Non Sequiturs after the Pope

Where is the treasure?

The pope has not changed Catholic teaching.

Catholics may disagree with the pope. As may non-Catholics.

I don’t know everything about the world, and I am sometimes wrong.

I admit, sometimes I’m not sure why ordination is that special, in spite of my ordination.

I’m in love with the man.

The default position for humanity is not male.

Beware Leviathan, he says, even the benevolent kind.

Queer people will shop, eat bagels, sing, dance, and party even without the church’s approval.

Nuns matter.

Church teaching is not school, therapy, or discipline. It’s data.

Why do we not value lives offered for service?

Jesus didn’t ordain anybody.

What the church says, and what happens on the ground, remain distinct.

The pope is a beautiful bride.

Everyone does pray for him. That’s power.

He is an elected, non-hereditary monarch without an army.

I’d rather the Vatican have its wealth than a banker sell it.

We need an Anglican martial monastic order.

The church is revelatory theater. I’m not always sure what it reveals.

He is a symbol. Symbols matter.

This is all performance art.

The pope is an anarchist.

Someone must refine the money of the murderous.

This is the body. That is the body. The broken body.

Feed me. That’s good.

The Italian Sandwich with a glass of Malbec is delicious.

I’m hungry.

The pope is a fool. Exactly the point. Believe.

It used to be that if you were a conservative you valued tradition.

Not if it offends capital.

It’s nice when a public figure isn’t a douchebag.

I didn’t feel like watching him from afar.

Two members of my congregation died this week, Holy Father.

No individual, catholic or not, is obligated to give up their own conscience.

That’s actually what the Catholic Church teaches.

But I am not always right, and my conscience may be misplaced.

Confession: I am a petty tyrant on some days. Admit it, you would be also.

The pope makes less money than the Donald.

If we met, we would probably begin with other topics than Planned Parenthood.

The pope moves as a person who says “consider the lilies.”

This is the truth: even the vicar of Christ stumbles as he walks up the stairs.

Matthew 6:24.

The Pope and Abortion

For the next year, the pope will permit priests to offer forgiveness to women who have had abortions during a year of jubilee.

This is not a completely radical change. Certain confessors could already offer absolution. But this does signify a different sort of approach, one Pope Francis has been known for, prioritizing the pastoral to the doctrinal. It also lifts the other crucial part of Catholicism: the virtue of staying connected.

I’m not sure how many Catholics women will take advantage of this option: as Catholics for Choice remarked, Catholic women have been making alternative arrangements for some years now. After all, in some historically catholic countries, women do get abortions.

One may believe abortion is morally repugnant but should be safe and legal. A Catholic in a secular nation state might fall into such category (as might black Jewish, philosophers in the preceding link). I think such a view, while apparently contradictory, is practical and realistic. I am not of that school, but that is where I seek some mutual understanding with more devout Catholic or others who find the procedure itself signals something, in our culture at least, is wrong.

Unlike the liberal tradition, the Catholic one does not elevate choice as the highest moral good. Instead, in its deeply communitarian ethos, it understands persons as relational. It comes to it’s anti-abortion position not as the evangelcals do, but because the fundamental moral unit is never just a single person.

It is not a view that is particularly appealing in this age.

But it explains why the church holds both views that are anti-commerce and anti-abortion. Bodies, and their lives, should not be abandoned or sold, and abortion is one choice along many others that diminishes our shared life. They note also, that being pro-choice does not make one a feminist: patriarchy itself can elevate the abortion of fetuses, especially those of girls. That said, although these are arguments can sharpen the issues, in our broken world such decisions must remain medical decisions that women make with their doctors.

The pope’s move should be understood not as a change in the church’s view toward abortion, but a clarification of a pastor’s role. In this way it seems very Anglican. The benefit is that it seeks to diminish the shame and acknowledge the reality of women who make such choices.

This instruction should not, of course, be anything new to Anglicans. Our theology already tends to arise from the pastoral, the practical, and the liturgical. We can give thanks that the Pope has decided to take a cue from the Anglican playbook.

Black Lives Matter

A white officer was shot in cold blood by a mentally ill black man in Texas. Given the context, some interpret this as an example of how #blacklivesmatter is anti-white. Charles Blow responds beautifully.

Countless amounts of ink will be poured and video shot misdirecting this outrage. I don’t have much to add. But when a policeman gets shot the might of the state will be behind him. It’s always illegal to murder someone, but when it’s a policeman, the consequences are justifiably severe.

But when a black man gets shot by the state, the presumption is guilt. So when someone says #bluelivesmatter I think, yes, we know that. All our public institutions will now be defending the legacy and family of the dead officer. As they should. They are fundamentally public servants.

But black people, however, don’t get that luxury. The default position is blame.

At its core, black lives matter asks for one simple thing: fairness. It’s not fair when any person shoots any other person and gets a free pass – even when they are policemen. And although nobody denies justified shootings – thats the implicit contract with the state, the public deserves to know when and how such shootings are justified. And police, like every other citizen in the country, must be held accountable. Nobody should be above the law – especially its enforcers.

Given the amount of video footage of cops performing poorly, it’s now even more apparent we must find ways to prevent the shooting of innocent people. This is the claim that so many white people refuse to recognize: the shooting of an unarmed innocent person is always morally repugnant, no matter what the intention of the policeman is.

I’m incredulous when I hear people implicitly defend the shooting of an innocent. Because no matter how any person interacts with a cop, when they are not threatening him, they don’t deserve to die. Just because a cop is afraid doesn’t give him the justification to kill someone else. Nobody has that right. When you choose to be a cop you must learn other criteria: for example, you are afraid, and the person has a gun.

I have not touched on racism. But it’s racism that permits this blind spot. We call it “institutional” in part because it’s not about any single racist person, but a series of practices that circumscribe black life.

A friend of mine who’s father was a cop said that what’s discouraging to him was that cops know that some of them are unfit. But instead of creating a process to correct the institution, they create a wall of silence. This disserves the police who try to do their work with integrity.

The police refuse to recognize the arms race that the #NRA has forced them into. Of course they’re afraid of the public. Because guns are everywhere. And they’ve bought into the myth that it’s impossible to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Further, if the policemen believe they are at war with the citizenry, that means there’s a serious problem with our public life. They must not be defensive, but seek to be a part of the solution, taking ownership for their mistakes.

People often say that if a criminal wants a gun, they can get a gun. But that’s not true. Making owning a gun risky drives the price up. Trying to get a gun on the black market for $150 is going to be a lot different when the penalties are higher. As the comedian Jim Jeffries jokes, the black market for a gun in Australia now is $30,000. Criminals generally don’t have that kind of money.

Unless they’re on Wall Street.


Kim Davis

I get that Jesus might save us after a dissolute lifestyle.

I even get the sentiment Jesus might not approve of homosexual desires. It’s not a sentiment I share, but I’m not the sort to get in the way of one’s personal view of who Jesus was.

But what I don’t understand is why Jesus would condemn someone who is permitting the state to offer a certificate. If you’re worried about your soul for just doing your job, then you’ve got a rotten God. This isn’t murder.

Kim Davis isn’t marrying them. Perhaps God might judge the state, or the priest / and pastor who chose to officiate the wedding, but the holder of the county clerk? Nobody is that important. And so for this reason, her logic is confused.

In the tradition, sometimes we must discern issues of conscience. And when we do we pay the consequences. In this case, perhaps Ms Davis should trust that the God she believes in will judge what is in her heart, and allow her to the task at hand. And if that is too much, perhaps she is called to a different role.

Let God make the decision she is so terrified about.

Or perhaps this isn’t about God at all, but about her own deepest fears.

Addiction and the Church

The Episcopal church has new guidelines about drinking. I admit, I’m not impressed by recovery and addiction language that infuses the debate. By and large, the church has elevated 12-step, along with the Myers-Briggs, to doctrine and I remain skeptical. To me, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection, and policing alcohol misses the problem.

I won’t go into a longer discourse about 12-step language: they work for some people, and for that they should remain in the tool box of practical solutions. But the all or nothing, shame based, approach probably inhibits other people from being more responsible and reflective about their consumption. Still, some have shown that 12-step is not the panacea it claims to be.

Addiction is complicated. There’s some evidence to show it’s not a disease or the problem of a lack of will. If anything, that first drink is one of the places where we do feel powerful.  Naltrexone can provide some help without the stigma, by inhibiting the sense of pleasure that comes, for example, from drinking. That said, the best way to deal with addiction is to help others find an alternative sense of meaning.

And this is why it’s so tragic when pastors become addicted. In those cases, I wonder, what drives them? The tragedy is not that we serve alcohol.

But when what they believed wasn’t an effective alternative.

On Ending Racism

I’m not particularly hopeful that racism, white or otherwise, can be ended. Our sin is too deep.

That said, we could stop shooting black people and stealing their money. We could create more humane institutions that didn’t lock people up, or penalize them for being poor. I’m not much for correcting thoughts or hearts or policing language, but it seems to me that a few changed policies would go a long way to ease the burdens our institutions impose upon black people.

Stop using the police to tax the poor; end the drug war; rebuild schools in those communities.

Those would be good places to start.

Discerning Leaders for the Church

One role of the priest is to strengthen their community. We do this in a variety of ways: we tell the story; offer pastoral care; we coach people through their own journey; we gather the people in praise.

But one aspect of our leadership is to identify individuals who have gifts the church needs to lead as ordained clergy.

I don’t mean finding someone who likes to do mass. Anyone ordained, who might not have any sense of physical presence, the church understands as having the authority over the mass. The mistake, however, is that the church often ordains individuals who only have a sense of self through ordination, and have little coherence outside of the role. Their sense of authority is found only in the collar, and not intrinsically. This leads to all sorts of mischief.

Too often we let individuals discern themselves and wait for people to discern the call. while sometimes this has merit, it also falls upon the ordination committee to say, “actually, no. That’s not a call. You just like to be in charge.”

The priests we need are not simply those who do the work that others do not want to do. The busiest person in church is not necessarily going to be a good pastor. Better to call those individuals who are visibly competent (rather than merely enthusiastic) leaders.

Competence, of course, is subject to interpretation. But I would suggest those who are conscientious, follow through on their assigned tasks, have a visible understanding of spirituality, a curiosity about others, a sense of self, and can relate to the challenges others face, would be good persons to consider.  Likeability, while not the only reason to call someone to the priesthood, is desireable and often underestimated as a virtue.

Certainly there’s no single characteristic to who a leader is, and few have all of them. But any member of the commission on ministry should have some sort of understanding, and reflect upon anyone entering the process – would I have this person as my priest?

Granted, we need all kinds in the clergy. But if we are to build our congregations, it falls to clergy, and reliable, resilient and faithful laity, to identify those who can effectively help the church live into the future, who can share our story, work effectively with others, and lead our communities to become stronger in the world.

A community organizer once said to me, the reason for all these individual meetings is to identify leaders. It’s not therapy. It’s not friendship. It’s finding who has the capacity to take responsibility and bring others along.