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.

1 comment:

Auntie J said...

Well said.