Sources of progressive thought across denominations – pointers in the right direction:
Widening horizons - developing thoughts from home and across the water and not just the usual suspects
Sources of progressive thought across denominations – pointers in the right direction: examples are given below of the changing and challenging thought at home and abroad. The websites from which the extracts were taken are as follows:
A reminder of Pope Francis’ maxim that “reality is greater than theory” would have been a useful starting point for the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education’s study of sex and gender. Instead its document, Male and Female He Created Them, makes the classic mistake of arguing the other way round. The result, intended to be helpful to teachers and educationalists, is unlikely to be much use to them – except in one important respect. It asks for a respectful dialogue between those who disagree. The call has never been more necessary.
The document addresses an alleged crisis in the sexual formation of the young caused by “gender theory” or “gender ideology”. This theory proposes, the text claims, that gender is a social construct, which human beings, whatever their biological sex, are at liberty to deconstruct. The Vatican Congregation prefers to think that gender is entirely a matter of nature rather than nurture, and cites the phrase in Genesis which forms the title of the document, “Male and female he created them”, as somewhat tenuous proof that this is the unalloyed message of Scripture.
There is undoubtedly an objective reality behind sex and gender, but it is more mysterious and multifaceted than reductionist arguments allow. The denunciation of so-called “gender theory” offers little practical help or insight to parents and teachers faced with an adolescent boy or girl who insists, with profound and settled conviction, that they are “in the wrong body”. Whatever their biological sex, they are deeply unhappy with it. This unhappiness often shows itself in self-harm, depression, and even suicide.
When gender reassignment has taken place – usually a combination of psychotherapy, hormone treatment and surgery – the evidence suggests that those individuals usually grow into mature and well-balanced human beings. That is the “reality” that the “theory” has to adjust to and that the Congregation appears to ignore. Instead the authors rely on somewhat outdated and shallow arguments about the “complementarity” of the sexes, even daring to offer, in paragraph 18, a definition of femininity. “Women have a unique understanding of reality. They possess a capacity to endure adversity and to keep life going even in extreme situations, and hold on tenaciously to the future,” they confidently declare.
Gender theory, as they describe it is, however, rebutted much more effectively by the experience of transgender young people themselves. Most do not want the self-determining gender fluidity that so-called gender theory purports to offer them. They have a clear idea of the sexual identity they believe is their natural one, and which their biology has somehow contradicted. This is not a mental illness or a delusion; its technical name is dysphoria. Educationalists need to be able to recognise it.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has welcomed the document while implicitly distancing itself from it. “We recognise that there are people who do not accept their biological sex …” they said. “Through listening to them we seek to understand their experience more deeply and want to accompany them with compassion.” That is where the Vatican Education Congregation should have started from.
by Christine Schenk OpinionSpirituality
During this season of Pentecost I find myself searching for hope in the midst of horrific stories about financial corruption by a West Virginia bishop, priests who raped and sexually abused my religious sisters, and bishops from eight states in the Northeast who spent over 10 million dollars lobbying against sex abuse victims.
I am outraged to learn that Baltimore Archbishop William Lori — who was delegated by the Vatican to investigate Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael Bransfield — had accepted over $10,500 in gifts from him. In his final report to Rome, Lori decided to delete his own name as well as those of ten other influential prelates who had also accepted financial gifts from the Wheeling bishop.
Bransfield bestowed his monetary gifts over ten years while young priest assistants were simultaneously complaining (to no avail) that he was sexually harassing them.
Lori told the Washington Post that if he had included the names of high-ranking churchmen (among whom were Cardinals Donald Wuerl, Timothy Dolan and Kevin Farrell) it could suggest that there were "expectations for reciprocity" but he had found "no evidence to suggest this."
After the Washington Post story, nine of the prelates involved, including Lori, pledged to return the money to the Wheeling-Charleston diocese.
Along with the still-unfinished scandal involving defrocked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, it is difficult to ignore ever-mounting evidence that the clerical system governing the Catholic church is in a significant state of decay.
A recent Pew study found that nearly 70 percent of U.S. Catholics believe clergy sex abuse is an ongoing problem and 25 percent have scaled back both their donations and their Mass attendance over the issue. All of which is very depressing.
Yet, I can't help believing that the Holy Spirit — who loves creating something new out of chaos — is summoning us to build a new church governance — one that includes sorely needed checks and balances and involves all of the People of God. But how do we get there from here?
Well, that part isn't exactly clear. But we will get there, although I suspect it will be messy along the way. We will get there because the Holy Spirit is the renewing, vivifying principle for believers. Despair is not an option. To understand how the Spirit moves among us I reviewed biblical texts found in in my well-thumbed copy of the now-deceased Rev. John L. McKenzie's book: Dictionary of the Bible (Bruce Publishing Company 1965). These passages chronicle how our ancestors in faith experienced the work of the Spirit. I believe they shed light on the present moment.
So here are a few helpful hints from our forebears.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the Spirit is named Ruah, a grammatically feminine word that variously means, wind, breath or spirit. McKenzie tells us the spirit "is conceived as a divine dynamic entity" by which God accomplishes God's purposes. "Like the wind, neither its origin nor its course can be discovered."
The Spirit is given to judges and to others with offices in Israel (Judges 3:10) and later poured on the whole people of Israel: "I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the House of Israel" (Ezekiel 39:29).
A true sign of the Spirit found in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is that S/he confers on believers what is necessary to fulfill their mission and inspires them to deeds above and beyond what they can normally do. Samson, Gideon, David, Peter and Ananias accomplish unprecedented mighty deeds because of the Spirit (Judges 14; 1 Samuel 16:13ff; Acts 3, 4; 11:17).
In Ezekiel, the Spirit of Yahweh brings dry bones to life: "Thus says the Lord God: 'Come from the four winds, O spirit, and breathe upon these slain that they may live' … and the spirit came into them and they lived and stood on their feet, a vast multitude" (Ezekiel 37: 9-10). The Spirit is pervasive in the world: "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?" (Psalm 139:7); and Israel is saved not by its own might and power, but by the Spirit of God (Zechariah 4:6). In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus invokes Isaiah as he inaugurates his mission: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18). Through the power of the Spirit Jesus overcomes the power of evil and unveils the reign of God: "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons then the kingdom of God has come to you" (Mt 12:28). Further, he teaches that "people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven" (Matthew 12:31).
What is blasphemy against the Spirit? Simply explained it means refusing to believe in the saving power of God. It is a denial of the very principle (God's power to save) by which sin is forgiven. This is why, when it comes to reforming the Catholic Church, despair is not an option. It is tantamount to saying God is powerless to save God's own people. In John's gospel the Spirit is prominently featured as the Paraclete — the spirit of truth who dwells in believers to teach us all truth and to bear witness to Jesus: "This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you and he will be in you" (John 14: 17). This Spirit demonstrates the errors of the world and convicts the world of sin (John 16: 6-11).
Phoenix poem and graphuc copy.jpg
I submit that this same Spirit is now convicting our clerical structures — and more than a few clerics and their lay sycophants.
How can Catholics bring about desperately needed reform? I have three suggestions:
Reflect — on the experience of our forebears in the texts above and consider what resonates with your own experience of the call of the Spirit to you today.
Pray — perhaps using a prayer-poem I wrote in 2001 when news of clergy sex abuse first broke (see left).
Act—perhaps using a new resource, The Bridge Dialogues which is a joint effort of the Association of US Catholic Priests, Voice of the Faithful and FutureChurch.
Through the power of the Spirit of God our dry decaying bones will rise again.
[St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk, an NCR board member, served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. Her recent book Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity(Fortress, 2017) was awarded first place in History by the Catholic Press Association. She holds master's degrees in nursing and theology.]
Watching the evening news recently, “Ozymandias” came to mind. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetic rendering of the transiency and impotence of inflated egolatry of the kings of ancient times speaks to the would be “kings” who dominate the 24/7 news cycle of our own time. I was thinking of one in particular, but there are many around the world who qualify.
So I looked up the poem in my good old Norton Anthology, whose footnotes explained that a first century B.C. Greek historian reported that the largest statue in Egypt had the inscription: “I am Ozymandias, king of kings; if anyone wishes to know what I am and where I lie, let him surpass me in some of my exploits.” The anthology explains, “Ozymandias was Ramses II of Egypt, 13th century B.C.”
Decades ago, when I visited Egypt as part of a religious studies class, it was pointed out to us that Ramses II had his name carved deep into the stone of structures he built so that a later Pharaoh could not scratch it out, which sometimes happened. In the poem below, the anthology further explains that “the hand that mocked” refers to the sculptor’s representation and derision of his subject, and “the heart that fed” refers to the king’s heart that served as the source of such mockery.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
“Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” reminded me of the frown, wrinkled lip, and sneer of a cold and callous politician that I frequently see on the nightly news.
It also made me think of my recent reading of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, whose familiar story has been told in multiple productions: offering his soul, Dorian Gray’s portrait takes on all his sins and aging so he can remain unblemished, untouched, unmoved, and unreformed. Dorian keeps the painting covered and hidden in an unused, locked room. He occasionally checks on it, finding it uglier and more distorted with each viewing.
Dorian finally decides he needs to change his way of life and he does something he considers good and unselfish, hoping to reverse the process, but in the end,
He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning, and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. … Had it been merely vanity that made him do this one good deed? Or the desire of a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these?
Ozymandias could be said to practice the power of positive thinking, thinking of himself and his work in superlatives, but the sands of time are a great leveling field, Shelley makes clear.
Dorian Gray was above it all, privileged and pampered and proud, without good promise or purpose. Wilde’s implication is that conscience is necessary for the soul to survive. “What does it profit a person if, in gaining the whole world, loses the soul?”
At its best, faith is the overflow of gratitude, the attempt to live as if we are loved, the fragile hope for something better on the other side of pain and death. And this feather of grace weighs more in the balance than any political gain.
One of the great liberating moments of my life was when I was given the opportunity as an undergraduate at a secular liberal arts college to read, analyze, critique, and appreciate the Bible as literature. I had spent the first eighteen years of my life with this book looming over me, forced to read it in its entirety every year and to memorize significant portions of it, not as perhaps the most influential book ever assembled, but rather as the inspired and literal Word of God. Studying it as literature in college turned what had been a lifelong burden into a voyage of discovery.
I was reminded of this the other day when reading “Slander,” the final essay in Marilynne Robinson’s fine new collection of essays, What Are We Doing Here? She writes that when many years ago she applied for a faculty position at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, from which she recently retired, part of the job description was that the successful candidate would be able to teach the Bible as literature. Noting that “people always seemed surprised to hear this,” she goes on to describe why she is surprised that people are surprised, since “the Bible is so important to our literature that young writers are usually interested in it, if only because it helps them to understand earlier writers they admire.” In short order, though, she reveals one of the primary reasons why people might be surprised at a professor teaching the Bible at a secular, public university.
Many of [my students] were uncomfortable at being seen carrying a Bible on campus because the groups who have been so successful at claiming Christianity as their own exclusive province have also been successful in associating it with intolerance, guns, and hostility to science, among other things.
Robinson’s essay is the clearest and most provocative essay I have yet read about how “Christianity” has, in the imaginations of many in our country, come to mean something that is both slanderous and scandalous. A year ago in The Atlantic Monthly, Michael Gerson—the former main speech writer for George H. W. Bush and an evangelical Christian—describes this twisted version of Christianity, an unholy marriage of faith and politics, this way:
For a package of political benefits, these evangelical leaders have associated the Christian faith with racism and nativism. They have associated the Christian faith with misogyny and the mocking of the disabled. They have associated the Christian faith with lawlessness, corruption, and routine deception. They have associated the Christian faith with moral confusion about the surpassing evils of white supremacy and neo-Nazism.
No wonder Marilynne Robinson’s students are uncomfortable carrying Bibles around campus. Making it personal, no wonder I am far more inclined to call myself a “person of faith” than a “Christian.” It is well-known by now that eighty percent of white voters identifying as evangelical Christians in this country voted for Donald Trump in November of 2016; the numbers of support in this demographic have not diminished. Robinson’s and Gerson’s stories of how this happened are somewhat different, but share one fundamental observation: a primary motivator for the world view of many American Christians is fear. Gerson writes that these Christians have turned to Donald Trump for protection as a playground weakling might use his lunch money to pay for protection from the schoolyard bully. Protect my interests at all costs. Gerson writes:
The primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority.
Robinson agrees, noting that they imagine they are coerced by other people when they are in fact trapped in their own fears, and they resent those imaginary others for posing this dreadful threat. They imagine the outside world as being attended with every undesirable trait they associate with secularism, having invented most of them or learned them from the like-minded . . . The great surrender of meaningful freedom, the great cession of freedom, is the habit of fear. It seems to be assumed that any cultural or intellectual jostling that results from a diverse population together in one place must be hostile and threatening. Lord have mercy. We are normalizing cowardice.
In the liturgical calendar, we are between Ascension Day and Pentecost. We are in Acts 1, in other words. There were plenty of reasons for the disciples and other followers of Jesus to be fearful as they waited to see what would happen next, just as there was plenty of fear to be found a few weeks ago in the narratives of Holy Week. But keeping in mind the apostle John’s directive that “perfect love casts out fear,” those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus would do well to remember this week just what a faith rooted in love rather than fear looks like. Marilynne Robinson writes that Christianity is not scorned or rejected because it is the Gospel of faith, hope, and love but because this Christianity of theirs, on whatever pretext, is determined to bring bad news to the poor and the stranger, and is even self-righteous about this . . . Always, but certainly in situations when great things are at stake, it behooves Christians to think and act like Christians. This would mean practicing self-restraint, curbing our speech, remembering that our adversaries are owed the respect due to the divine image . . . In the great majority of cases, a sin is injury done to another person, other people, who, we must assume, God loves at least as much as he loves us. The loving-kindness Jesus models for us is very largely a matter of feeding and healing those in need of such care.
Accordingly, people who claim to care for the future of Christianity should listen to their critics rather than falling back on resentment and indulging the notion that they are embattled and abused by rampant secularism . . . If slander is a factor in all this, the first object of slander, the one traduced, is Jesus of Nazareth. And this is not the work of the atheists.
One way to ensure that one’s faith is not co-opted by fear is to remember that, as the New Testament narrative frequently shows, love often looks like failure—the sort of failure that we naturally seek to protect ourselves against using any means necessary. But often that protection turns what we claim to value most highly into a mockery of itself. At the heart of faith is something fragile, holy, pure, and impossible to destroy—something that thrives not when protected but when openly exposed and released. As Michael Gerson beautifully describes ,At its best, faith is the overflow of gratitude, the attempt to live as if we are loved, the fragile hope for something better on the other side of pain and death. And this feather of grace weighs more in the balance than any political gain.
- The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point. (criterion)
- We need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action. (process)
- The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same. (emphasis)
- Practical truth is more likely found at the bottom and the edges than at the top or the center of most groups, institutions, and cultures. (perspective)
- We will support true authority, the ability to “author” life in others, regardless of the group. (non-tribal)
- Life is about discovering the right questions more than having the right answers. (primacy of discernment)
- True religion leads us to an experience of our True Self and undermines my false self. (ultimate direction)
- We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. (praxis over theory)