03 October 2013

Organizational mortality

Among many fertile ideas, the most powerful statement for me in Pope Francis' recent interview in the Catholic magazine America is this:
We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.
There's something perversely hopeful in this humble audacity, this warning that the "edifice" is not in a state of guaranteed impunity or immortality. Earlier in the interview, he gave a related warning about what "losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel" in favor of protecting privilege looks like:
This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.
And he hints at the kind of relationships, priorities, and ministries that go with building a "home for all" by referring to history (the Salesian missionaries who went to Patagonia), his own recent experience (his "act of generativity" in phoning the young man who sent him a letter), and the importance of the youngest churches:
The young Catholic churches, as they grow, develop a synthesis of faith, culture and life, and so it is a synthesis different from the one developed by the ancient churches. For me, the relationship between the ancient Catholic churches and the young ones is similar to the relationship between young and elderly people in a society. They build the future, the young ones with their strength and the others with their wisdom. You always run some risks, of course. The younger churches are likely to feel self-sufficient; the ancient ones are likely to want to impose on the younger churches their cultural models. But we build the future together.
The Roman Catholic Church worldwide, with its billion adherents, operates on a very different scale from us Friends. (Someone told me there are more Catholics in Philadelphia than Quakers worldwide.) This vast scale may have buffered past hierarchs from catching a whiff of mortality, but it is heartening to see that Francis, at least so far, is not hiding from reality.

I would like to see whether Friends can rise to the challenge of not hiding. We don't have the numbers; instead, we cling to various conceits to shelter us from the implications of low numbers. Those conceits amount to one or another variation of "it's quality that counts." In one sense, that's true, but that's also a door to terrible, perhaps fatal, elitism.

We do have our own "young churches" and, thanks in part to Friends World Committee for Consultation, we're more in touch with those young churches (including those where English isn't the first language) than ever before. But what's being imposed on those young churches? Too often here in Russia, the message from visiting Friends seems to be the importance of being "quakerly" rather than the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. Their definitions may be very different from the anxieties of Catholic authoritarians, but to me they seem equally short of the mark. And whatever we might think of the Catholics, we're a lot closer to organizational extinction.

Should I be anxious? If we Quakers are not at God's disposal, others will rise up (have already risen up?) to take our place, and perhaps to keep the promises of God that were once entrusted to us.

"Marilynn Robinson on Staying out of Trouble."

"Why Putin Refuses To Let the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Library Leave Moscow." (Thanks to aldaily.com.)

"Would Jesus be cool with keeping poor kids in orphanages?"

"Quakers relief and rescue in 1930s and 1940s Europe."

"Spirituality in contexts of violence."

Champion Jack Dupree is "Going to Bremen to Get On the Radio." "I love Germany," he sings, "That's the place for me." One of the stranger videos I've presented as dessert here.

1 comment:

Jay T. said...

I keep a file of notable quotes that I come across. All relate to Friends' faith. This is the second that I have quoted from a non-Friend.

It is difficult to speak of the Society. When you express too much, you run the risk of being misunderstood. The Society .... can be described only in narrative form. Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss. The style of the Society is not shaped by discussion, but by discernment, which of course presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking.
-Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 2013