friends this is enough for today.

When history says: this is what happened in the past, it also asks the key question: what should be happening today?

Jack

Whose Religion and Whose Values


February 1, 2019

A brief reflection while thinking about family and friends under the polar vortex that grips the Midwest in a deep and dangerous freeze……

A few days ago one of my friends, during an adult discussion group, suggested that Muslims, as a growing religious group, are subverting and taking over the United States. I was dumbfounded by his remark and surprised that a few people in the group shook their heads in agreement. So to get some healthy data for my discussion group, I decided to check, via the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life, what is really happening religiously in the United States. There is much phony information floating around these days…..and too many people ready to believe it.

First some basic statistics and then some research observations about contemporary American (USA) values.

Statistics about USA Christians: 70.6% of the US adult population claims to be Christian. Members of the largest Christian group are Evangelical Protestants (25.4%). The second largest group are Catholics (20.8%) followed by Mainline Protestants (14.7%).

When it comes to USA non-Christians, 1.9% are Jewish, 0.9% Muslim, 0.7% Buddhist and 0.7% Hindu.

The largest, and fastest growing, non-Christian group are the Unaffiliated (the “nones”) with 22.8%.

When it comes to political ideology, 36% of adult Americans are conservative, 33% moderate, and 24% liberal. Looking at major religious groups again, 55% of Evangelical Protestants are conservative, 37% of Catholics and 37% of Mainline Protestants. Only 18% of the Unaffiliated are conservative.

When it comes to big values questions, 53% of adult Americans favor the legalization of abortion, 62% think homosexuality should be accepted, 53% favor same-sex marriage; and 57% believe the country needs stricter environmental laws and regulations.

When it comes to a belief in absolute standards for right and wrong, 64% of the adult population hold that there are no clear standards and that right or wrong depends upon the situation, with 45% saying one should just use “common sense.”

As a country the USA is a fascinating mix of religious and moral values. Perhaps it always has been. In any event, what does this mean for the 2020 presidential election? We have to ask, as well, how the US religious and moral perspective will change once the millennials and post-millennials makeup most of the American adult population? Perhaps a galactic change? (See my earlier posts about millennials and post-millennials.) Nearly half of the post-millennial group belongs to a racial or ethnic minority. The clock is ticking for white Christian American.

Regardless, Muslims are not about to take over the United States……and Americans have more important things to worry about. At the very top of that list is an unprecedented socio-cultural polarization, which fears change, glorifies ignorance, promotes fear and hatred, and galvanizes hostility: and the unthinkable becomes acceptable. Somehow we seem to have lost touch what I would call the genius of the American civic and political experience: how people with great differences and coming from a variety of backgrounds could effectively collaborate in the shared pursuit of life, liberty, and human happiness.

Yes America is going through a harsh winter; but there will be a new spring again…..

– Jack

Ministry and Power


January 25, 2019

On January 3, 2019, the Boston Globe published an article by the Catholic journalist and historian, Gary Wills: “Celibacy isn’t the cause of the church sex-abuse crisis; the priesthood is.” Writing about clerical sexual abuse he noted “The church response has consistently been to doubt, dismiss, or minimize reported acts of abuse. “ He asks as well “How, we have to wonder, can men dedicated to the Gospel allow or abet such a response?”

I am not commenting about celibacy or clerical sexual abuse this week end but about ministry and power.

Wills correctly pointed out, I believe, that sexual abuse is about power over people. We know today that it has existed for a long time because institutional leaders wanted to preserve and protect their institution and their own institutional power.

For Wills, however, the problem comes down to “priesthood” which he sees as “an affront to the Gospel,” because priesthood is historically about power over people. I would like to quote from Gary Wills’ article and then offer my own reflections about ministry and power.

Wills: “There are no priests in the Gospels, except the Jewish priests, some of whom plotted against Jesus. Jesus is only called a priest in the late and suspect anonymous Letter to the Hebrews, where he is made a priest in the line of a mythical non-Jew, Melchisidek – and even there he is the sole and final priest. Peter and Paul never call themselves or any other Christian a priest. Outside the Letter to the Hebrews, the only New Testament titles for service to the community are episkopos (overseer), presbyter (elder), apostolos (emissary), and diakonos (servant), never priest (hiereus).

None of these offices gave any of them a pivotal role in what would later become the seven sacraments. Baptism was, from the outset, the entry ritual for the Christian community, but it could not originally be administered by priests, who did not yet exist.

As the priesthood was gradually developed in the Middle Ages, it tended to subordinate all Christian activity to priestly superintendence – from childhood (baptism), to adolescence (confirmation), to mid-life (matrimony, sacred orders), to devotions (eucharist, penance), to the end of life (last rites). No wonder church leaders would try desperately to protect this imperial rule over the whole of Catholic life, trying to mute or erase any demeaning revelations of priestly predation.”

I resonate with Gary Wills in his biblical and historical analysis. For some Catholics, however, it becomes a very sensitive point, because they still understand “priests” as superior to Protestant “ministers.” Nevertheless, there were no Christian priests in the early church and the historical Jesus did not ordain anyone. Christ is present when we gather for community worship not because we have a priest but because of the assurance we read in the Gospels: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

As the Catholic Church now moves into the necessary and inescapable third millennial reformation, I hope the words “priest” and “priesthood” will gradually fade away. For a renewed vision of church, we need to change our vocabulary, because old words often come with their own particular baggage. The baggage of “priesthood” is institutional power, patriarchy, and clericalism. Yes of course I know many very fine and wonderful “priests” (and came close to being one myself). The key issue here, however, is ministry.

I prefer to speak about “ministry” and “ordained ministry.” (The only place where I still use the word “priest” is when writing about “women priests,” because I see that as a way of affirming that these Catholic women are indeed bonafide Catholic ordained ministers. The day will come, however, when we can drop the term “women priests” and recognize, acknowledge, and support women and men who are ordained ministers: married, single, gay, and straight.

Ministry is about service. It is not about power. Matthew 20 reminds us that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve…. Ordained ministers are called and appointed to be reliable Christian guides. They help us understand and live in the Spirit of Christ. Their ministerial words and actions are expressions of service: inviting conversion and building community, promoting acceptance and belonging, bringing healing and strengthening, and offering forgiveness and reconciliation.

Ministry is not about power over people. Institutional church leaders are not here to be served. They are called to serve and promote unity and collaboration. As brothers and sisters in the community of faith, we must also call them to that as well….

– Jack

All you need is………


January 18, 2019

There is so much big news exploding around us, that I offer a very brief but pointed reflection this week end……….

As it concluded its meeting in Cyprus, on 16 January, the World Council of Churches (WCC) Planning committee released a report about the 11th WCC Assembly, to be held in Karlsruhe, Germany in 2021. The theme will be: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”

In its report, the planning committee described the 11th Assembly as “a place of listening to each other, building trusted relationships, discerning together the way forward, encouraging each other to work together for change, and celebrating Christ’s gift of love.

Timely to say the least. We don’t have to wait until 2021!

The gospels make it very clear that Jesus was not focused on himself. He focused his attention on others.

The word “love” is used a lot. So often that we miss the power of what it means. We forget that it is really what we are about.

My friend, Joseph Martos, observes in his excellent little book Honest Rituals, Honest Sacraments:

The Greek word, agápē, is usually translated as “love” in the New Testament, but it really means care or caring. When Jesus tells his followers to love one another (John 13: 34–35), he is telling them to care about each other and to take care of one another. Even when he tells them to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 44), he is not telling them to like the people who don’t like them. Rather, he is telling his followers to care about people who don’t care about them, and to take care of them if they are in need, for doing that is the best way to get them to change hateful and suspicious attitudes.”

All you need is agápé. All we need is agápé.

Already in the second century, the early Christian author, Tertullian, observed that Christian love (agápé) attracted much pagan notice: “What marks us in the eyes of our enemies,” he wrote is our loving kindness. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another.’ ”

May we all find ways of listening to each other, building trusted relationships, discerning together the way forward, encouraging each other to work together for change, and celebrating Christ’s gift of love.

Jack

Looking Ahead: Change on the Horizon


January 11, 2019

For almost forty years, my major area of research has been religion and values in American (USA) society. My brain still works and my vision is clear. I try to keep up to date with professional literature and I do on-site research each year. About religion and contemporary society today I am a realist. About tomorrow I see big socio-cultural changes on the horizon and I am guardedly optimistic.

Perhaps it is my age – old men dreaming dreams – but my special interest and focus these days is more and more on the young people who are creating tomorrow.

I have written about Millennials before and have no desire to repeat that here per se. Some people are rather negative about Millennials. I am not. I find the stereotypes of Millennials as entitled, self-centered, and shallow as great distortions and misrepresentations of an entire generation of young people. All major studies about Millennials reinforce a more positive viewpoint, as does my own regular interaction with Millennials at my university.

In 2019, Millennials are expected to overtake Baby-Boomers in our US population, as Millennial numbers swell to 73 million and Boomers decline to 72 million.

Most demographers and researchers see the start of the Millennial generation in the mid-to-late 1970s until around 1996. For the Boomer generation, researchers use starting birth years from the early-to mid-1940s and ending birth years ranging from 1960 to 1964. Baby Boomers peaked at 78.8 million in 1999.

Baby-Boomers will be mostly gone in fifteen years. By midcentury, the Boomer population is projected to dwindle to 16.6 million. A very significant shift.

In their social and political views, Millennials are clearly more accepting, than older Americans, of homosexuality and more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life. Millennials are also the world’s most connected generation. Some 80 percent sleep with their cell phones next to their beds. Some three-quarters have profiles on social networking sites. Millennials are also more climate change and social justice oriented than Boomers.

A Public Religion Research Institute study also found that Millennials are considerably more racially and ethnically diverse than the general population, with less than 6 in 10 self-identifying as white. Thoughts about white Christian America? When it comes to religion, Millennials are the least overtly religious American generation in modern times and have mixed feelings about contemporary institutional Christianity.

Millennials of course are just part of the contemporary big change story. And no, I am not thinking right now about Donald Trump and his big wall changes nor about Pope Francis and his major institutional sex abuse problems. Those issues are big but something much bigger is happening with major implications for political and religious life. The post-Millennials have arrived…..

Already, we see a new post-Millennial generation of (USA) Americans taking shape and moving towards adulthood. I am very interested in their attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyle. More than the Millennials, I believe they will change the demographic fabric and socio-cultural make-up of the United States.

A new Pew Research study finds that the “post-Millennial” generation is already the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in US history. Only a bare majority of 6- to 21-year-olds (52%) are non-Hispanic whites. Most are still pursuing their K-12 education; but the oldest post-Millennials are enrolling in college at a significantly higher rate than Millennials did at a comparable age. This is greatly due to the fact that the parents of post-Millennials are more well educated than the parents of Millennials and those of previous generations. More than four-in-ten post-Millennials (43%) are living with at least one parent who has a bachelor’s degree or more education. Interestingly, the high school dropout rate for the oldest post-Millennials (ages 18 to 20 in 2017) is significantly lower than that of similarly aged Millennials in 2002.

The changing patterns in educational attainment among post-Millennials are driven in part by the shifting origins of young Hispanics. Post-Millennial Hispanics are less likely than Millennial Hispanics to be immigrants. Contrary to what Mr. Trump asserts, the post-Millennial generation is being shaped by changing immigration patterns. Immigration flows into the USA peaked in 2005, when the leading edge of the post-Millennial generation was age 8 or younger. As a result, the post-Millennial generation has fewer foreign-born youth among its ranks than the Millennial generation did in 2002.

Some other demographics:

Post-Millennials are more metropolitan and more racially and ethnically diverse. One-in-four post-Millennials is Hispanic. A bare majority (52%) of post-Millennials are non-Hispanic white. The share of post-Millennials who are black (14%) is nearly identical to the share of Millennials who were black at a comparable age (15%). Black representation among the nation’s youth has changed little since the early Boomers in 1968.

Asians account for 6% of the post-Millennial generation, up slightly from the 4% of Millennials in 2002 who were Asian. The remaining 4% of post-Millennials are non-Hispanics of another racial identity, mainly youth of two or more races.

Already a majority of post-Millennials are nonwhite in urban areas and in the USA Western states.

While it’s still much too early to draw conclusions, initial signs suggest that post-Millennials are on track to become the most well-educated USA generation yet. Black post-Millennials are also outpacing the previous generations of black youth in terms of college enrollment. Post-Millennial women are also showing major strides in college enrollment. In 2017, 64% of women ages 18 to 20 who were no longer in high school were enrolled in college. That’s up from 57% of Millennials.

More than any other generation before them, post-Millennials do not stress a religious identity. They may be drawn to things “spiritual,” but they have a different starting point from previous generations, many of whom, “back then,” received a basic education in the Bible and Christianity.

Post-Millennials tend to see organized religion and the Bible as working against generally accepted anthropological understandings. Here issues of evolution and human sexuality stand out. They have far more flexible views about sexual preference and gender identity. They are far more likely to reject societal conventions when it comes to ideas of masculinity and femininity, which they see as evolving and changing. For them LGBT issues are simply facts of human life..

My concluding observations: The post-Millennial influence on our culture, values, and political system will be driven by who the post-Millennials are and who they are becoming —- more educated, and more racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse. They really are – even more so than the Millennials — a transitional generation sitting between what America was and what it will become.

Post-Millennials may not solve all of the country’s ongoing challenges when it comes to climate change, poverty, and health care, or to discrimination whether it’s based on gender, race or religion; but they may very well take us one big step closer. Yes I am guardedly optimistic.

Jack

The Future in Our Hands


Epiphany 2019

For better or for worse, 2018 is history. We cannot change history. We can, however, learn from history and shape the future…..

Reviewing 2018 events, I have been struck again by how some news-making Christian leaders have not empowered people but exercised their power OVER people: Roman Catholic ordained ministers, who support women’s ordination, have been quickly removed from their ministry. Highly qualified and respected gay people, after announcing they are getting married, have been fired from teaching or parish ministry positions. Theologians offering new insights and or critical observations about institutional leadership have been sidelined or fired. And of course continued sexual abuse of children, men, and women. Yes there is a very warped RC institutional understanding of human sexuality; but the key issue here is power. In a vertical power pyramid, the guys on top take advantage of those beneath them. The most recent revelations, hitting the news this week, are about a decades-long sexual abuse of nuns in India by RC ordained ministers, while their bishops looked the other way. In the ecclesiastical pyramid the old boys club remains very powerful. The patriarchal pyramid.

Nevertheless, POWER OVER PEOPLE is not a Christian virtue; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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As we begin 2019, I have four short reflections about Christianity and power: (1) a bit of history, explaining how Christian leaders became power bosses; then (2) two Gospel readings about Jesus empowering people; (3) some contemporary observations; and (4) a bit of self-defense.

(1) Historical Reflection:

In the fourth century, Christianity emerged as an accepted and welcomed part of the Roman Empire. Ironic to say the least. As the Christian religion, with strong Roman Empire support, developed a more defined institutional structure, a major paradigm shift was underway. Sometimes people and institutional leaders neither see nor understand the long-term implications of what they are getting into…….

In the autumn of 312 CE, Constantine and his soldiers, according to the old legend, had a profound military-religious experience, encouraging them to fight under the sign of Christ. Fighting under the insignia of Christ, at the Battle of the Tiber’s Milvian Bridge, Constantine’s troops defeated his major rivals, especially fellow emperor Maxentius, whose head was triumphantly carried through the streets of Rome. Constantine became the single Roman Emperor. He converted to Christianity (but was not baptized until shortly before his death in 337). Historians wonder if he really became a Christian or very pragmatically used the growing Christian religion to tie together his unsteady empire……

Constantine was certainly pragmatic and hoped to unify the Roman Empire by promoting just one religion for all. In 313 he issued the Edict of Milan, making Christianity one of the legally recognized religions in the Roman Empire. Then, in 325, he convened a council of all Christian bishops in Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey). They formulated the Nicene Creed – still used today — and demanded that all Christians accept it. For Constantine it was another step in unifying his empire. Although Constantine died in 337, forty-three years after his death his dream was realized with the 380 CE Edict of Thessalonica, which declared Nicene Christianity to be the ONLY legitimate religion for the Roman Empire. Church and state were becoming one. Church leaders became imperial leaders in power, influence, courtly attire, and imperial protocol. The bishops of Rome gloried in it.

Curiously, the Nicene Creed of 325 said nothing about what Jesus had taught, beyond the idea that God is a Father. It said nothing about loving one another, about compassion, or forgiveness, or helping the poor and needy, or renouncing violence, or building bridges with one’s enemies.

Thanks to Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, institutional Christianity shifted its identity focus from correct Christian conduct to doctrinal fidelity and institutional obedience. It was indeed a major shift.

(2) Gospel Reflections:

We begin with Luke chapter 7:19-23: “And John, calling two of his disciples, sent them to Jesus, saying ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ And that very hour Jesus cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits. To the blind he gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news preached to them.’”

Jesus did not OVERPOWER people. Jesus EMPOWERED people.

Jesus taught by example not dogmatic decree. See Luke 10:25-37: “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ “

(3) Contemporary Observations:

If fidelity to Christian doctrine is the sign of an authentic Christian, rather than correct Christian conduct, some very strangely behaving people carry the label “Christian.” They can say “I believe” and continue oppressing the poor, denigrating women, mishandling immigrant children, and destroying the environment. When Christian leaders ignore the ethic of Jesus, they become strange proclaimers of the Gospel. Right now I am thinking about those USA evangelical pastors who see Donald J. Trump ushering in the second coming of Christ. They proclaim as well that opposing DJT policies is satanic.

We need Christian leaders but not self-protective and ignorant power bosses. The church is a community of faith. The church is the People of God. The church is a life-giving community of men and women with active concern and lived-out conviction.

(4) Offering critical reflections is hardly anti-Christian

Despite what some occasionally suggest, I am neither anti-Christian nor anti-Catholic. Church criticism, indeed, must be constructive; and it should be characterized by objectivity, informed understanding, open conversation, and constructive dialogue.

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Throughout the coming year I hope we can better appreciate the full picture of what it means to be a Christian. I hope we can become better informed, more collaborative in our decision-making, and more courageous in our critical words and constructive actions.

Warmest regards and every good wish for 2019.

Jack

Our Journey


December 21, 2018

My very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!

In keeping with my ANOTHER VOICE tradition, this week’s reflection is The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot.

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

ANOTHER VOICE will return after Epiphany. Right now, however, I would like to thank all who have travelled with me this past year. I greatly appreciate your supportive comments and observations. Particular thanks to those who were able to contribute to my ANOTHER VOICE fund.

Jack

Leadership in Dark Days


The third weekend in Advent 2018

Without being overly political or overly anti-clerical, I would say we have major leadership problems in church and state: dishonest and disingenuous politicians, claiming to be virtuous; and religions leaders, claiming to be good Christians, but concealing and lying about their sexual abuse of children, men, and women…..Clerical sexual abuse by the way is not just a Catholic problem…….We are in the dark days before Christmas and we need light and enlightenment.

Leadership? Leadership is all about getting people to work together to make good things happen that might not otherwise occur or to prevent bad things from happening that would ordinarily take place.

Doing some pre-holidays cleaning, I found a forgotten book: Daniel Goleman’s Primal Leadership. For me this was real Advent serendipity……

Goleman co-directs the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University.

In his book Primal Leadership, Goleman describes six different styles of leadership. The most effective leaders can be helped to move among these styles, adopting the one that best meets the needs of the moment. Leaders need support but also ongoing and constructive criticism.

(1) Visionary Leadership: This style is most appropriate when an organization needs a new direction. The goal is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, and even take calculated risks.

(2) Coaching Leadership: This one-on-one style focuses on developing leaders, showing them how to improve their performance, and helping them connect their goals to the goals of the organization. Regular performance appraisals are a great aid here….good for teachers, pastors, and bishops.

(3) Affiliative Leadership: This style emphasizes the importance of team work, and creates harmony in a group by connecting people to each other. The authority structure here is not the vertical pyramid (as in ancient Rome) but the horizontal circle of colleagues with shared leadership and shared decision-making. Goleman argues that this approach is particularly valuable “when trying to heighten team harmony, increase morale, improve communication or repair broken trust in an organization.”

(4) Democratic Leadership: This style draws on people’s knowledge and skills, and creates a group commitment to the resulting goals. This works best when the direction the organization should take is unclear, and the leader needs to tap the collective wisdom of the group.

(5) Pacesetting Leadership: In this style, the leader sets high standards for performance. He or she is “obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone.” Goleman warns, however, that this style should be used sparingly, because it can undercut morale and make people feel as if they are failing.

(6) Commanding Leadership: This is the classic model of “military” style leadership – probably the most often used, but most often the least effective. We see this in today’s church of course. Since it rarely involves praise and frequently employs criticism, it undercuts morale and job satisfaction. Goleman argues it is only effective in a crisis, when an urgent turnaround is needed.

Now we move closer to Christmas; but there is good material here for New Year’s resolutions. ☺️

May we better observe, better judge, and better act!

Jack

PS And: May we all be the kind of leaders we wish we had!

Wisdom Women


December 8, 2018

Last week I offered some reflections about the Infancy Narratives……recalling the birth of Jesus as reported in Matthew and Luke.

As we begin this second week of Advent 2018, my thoughts are more contemporary but prompted by the wisdom women in Luke: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth. They are the ones who see and comprehend what is really happening. In the Hebrew Scriptures, by the way, Wisdom is feminine….

We have wisdom women today but, in the church, we have not been such good listeners. An editorial in the National Catholic Reporter (December 4) says it strong and clearly: “This season of expectation, of wonder at the possibility of God with and among us, is a perfect time to sink into that authentic tradition and to contemplate where we’ve gone off track. How did we get to this point of aberration where the clergy culture itself has become the church’s greatest scandal, and our identity as a people of God could be so crimped and co-opted by religious ideologues?”

We have ignored the wisdom women and have allowed the old boys club to shape and control our religious and secular culture. Patriarchy is not a virtue. Frankly I was disappointed when Pope Francis announced last week that archbishops must discipline wayward bishops. Once again the patriarchal pyramid was reconfirmed.

The entire Gospel According to Luke downplays patriarchy and points to women as the beaters of God’s wisdom and truth. The high standing of women in Luke’s Gospel is evident from the beginning with Mary and Elizabeth playing enormously important roles in the history of salvation.

Re-reading Luke, it is also evident that there is concern for widows. They are specifically mentioned (Luke 2:37; 4:25-26; 7:12; 18:3; 20:47; 21:2). Mark 15:41 and Matt 27:55 inform us that women accompanied Jesus during his ministry, but only Luke mentions that the women cared for Jesus out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). Martha and Mary received Jesus into their home and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, the position of a disciple (Luke 10:38-42). And of course at the end of Luke, the angel reminds the women (no men there) at the empty tomb that Jesus had said he would rise from the dead on the third day.

And then we read: “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them told this to the apostles.” And, following this announcement, we read (surprised?) “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Peter has to confirm that what the women said was true….Creeping paternalism?

So my friends, who are the wisdom women in our lives? In our families, among friends, among colleagues? How can we support and encourage them so that more people not only hear them but really listen to them?

I strongly recommend a book by theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson: She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.

And may the Holy Spirit sustain all of us with her wisdom!

Jack

This is my final reminder in case there are still some people who would like to contribute to the Another Voice project. People can contribute in any of the following ways:

(1) A USA dollars check made out to John Dick and sent to: Dr. J.A.Dick, Geldenaaksebaan 85 A, 3001 Heverlee — Belgium

(2) Much easier: a USA dollars transfer via ZELLE and sent to: jadleuven@gmail.com

(3) Or an international bank transfer in Euros sent to my Belgian account: BNP Paribas Fortis Bank NV, Warandeberg 3, 1000 Brussels — Account of John A. Dick, SWIFT CODE: GEBABEBB, IBAN: BE83 2300 3923 6015

If you have any questions: jadleuven@gmail.com