Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fairness, Identity, and Merit

The Supreme Court agreed recently to revisit the question of using race as a consideration for college admissions. Now I'm not familiar with all the particulars involved. I know, in the past, such Affirmative Action measures involved quota systems that created separate pools for people of different ethnic groups. I'm not convinced that works out well.

I do, however, believe that many things, race included, should be considered in college admissions, hiring, and the formation of any group. This brings up all kinds of discussions around fairness and merit, but what interests me most, is how we make value judgments.

Sure, it can be shown that some groups have a more difficult time than others, based on race or economics or physical ability (deaf students, on average, get worse grades, no matter how smart they are). But I'm not sure many people who fall into those groups appreciated getting an advantage based on their inclusion in the group. Like everyone else, they'd prefer to be considered as individuals.

I'm not talking about giving preferential treatment to groups of people or even to individuals based on their membership in such a group. I'm saying that we should be free to consider all aspects of an applicants individual identity - not just the ones they can control.

As a society, we shy away from judging people by any measure over which they have no control, like race or gender. We've deemed it more "fair" this way. Certainly it provides a safeguard from our biases coming into play. There's value in this approach.

Still, I'm not sure it's the right one.

Let's look at athletics as an example. Athletes still need to meet qualifications for admission, no matter how good they are at badminton or fencing. The argument being that winning teams improves the atmosphere on campus and thus the learning environment. Many schools have also found that top athletes bring unique perspectives to academic study and have lots to contribute in the way of work ethic, determination, and discipline.

True, some schools do lessen requirements for admission for athletes, but for the most part, schools hold athletes to the same entrance requirements as everyone else. They simply consider athletic ability as part of the individual consideration of each student. If the kid can do the work and the coach wants them, why not let them in?

There's no real difference in including race or gender as part of these consideration once a pool of capable applicants has been achieved. Many schools have more applicants than they do positions available in the freshman class. Once they've figured out which students can handle the rigors of the school's brand of academic, they must do the difficult task of choosing between qualified and capable candidates.

At some point, a college has to choose from a pool of applicants whose academic records are all pretty much identical. There are a lot of ways to make decisions - from a straight merit-based approach (a 1230 SAT beats a 1220) to extra curricular activities, family connections to the school, even wealth. Even a good essay, something that shows unique life experience, will often tip the balance. This is precisely why some parents pay big bucks for an application consultant to get everything just right.

In the end, a school or an employer is looking for the best applicant to add to the overall quality of the school or organization. That doesn't always mean the best person as judged by objective criteria. Sports teams prove time and again that winning takes more than just compiling the best talent.

So, yes, it'es easier for women to get into math and engineering schools. Less women apply and in the interest of diversity, a higher percentage get in. The school has determined that a better mix of gender is important to the learning environment. A lot of small liberal arts schools have a tough time attracting male students. It's not unheard of for a college to add a football program just to boost the number of male applicants in the pool and improve ratios.

Why would a college not want to have a mix of ethnic, cultural, physical, and economic groups on campus. We learn more if we're in class with many different perspectives. It improves creativity, analytical ability, and cultural awareness. Spending time with people who view time differently than I was taught in my white, middle-class, world has vastly expanded my view of the world. Learning with people who have experienced the negative effects of the capitalism and Christianity that have so benefited me, has helped me to be more critical of the world around me, ask better questions, and be more creative.

I'm not saying that every school or employer should have to consider factors over which applicants have no control. I don't there's a right way and wrong way to do things. I do think one is better than another and that every decision-maker should have the ability to make that determination for themselves and their institution, even if they disagree with me (or it costs me a job).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Beyond the Gateway Conversation

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments over gay marriage issues, the topic has come up in a lot of conversations lately. Being an evangelical minister, there's an added layer of theological questions that come with such conversations.

Most of the time these conversations leave me unbelievably frustrated - not that people aren't sincere about their beliefs or even that they're not being kind (most people have been exceedingly kind of late, a welcome change) - but because they always focus on what "should" be the definition of marriage, either legally or doctrinally.

Of course those decisions do have to be made, but I've never had a conversation with any Senator or Supreme Court Judge on the matter, quite frankly none of the people I talk to have any real say in how those things are defined. What most people do have power over is the way they define and participate in their own relationships.

I'd love to just publicly admit that we're not going to agree on who should be married (if you've never been to a wedding that you thought was a mistake, more power to you), and move on to conversations about how marriages should work.

I understand that the position of some will be, "marriages should work the way that works best for the couple." That is a fine position to take - although it's awfully individualistic for my taste. I don't think an open marriage is a healthy one, even if it "works" for the parties involved.

I'm going to draw some lines. Of course, people do still get to make up their own minds about things. I'd hope all of us can at least consider other ideas with an open mind.

The thing I'd love to discuss with couples is how dominance and submission play a role in the relationship. This is especially intriguing to me in homosexual relationships because of the stereotype that one partner must be "the man," even if both or neither are men. The same issues arise in heterosexual relationships, but that's been so ingrained in culture that we hardly notice.

Perhaps the real issue is our understanding of dominance as a masculine trait. That's been the course of human history for, well, all of it. Men are in charge and women follow. The feminist and equal rights movements have done a lot to make this less of a given, but for the most part, they've really only made it acceptable for women to be dominant and to assume those traditionally masculine traits.

It's as if we take power as relational currency for granted. I don't think it "should" work that way. I take this position because of my faith and my understanding of scripture. I know Christianity, for a long time, reinforced this male-dominated position - but the Church was wrong.

From the beginning God designed people, human beings, specifically married couples, to be complementary powers - supporting and encouraging each other, not fighting for "hand." Paul reinforces this in the New Testament with his calls to mutual submission in marriage.

We are to love and serve each other - not control by manipulation or power. That's good advice for all our relationships, but I think it's essential to getting marriage right. The need to express, emptiness of lacking, or struggle to gain, power in relationships are responsible for a whole lot of the issues that mess things up.

I speak mostly from experience here - and while my marriage is far from perfect, one of the things I think we get right often is our ability to let the other lead in areas of strength. My wife makes decisions in some areas, I in others. I'll freely admit (and she'll freely agree) that I make them too often, but we're working on it.

The issue of dominance and submission were marriage issues long before gay marriage became an acceptable topic for public discourse. However, I'm intrigued by the way this plays out in relationship contains a non-traditional gender mix.

I'll freely admit I know little to nothing - I apologize if any of this has been insensitive or offensive - it's only because of ignorance. Yet these are the types of conversations that just don't get had. It's partly due to the personal nature involved, but also because the gateway conversation, the one about who should be in marriages, always blocks the conversation about how they actually work.

I have some general beliefs about marriage, but for the most part, I don't care much about how one "defines" marriage in terms of make-up. I do care quite a lot about individual relationships and the way they help and harm individuals and stifle or further the work of God in the world.

I believe God is at work drawing all people closer to God. I suspect the path for many (perhaps even for myself) will be uncomfortable to witness, might challenge my assumptions and beliefs. I also believe, though, that God is bigger and more capable than those challenges; they are not something to fear. I think we'd all be surprised at the things that could happen in our lives if we'd converse deeply and just stop blocking the door.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gospel Challenge Right at Home

My wife is a school teacher. She teaches seventh grade English as a matter of fact, something people continually "bless" her for when they find out. It is her calling in life. I believe that as strongly as I believe in my own. She's also very good at it.

I remember when she got her first job, how excited she would be to come home and plan for the next day. She was able to engage creatively with the curriculum and really help her students connect and learn. She was very good at getting kids to enjoy something that is, quite frankly, pretty boring.

As time has gone on, however, the "experts" have prevailed and each year it seems they're asking teachers to do more and more outside of actually teaching. They've also seen fit to take most of the creativity out of the job. I don't need to get in to all the issues here, but teaching is much more an assembly line these days that the art it was a mere six years ago.

It might help prop up those teachers who are over-matched by the job, but I see how dismal and frustrated it makes so many good teachers. I've often encouraged my wife to do something else. We can't afford a drastic change (she makes most of the money), but if things are just not fun anymore, I keep suggesting she do something else.

She won't, though. No matter how terrible it gets. She just won't. She's got a calling. She gets up at 5am every day to be present and available for students, especially those who don't have anyone else looking out for them. It's not just about the job or the teaching, it's an opportunity to make a difference. No matter how toxic the educational environment might get, she's going to be there for the students.

I,too, have a calling. Specifics aside, it's basically a calling shared by everyone who claims Jesus Christ as Lord - to love people and help make the grace and peace of Christ more evident in the world.

When compared to my wife, I'm just not sure I have the same commitment to the call on my life. I often get discouraged and give up when things go poorly. I'm not saying we should stick out every sticky situation - some things just aren't that important - but I do think the gospel is pretty important.

We live in a society - and every day I recognize how completely formed I am in this aspect of our culture - that teaches us to take the easy way out. It's not part of our history or our political speech, it's not part of our collective identity, but it is a part of our collective reality. From game shows to lotteries to reality tv - we're obsessed with getting something for nothing. Perhaps its our hyper individualism or our innate desire for hope in the midst of difficult times - but it is who we are.

It sets us up for failure. Few of us will ever be independently wealthy, which is the ultimate goal - to be in a position where we don't have to do anything we don't want to do. There has to be something more out there. Of course, as a Christian I believe there is - something much better. Except, most of the time, I sort of just expect it to happen. Christianity teach us that, too - if we just hang on long enough God will bail us out.

In the end, I suspect, God is going to have to do something. It's tough to believe we're ever going to get things right. At the same time, God left us a pretty big mission - God left us the whole mission. We are to love each other and somehow that love will transform the world.

But it's not easy.

Loving people and being involved in people's lives gets messy. Working for peace and justice is offensive to some, downright evil to others. I'm going to make people mad - which often seems counter productive. I know I don't always have the right balance between compassion and challenge; I am a bit of a weakling when it comes to resolve. But I am eternally thankful to have a true gospel example in my own home each and every day - someone who pushes me to be better and stronger and more true to the life God has called me to live.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Problem of Non-Violence

Food for thought: the Koran forbids the killing of Christians as infidels if they remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus, which includes a strict adherence to non-violence. The name given to these devout Christians? Nazarenes.

There is certainly a Jewish argument to be made for capital punishment - there's just not a Christian one. Assuming we can get past the things Jesus said (you have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you love your enemies...), we have to deal with what Jesus did.

This is where, I think, the spiritualization of salvation has some serious problems. Evangelicalism has often reduced the cross to a necessary spiritual transaction. Our souls need saving, thus Jesus has to die. He was a special case, not a normative human experience because only Jesus could do what Jesus did.

Beyond the issues of atonement at play and given the real truth of Christ's uniqueness, there's something deeper at work here.

Salvation is not purely spiritual. As crazy as many of you think I am, there's a reason it always comes back to the resurrection with me. Our faith, Christian faith, is not about going off to heaven to laze around on clouds and play soccer with Jesus. It's not about going somewhere else. It's about God coming here and making all things right.

There's something deeply physical about salvation. Buried deep within the reality of the cross is a visceral change in the make-up of all that exists. When Paul says that those who are in Christ are new creation, he is not speaking metaphorically; it is not a spiritual analogy. He means that those who are in Christ as substantively different - they are participating in a new reality. It may not be fully realized as of yet, but it has begun. The change is made, it is real.

If there is such a physical component to salvation then Christ's sacrifice on the cross is not purely a spiritual act. It is not simply a special case, it is a normative example of the way our physical self must be manifested in the world.

Christ has died. We will die. We must be willing to die.

Belief is only belief when it's backed up by action. So often Christians believe in an afterlife because it's a better alternative to the nothingness they suspect awaits them. We live in a world where science and reason dominate; it's difficult - even for those of us fully steeped in the Church - to imagine that there's some cloudy, harp-filled paradise up there waiting for us.

And so we run from death. We run with all our might because we're just not sure.

The cross presents a different path. The cross, with all of its various spiritual AND physical components, compels us to a different sort of belief, one that requires action. We must prove this belief by truly hating our own life. Hating in the sense that it is worthless to us, not because life has no value - life is indeed precious and wonderful - but because death is nothing but a blip on the radar of eternity.

It would be easy to enter this mindset and emerge with the "kill'em all and let God sort'em out" mentality. Death is just a phase, so who cares? Of course, then we also have to look at Jesus. He refused to throw himself off the temple and prove his greatness. No, this new creation operates differently. It's not about power and control or even reason and practicality. It's about loving your enemies.

I can't get my head around it. I work and try and I discipline myself in the hope I might someday do the right thing in a tough situation. But I'm still running scared. Running scared towards the cross as I am firmly committed to the idea that it's the only hope for the world - and running scared away from the cross because I can't bear the thought of facing pain and death when there's an easier way out.

This is the problem of non-violence, the problem of the cross. It's not a problem to be solved, but a problem to move in with. If you work your way through the jungle-gym of logic and come out on the other side, you've done something wrong. We are creatures of a new and redeemed world, living in the midst of a dying reality. We're not supposed to fit. It's not supposed to make sense. That's why it's called faith.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Party On, Dudes!

One of my favorite pieces of pop culture from childhood is the immortal saga of Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan - the founding members of the rock band "Wild Stallions" and (at some point in the future) saviors of civilization. You might, possibly, if you grew up in the 90's and didn't have much of a life, know them simply as "Bill and Ted."

There was a great movie, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, followed by a sequel, which is better than you remember, but certainly not epic. There was also, briefly, an animated series, which I only remember because we attempted to play "Bill and Ted" on the playground a recess in 4th grade and there's no way my parents would have let me see the movie at that age.

Anyway, these two knuckle-headed California teens are destined to produce music so transcendent future civilization is based upon it and lives in perfect peace and harmony. However, none of this would be possible if they fail history. So the future sends George Carlin back with a time-traveling phone booth to help them and save the world. (Note: don't try to parse the timeline here, you end up in an infinite loop somewhere along the line, let's just say "logic" doesn't play a huge part in the plot.) Bill and Ted then use the time machine/phone booth to kidnap various historical figures who basically give their history presentation for them.

All of this, of course, is preamble to my jumping off point: At the very end of the presentation Abraham Lincoln (not the Vampire Hunter) sums up the wisdom of human history in what turns out to be a stoner paraphrase of the Apostle Paul - "Be excellent to each other..."

For a long time I thought of it as relatively good advice, given the source. Nothing wrong with being excellent to each other and having a good time. But ultimately it fell short of a higher, Christian standard of love.

I'm less and less sure of that each day.

Now I won't go trying to argue that Bill and Ted are intentionally making some profound statement or that there was any consideration made for the deeper relational necessities of such a life philosophy; I will say that it makes a lot of sense.

On the surface it could appear that this is just another version of the 60's free love, hyper-individualistic, generic golden rule kind of mantra. Love people, man - just treat people well. (And George Carlin, the ultimate optimist, personifies this beautifully in the movie). Something we laugh at for it's ignorance or naivete. After all, loving other people isn't going to be that fun when you discover how much work it entails and how unworthy people are of that love.

We live in a society where to "be excellent" to one another really means being permissive. You do what you want, don't let me stand in the way. That might be the persona adopted by Bill and Ted, but even those morons understood it's not very excellent to let someone walk blindly (or with full vision) towards their own doom.

So if being excellent to each other means looking out for the good of others, even if they don't see things the same way, well, life isn't always going to be a party - which is precisely why we must continue to celebrate.

Being serious all the time sucks (take it from me), but it's even worse when it's the high point of your life. Life can be difficult. Things don't go your way. Try as you might to be excellent to everyone, they don't always appreciate it and they seldom return the favor. Being sure to celebrate life, all of it, anytime, anywhere, just for the heck of it, can help us to loosen up and learn to enjoy the moment now and then.

Life isn't always easy and it isn't always happy, but that's not reason to forget the beauty and joy when they come around.

Who knows, maybe being excellent to each other and enjoying life really will lead to doing something that changes the world for the better.

One can only hope.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Who's Serving Who?

A few years back I had a pretty deep discussion with a pastor trying to parse the narrow road between over-acceptance and legalism. He reported great success with the congregation when he told them he knew a lot of them drank alcohol (something our denomination generally doesn't do) and that he didn't want anyone to hide something like that from him because it was more important to have open relationships than to worry too much about alcohol.

This would be big news in our denomination - not exactly the norm - but he found it had a profound impact on the congregation. He had dozens of couples come up to him and thank him for his honesty and reveal that his words gave them the freedom to think through their habits - most of their drinking was inculturated through their extended family and had always been part of their lives. Now, they were noticing for the first time how adversely it had affected their loved ones and felt called to give it up.

This phenomenon is seen in many ways and places. I know Peter Rollins has written about the power of the prohibition. The very fact something is forbidden can give it power over us; when it is permitted, we no longer feel the need to do it.

This pastor was asking my advice, not about how this had worked in his congregation, but in how this was manifesting itself in a very particular situation among the leadership. There was a man in the congregation who had a very powerful encounter with God that had clearly and obviously transformed his life. He had become one of the spiritual giants in the congregation and many leaders wanted to nominate him for the governing board of the congregation. The only problem was that he smoked. Not that he was struggling to quit an unhealthy addiction, but that he'd "talked it over with God" and didn't feel any pull on his conscience to quit. He felt God was fine with it - the board was less fine with it. They wanted to raise up leaders who were wholistic examples.

At the time, it seemed like an easy solution. The guy is clearly and obviously a spiritual leader, his life and actions speak to it, you can let the smoking go. Perhaps it even opens an opportunity to talk to him about conforming not just to his own conscience, but the collective conscience of God's people.

As I look back on the situation now, I'm more troubled by the attitude that "God and me are ok, that's what matters," than the smoking. It certainly does matter, but it belies a problem inherent in contemporary Western Christianity that continues to beat us down and defeat us: namely individualistic faith.

The entirely of evangelicalism came out of the emphasis on a personal savior. One must encounter God in such a way that she recognizes her own sin and the goodness and grace of God and accepts Jesus as personal savior: we must understand that God loves us and wants us to be different and allow God to make us different. I've often heard it said, "if you were the only one on Earth, Jesus would still die for you."

Unfortunately we take this image of a personal savior and prioritize our own interior spiritual life over all else. It makes our faith completely about satisfying ourselves. We don't often do this intentionally, but it dovetails nicely with the culture in which we live, so it happens seamlessly and without notice. We live in a culture obsessed with self-sufficiency. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. It's all about you making a life for yourself depending on no one, no one telling me what to do.

Evangelicalism countered that with the notion that we all need Jesus. We can't succeed without Jesus, we can't have the life we want without Jesus, we have to depend on Jesus and let Jesus call the shots. For those of us steeped in the American ideal, we simply added Jesus to our individual mix. Now, instead of the lone ranger, we're roaming the range with Jesus - just the two of us. Jesus become the vehicle through which we can achieve the American dream of individual liberty.

The problem is, things really don't work that way. It leads to this hyper-individualized, consumer culture where everything must meet our unique and individual satisfaction. I love the fit, length, and cut of these jeans, but the color is just a shade off - so I'll look in this pile next to them for exactly the right ones. It spills over into our faith life as well. This congregation believes 99% of what I do, but that 1% is important, so I'll go find a better fit - or start a congregation of my own - or, who needs a congregation? Me and Jesus can make it alone.

People separate from the body of Christ over music or preaching styles, over political predilections or some rude remark overheard in the hall. People separate because they've been asked to change their behavior, maybe to quit smoking, even though they've talked to God and God is fine with it. My personal savior has okay-ed this, therefore you have no right to tell me it's wrong.

This emphasis on a personal savior has put us in the center of the world. Even those of us able to muster the humility to actually listen when God speaks (not something I do better than reluctantly), things still revolve around us.

I wonder if it wouldn't be better for us to flip the situation on its head. I am an evangelical after all, I do still think it's important for people to have personal, transformational encounters with God that result in real relationship and a changed life. But I wonder if it wouldn't be better to ditch the personal savior language.

What if we called people not to accept Jesus as a personal savior, but to accept God's invitation to be personal servants?

When we become God's personal servant, the center of the relationship shifts. We are not the one with ownership (Jesus is MY savior) - we belong to God (I am GOD'S servant). God becomes central. We're no longer obsessed with out own goals - happiness, fulfillment, peace in our lives, but we become focused on God's mission: restoring to the world it's creative purpose. We can't help but be focused elsewhere. Our own personal life becomes important only as it serves God's larger mission.

I'm pretty sure Jesus is the kind of guy who, if you were the only person on Earth, would still die for you - that's sort of the heart of the gospel. However, you're not the only person on Earth and you're not the only person for whom Jesus died. I have to recognize that I'm not God's only servant and my relationship with Jesus, though special, is not better or more intense or a higher priority than anyone else's.

It is certainly subservient to the collective wisdom of all God's servants joined together in this thing called the Church. We are God's personal servants, but so is every other person who accepts God's call. God is using each of us, in obedience, to remake and restore the world - therefore, we have to work together. We can't just up and leave at the drop of a hat or the hurt of a feeling. Not least because we're not in control of our lives - God is - but also because our life together, getting those relationships right, is the bedrock of God's plan of redemption. To some extent (and always to a greater extent than we're comfortable with), the Church is also in control of our lives.

This runs directly counter to our cultural understanding of individualism and freedom. We're giving up that freedom, so hard fought and won over the course of history, to indenture ourselves to God. This is exactly what Paul means when he talks about being slaves to Christ. We move from being slaves to sin (where we think we're free because nothing is off-limits) to being slaves of Christ (where we find true freedom, not because all options are open, but because we discover our created purpose in the world, we find the niche into which we fit perfectly).

Of course this still leaves room for us to call the shots. I can still say, "as God's personal servant, God hasn't asked me to do this," why would you ask me to do something God hasn't asked? We can still make it about individualism. This personal relationship with God, whether as your savior or as God's servant, is only part of the equation. God has other servants. God has specifically designed and designated us to work together. God often speaks to different servants in different ways about different things. If we're going to accept our role as servant of God, we also have to accept that we're not always in the center of the action. We have to learn to trust each other and especially the collective gathering of God's servants called the Church.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Well, actually the emperor, in this case, has a very nice wardrobe provided by one of Italy's finest clothiers (and snazzy red shoes to boot). Of course the red shoes are retired now along with the Pope and the Cardinals of the world's 1.2 billion (with a 'b') Catholics are about to pick a new leader.

This would be an event of world interest even if there weren't a lot of conflicts and controversies and problems boiling within the church. There are quite a few commentators asking why this event remains important - why the Roman Catholic Church itself is still considered an important force in the world when it is so clearly flawed and seemingly slow to react.

For those of us who have been pastors or religious leaders, it's quite easy to conjure up some sympathy for the Pope, whoever he may yet be. We understand viscerally the reality of leading a flawed group of people when everyone expects us to be perfect. In that sense the Church is not at all different from the rest of humanity - we're comprised of often messed-up people who try to do their best, but ultimately succumb to selfishness and greed all too easily.

Of course, we also recognize the difference - God has hope in the Church as God's instrument of love, grace, and redemption for all of creation. As off-course, disjointed, flawed, and troublesome as our flock may seem, we have to stand on the idea that we will become what God intends us to become.

Someday. Somehow.

It's pretty easy to pick nits concerning the Catholic Church, if that is what one is wont to do. I have some serious theological and practical differences with the way some things are done (not the least of which was my pause earlier to think of a gender-neutral address for the Pope only to realize one isn't necessary, even hypothetically). There are corruptions and cover-ups and stories to make your skin crawl.

Then again, sadly, the same can be said for my own denomination. We just get less press.

I imagine every organization, religious or not, has issues with the use and abuse of power. It's sort of the nature of the beast. I spent 8-10 hours last month watching the live video stream of the Wesley Conference from Northwest Nazarene University. The conference focused on leadership and perhaps the best quote of the week came in the hour I missed. Thanks to Twitter, I still received the wisdom of Dr. Ed Robinson as he said, "the only legitimate use of power is to share it."

This is ultimately the cry of the reformers. I don't believe any serious person of faith seeks to leave their community or congregation. Most often they are forced out for crying, "the Emperor has no clothes!" Martin Luther didn't want to found a denomination. Neither did Phineas F. Bresee (at least not at first). They simply had a passion for something important, which those in power were missing or neglecting.

The Emperor had no clothes.

And why are such annoying voices pushed from the fold? Because once you're on the outside looking in, there is no hope for reform. "He's not one of us; why would we listen to him?" Outsiders don't have the right status to speak wisdom; they're powerless.

That is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is so potent - there are no outsiders. All are welcome and of course, they must welcome all. It is (or should be) a community of love. It doesn't seem like this will work - too much of that lovey-dovey stuff and anything goes.

Some might say that's what's happened to the Catholic Church. There's much to admire in the diversity of opinions and practice they've managed to keep in the fold. Recent Popes have done a remarkable job welcoming all who wish to participate - perhaps so much that they've been taken advantage of?

The Catholic Church has gone through such periods before. Things have been terrible (in fact, the celibacy of priests, something people complain about today, came about as part of the resolution to one of those problem periods) on many occasions. And not just for a year or a decade; Catholic history is measured in centuries.

The one constant in each of those situations. The one element that arrested decay and turned the corner on hope, reform, was a loving leader. It was a Pope willing to be the one to proclaim "the Emperor has no clothes." The ultimate insider who could not be dismissed or rejected.

Perhaps a corollary to Dr. Ed's maxim is this: not only is the only legitimate use of power to share it, the only good person to blame is yourself.

I pray wisdom for my brothers now cloistered in the Sistine Chapel, for the Cardinals who seek God's guidance for the most visible and powerful Christian leader of the planet. They have great faith God is calling and preparing one to be Pope, I join in that faith. We are all in need of a strong, loving, humble Pope who shares power and accepts blame.

God has called us to be ministers of reconciliation, let us pray the new Pope will engage with us, in grace, faith, and hope as we go about this calling. The Emperor has no clothes, but then again, we know what to do about it.