On Bishop Finn

I was sitting at church listening to a priest talk Bible tonight when I thought, I really don’t believe in clergy.  Awkward.  Especially as it is my secret retirement plan to become clergy.

Our priest is kind and thoughtful and smart, I should say, nothing against her, or any of the other clergy I love, but the whole concept.  I don’t know.

Perhaps it is common knowledge my thoughts on bishops are, Why?  And the idea that they are all knighted one after another from St. Peter is a lovely but silly idea.  I mean, spiritually, tradition passed down, sure, but who ever knew God, capital G, to be contained to ceremonies and handshakes?

And the idea of a pope is actually offensive to me.  Seeing the pope, when I was in Rome, all I could think was that people thought he was closer to God than I was, and that is offensive.

My Lutheran upbringing either formed me well, or fit me well, maybe both: we had bishops in administrative form only, in my experience anyone could hand out communion if she said the right words, and in a pinch, anyone could baptize, leading us to enjoy baptizing (some of) our cats.

(Later I turned Episcopalian so I could kneel and kiss crosses.  Basically.)

Today Bishop Finn resigned.  Finn has been a specter hanging over many of my Kansas City Catholic (and former Catholic) friends.  Any time we talked church matters, I would express my sympathy.  I have no personal outrage about his particular crimes– he enabled awful things to continue, and he was caught, and he was punished.  I heard and felt just as much sense of disrespect, that in a position of leadership he had directed and not led.  That he did not listen.  He kept his position of leadership and was unable to rebuild relationships within the church.  That’s what really gets me.

A long time ago he should have seen he was making his people weaker, not stronger.  When people aren’t listened to, it creates an incubator for infection.

I don’t believe anyone has authority on spiritual matters.  I do listen to people whose sense of these things is in harmony with my own spiritual experience.  I listen to strangers.  I listen to my life, and texts, particularly The Bible, but other works of art, too.

On the subject of clergy, then, I am an extremist sort of Protestant, I wish we would rotate who did the ceremony and who gave the speech.  But then I know a lot of people don’t want any responsibility like that, don’t feel qualified.  Maybe they should.

I just hate the sort of hierarchy that naturally follows from one person being the person up front all the time.

Again I love many people who are clergy, and becoming so, people who seem perfect for such a role, ready to be nurturers and speakers and contemplative, it is not about that, the effect on them, so much as it is the effect it seems to have on others.  As many times as clergy tell people they are not God, people want them to be.

Jesus had the same problem.

I know: now I’m really in trouble.

The leadership part of teaching weighs on me, and I’m constantly reevaluating it, what is my responsibility, what is the kids’.  What do I have to offer them.  When to step back and let them make a mess.  When to discuss and when to just say no.  Oldest child stuff, too. Problems with authority and problems being authority.

Anyway I know that listening is always where to begin.  It starts relationships, offers possibility for diagnosis, and sometimes even cure.

National Catholic Reporter on Finn’s Resignation

… in a Box.

I was disappointed to learn that the pope is not keeping God in a box at the Vatican.  Or if he is, that it was not part of the tour.

I didn’t realize it until I had been there, but my half-Catholic blood is always secretly hoping that the Catholics have a direct line to God, while I am politely relegated to the Protestant voice mail system.

After three separate attempts (feast day, papal parade, papal parade aftermath), I finally got myself inside St. Peter’s, theoretically the capital of Christianity, and I was like, This is it?

It’s similar to the way a person can secretly hope that anyone wearing a collar is God.  Even if you have clear, early experience to the contrary, of how not-God clergy are, it still burns in your belly.  Perhaps this person is God!  My priests and pastors have shown me their flaws, sometimes boldly, and I’m grateful for that.  

I should have been innoculated from disillusionment in Rome.  It’s not like I am unacquainted with the gorgeously rebellious joy of the American Catholic church, which downs its birth control pills and ducks its head just below the radar of the current, conservative leadership– both Roman and local.

God resists being put in a box, of course, which is one of the things I like most about God.  The thing that will get you a second date with a person like me is not being able to fit in a box.  And so I’ve been in a long-term, quite fractious relationship with God

I found the Vatican the most disappointing of the European treasures I’ve been so lucky to see.  When you are hoping for God-in-a-box, though, that is a setup for disappointment.  St. Peter’s is very white, and very huge, and very clean. The whiteness and hugeness, I guess, I could deal with, but the cleanliness were really not right.  The more worn and falling apart and used a church looks, the better I like it.  I don’t want to be praying someplace where nobody ever confessed to adultery, or begged for relief from a hangover on Ash Wednesday, or fought matricidal thoughts.  I need to know that very real, messy people have struggled with crazy, stupid problems.  Preferably in that exact pew.

I started attending one of the older churches in my hometown here, and was probably the only person sad to hear that they were refinishing the 100-year-old floor.  At least the pews kept their patina.

When I saw the pope waving hello, and the glamorous interior of St. Peter’s, all I could think was, this is politics.  Politics and power games, which interest me, in their own right, but don’t have anything to do with God, and quite often obscure any spiritual elements.

I still wish that God would get in a box somewhere, so I could go visit.  But then God wouldn’t be so hard to get.  And if God’s not playing hard to get, let’s face it, I probably would lose interest.