Friday, January 31, 2014

Of butterflies and monsters -- part 2

Letter to Ms. Ann Salting continued

Clericalism is as dead as yesterday’s road kill, at least the clericalism to which we are accustomed. By clericalism, I mean an elite class who arrogate to themselves the decisions of other men’s souls. There will always be such classes, I fear, but they change. Today’s servants become masters tomorrow.

I don’t think that the sense of the diocesan priest as a member of class apart is easy to find, at least among diocesan priests. Priests are pretty much a despised class at the present. Not long ago if, after hours, you called our diocesan center here in Frostbite Falls, you heard a recorded message that gave you two numbers: one to call if you suspected your priest of hanky-panky and the other if you suspected your priest of financial skullduggery. There are swarms of lawyers, supervisors, auditors etc. milling about to make sure that nothing untoward is going on in the lives of the clergy. It’s really hard to form a cabalistic elite when you are constantly filling out forms to make sure that you are on the up and up.

Diocesan priests are certainly not a power elite these days. We are answerable to financial auditors, performance review auditors, compliance auditors, vicars, deans, agency heads, and if all else fails, to the local bishop. I am not allowed to physically touch money, except for that which is clearly my own. I am responsible to raise the stuff, but I am never in actual physical proximity to the stuff for which I must regularly beat the bushes. The money is managed by non-ordained people, for which I am grateful, but it has gotten really tough to skim anything off the top these days. 

To form an elite it necessary to gather together to make the proper political connections. Schmooze is an absolute necessity to a clerical system. I remember the good old days of clericalism especially the dinners — jumbo shrimp and an open bar. Sometime during the early 80's things shifted from jumbo shrimp and martini’s to trail mix and diet soda. I knew then that the good old days of clericalism were over. We no longer go to grand gatherings of the clergy. We go to meetings; coffee, cookies and an agenda. And if there is a dinner, one has to leave early because there is always an appointment back at the rectory. Who has time to schmooze? There is always some emergency that is more important than getting together with one’s confreres.

The acquisition of status, power and wealth is the purpose of clericalism. There is certainly not much status and not much power or wealth to acquire anymore, and who has the time to acquire it? There is too much work waiting back at the parish. I don’t want power status or wealth. I just want a good night’s sleep most of the time.

This is not to say that the mushroom of clericalism is dead. It has just begun to emerge in other dark, moist corners. In times past, one could find ambitious clergymen in diocesan bureaucracies. Now the downtown offices are full of non-ordained people some of whom are saints and servants. Priests have a very limited tenure in their assignments. These days the usual maximum for a pastoral assignment is 12 years. Then a pastor must move. It is “better’ for the priest and “better” for the parish. One would not want a priest to get stale, or to create his own little kingdom.

In times past, a pastoral assignment was expected to be for life and Father would usually be taken out of the rectory feet first, to the sorrow of some and the rejoicing of others.  Now, a pastor must submit his resignation at the age of 70. There is a swell party and then Father is shown door and wished good luck. In our diocese there is a generous pension of about a thousand a month. Ah, the power and status of the clergy! 

As I mentioned above, there is a class of people in the diocese who do not have a necessary retirement age. They are the dedicated servants of the diocesan agencies. They usually work just down the hall from the bishop and they are his close collaborators. I am sure that they will learn from the mistakes of the presbyterate and will avoid ambition and careerism. I know that they are incapable of financial or amorous wrongdoing, because they are lay people. 

The Vatican is working to achieve greater transparency and efficiency, the very opposite of clericalism, by hiring top flight professional companies to assist in its work, which companies also I’m sure are incapable of wrongdoing, because they, too, are lay people. The Vatican has tapped the consulting firm of Ernst & Young (motto: building a better working world) to provide business advice. McKinsey & Company will help manage the Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio, and Vatican Television. The Swiss accounting firm KPMG will help modernize the Vatican’s finances. This should be interesting. 

I love obscure history. Don’t you? Did you know that the first bishop elected pope, that is the bishop of Rome, was Marinus the First? He was elected pope in 882. Formerly, he had been the bishop of Caere, in effect an auxiliary bishop of Rome. This caused huge scandal. Popes were generally taken from among the deacons and sometime the presbyters of Rome. A bishop was never named pope. A bishop never transferred from one diocese to another.
A bishop wears a ring, I have been told, because he is married to his diocese. For a bishop to change diocese was tantamount to adultery, or so the first millennium of Christians believed. Marinus managed to hold on to the job of Pope for about a year and a half. 

After him they chose a saint, St. Adrian, then a priest of Rome. After him, Stephen V seems to have done a decent job for a few years, but then the church sank into a quagmire that made the Borgias look tame. The papacy became the play thing of the powerful families of Italy whose sons had already risen to high clerical office. It soon became the rule to elect a bishop and they elected some doozies. Pope Formosus (891-896) seems to have been a decent enough fellow, but got entangled in politics and then it was a free for all. Formosus was succeeded by Boniface VI who mysteriously managed to live only for about two weeks. He was succeeded by Stephen VI who was friends with the politicians that Formosus had offended, so Formosus’ corpse was dug up, put on trial, stripped of the papal vestments and thrown in the river. I am not making this up. It just gets worse. 

The Lord in His mercy eventually reformed things, but the precedent had been set. A bishop clearly had power not only in the church but in the world and the politics of Europe. The papacy were inextricably bound up with European politics until fairly recently. Considering what was at stake, we Catholics can be very proud of the fact that relatively few popes were corrupt. In our time we have had a string of amazingly holy popes. May it always be so. 

This great shift in the nature of the episcopacy meant that the bishops of Europe had a lot to do with who ruled Europe. There was power, wealth and status to be had, and there were second sons of the nobility who looked at the church as reasonable and lucrative career choice, since they could not inherit the titles that went to their older brothers. In fact, in 1462 my ancestral home town in Lower-Upper Hessia backed the wrong candidate for bishop in a shooting war between Bishop Dieter of Isenberg and Bishop of Adolf of Nassau as to who would be the Archbishop of Mainz. You see, the Archbishop of Mainz got to vote for the Emperor. Both Dieter and Adolf wanted to trade up. There are three cannonballs enshrined in the wall of our village church to commemorate the siege by Bishop Adolf. Now these things are no longer done with cannons. Meetings are the more appropriate battle field. Ah, good times! 

I write all these complaints simply to say that perhaps the presbyterate isn’t the group to worry about at the moment. There are other areas of church governance that  still come with some wealth power and status, and I hope that involving non-religious secular financial institutions in the governance of the church is a good idea. It didn’t work so well in the middle ages, but maybe things are better now. I have to go now. I have a meeting and a dinner, but I can’t stay for the dinner because I have a confirmation class and then a bible class. 

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, January 24, 2014

Of butterflies and monsters -- part 1

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
Our new pope seems to have an interesting way with words. Just the other day he said the “heart is a flea market of desires.” I suppose I know what this means, but I am more concerned by his referring to the clergy as butterfly priests and little monsters. Can you shed some light on what he means?
Ms. Ann Salting

Dear Ann,
Of course I can shed some light on the issue — or at least lay down a good smoke screen.  Personally, I think the papal candidness is an absolute hoot.  I have known a few crabby old Jesuits, and personally, I find them refreshing. Remember that, at least in my ancestry, I am a German. We have always esteemed crabbiness.
People say that the former pope was German, but we true Germans did not consider him a German. He is a Bavarian, and Bavarians are far too nice. I have known a few people who know him. They say that he is actually kind to a fault, despite what the air-heads of the press would have us believe. He really listens to you and makes you feel important.
The new pope has a more obvious form of the common touch. In his heart, he is just a parish priest. He is always taking pictures with people. I know four people who have posed with him for snapshots since his election as pope. You would be amazed at how much of a parish priest’s life is taken up by smiling for photos. He is a parish priest, and being one myself I know what wacky pieces of work we can be. We sometimes say the darndest things. And then wish that we hadn’t. Let me dig up the exact quotes.
Pope Francis seems to have said that poor formation in seminaries will create priests who are “little monsters.” He went on to say, "To avoid problems, in some houses of formation, young people grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told: 'Good, you have finished formation.' This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism which is one of the worst evils.” 
He said on another recent occasion “...What is the place of Jesus Christ in my priestly life? Is it a living relationship, from the disciple to the Master, or is it a somewhat artificial relationship... that does not come from the heart?....We are anointed by the Spirit, and when a priest is far from Jesus Christ he can lose this unction.... Those who put their strength in artificial things, in vanity, in an attitude... in a cutesy language... ‘This is a butterfly-priest,’ because they are always vain.”
Wow! He doesn’t mince words. And I think he is absolutely correct in his assessment. As you know, not many people call me a liberal. I am somewhere to the right of Torquemada on some theological and liturgical issues. My fellow reactionary curmudgeons always think the pope is aiming at them. I’m not so sure. I have met smarmy, little-monster, butterfly priests on both sides of the imagined liberal/conservative divide. I am delighted to see a young priest in a cassock. I get nervous, however when that cassock has no bulges at the knees indicating that its wearer never prays, and it has no wear at the wrists indicating that he never does much hard work. I believe that all young priests should be familiar with the Tridentine Mass. For a priest to hand down the tradition, he has to know the tradition. However, when a priest who doesn’t know a word of Latin thinks it impressive to throw some Latin into the liturgy, I am tempted to wonder, does he realize that he is supposed to be praying at Mass? If someone loves the old Mass because it is a vehicle of the mystical spirituality that is a huge part of the Tradition, I couldn’t be happier. If it is simply a delight in smells and bells and funny hats, with glitter and brocade on the side, best to let it go. To love beauty in the service of the Lord is noble. To love kitsch in the service of narcissism is, well, monstrous. I can hear all eight of the traditional uber-Catholics who read this stuff beginning to grumble. Don’t worry I am now going to lambaste the ecclesial left.
I am equally amused by the young progressives, most of whom are in their late sixties who go about wearing sandals and serapes and burlap vestments in order to express their solidarity with the poor. The poor are tired of wearing serapes and sandals. That’s why they are up here working three jobs at once. They would like to wear Brooks Brothers some day. I had to endure the Viva la Raza crowd for years in my seminary days and early priesthood. These were the priests and seminarians who had seen the movie, The Magnificent Seven one too many times. (Magnificent Seven is a movie in which a bunch of gun-toting American cowboys save a Mexican village from a blood-thirsty group of banditos. Personally I am hoping that Mexican villagers will save us Americans from our own materialism. It’s not looking good. A lot of the Mexicans turn into materialists after a few years north of the Rio Grande. Still, I have hope. At least the Mexicans still love their children more than they love their poodles.) 
As far as I am concerned a priest who cannot be devoted to the Lord, the Lowly, the Liturgy and Our Lady is, as the pope says, liable to become a little monster who demands that the faithful do and think what Father tells them to think. Believe me, the serape wearing, Viva la Raza crowd has a lot of very strict rules. I am sure you have heard that old saying, which I myself made up, “There is no one so conservative as a liberal.” Well, someone has to make up old sayings at some point, and I did make it up a few years ago. In my youth I endured the tyranny of liberalism.
There were seminarians who were tossed for being too pious. I am not making this up. If a young man went to daily Mass in the eighties and said the rosary, he was suspect. You toed the line if you wanted to be a priest. It was not much better after ordination. I remember being at a meeting of the Hispanic Priests Fellowship of the Diocese of Frostbite Falls sometime during the seventies. These were priests who were devoted to wearing serapes and living in solidarity with their poor Hispanic rectory housekeepers and janitors. The level of group think was amazing. I looked around at those in attendance at the meeting and realized that there was not one person of the twenty or so in the room who actually spoke Spanish as a first language or who even had a single Hispanic chromosome in their bodies. I said, in humor, so I thought, “Perhaps we should call ourselves the Irish Priest Fellowship.”  Chairman Ron Deadly, president, guru and bellwether of the group turned pale and said, “No, Never, Not Ever. No, No, No!!!”  Here we see a striking trait that the extreme left has in common with the extreme right — they are humor impaired. We of course boycotted grapes. These were the days of Cesar Chavez and the migrant worker strikes. To admit to being a serial killer in this group was less offensive than to be caught with grape jelly on your breath, depending of course on whom were serial killing. (For those who are humor impaired I am kidding here, but it would have been quite a faux pas to have served grapes at one of their lunches.)
There was no room with this bunch for novenas and rosaries and processions etc. Those were archaic, monarchical, superstitious, medieval, oppressive, manifestations of a bourgeois spirituality that existed only to oppress THE  PEOPLE.  Remember that St. Karl of Marx had warned us against religion, the opiate of the people. It didn’t matter a fig that THE PEOPLE loved novenas and rosaries and processions and all that other old stuff. We had to bring them out of their medieval darkness. Some of us would condescend to allow these devotions if they were suitably folkloric and accompanied by scantily clad Aztec dancers whirling about dressed in feathers while carrying bean pots that belched incense that smelled vaguely like burning cat fur. I promised myself that the first time someone whipped out a basalt sacrificial knife for cutting out human hearts in honor of Our Lady Guadalupe, I was out of there.
I personally believe that churches should be beautiful and vestments should be glorious, and the music should be majestic because the church is the one place where the poor man can sit next to the millionaire. The grandeur is for the Lord and for the poor. The rich have palaces enough, but a Catholic church should be a palace for the poor and for their carpenter-king. The serape and sandals crowd stripped the churches down to the bare bones and removed the beautiful statues and art. They thought that the poverty of the churches would make the poor feel at home. The poor have enough ugly. We took away the beauty of the liturgy that nurtured and uplifted them. They abandoned the Catholic churches that they found cold and sterile and joined evangelical and Pentecostal churches that allowed a more emotional expression of faith. What we did back then was indeed monstrous.
However, the smells and bells crowd is no more or less monstrous than the serape and sandals crowd. Both look at the liturgy as a wonderful venue for their own brand of performance art. The pope warns against hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is an ancient Greek word the means play acting. A hypocrite is an actor. Nothing more. Of course an actor needs a good costume.  Sandals and serape will do just as well as glitter and brocade. If you wear the serape or the brocade chasuble because you love Jesus and His Bride, the Church, all well and good. If you are doing it to make a statement, or just because you think you look good in a serape or a fiddle-back, brocaded chasuble maybe it’s time to go on a forty-day silent Jesuit retreat.

Next week: Caterpillar Priests and Butterfly Bishops

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why name him Jesus and not Emmanuel?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
In the Bible it says in Matthew 1:23 (and in the Old Testament) “a virgin shall conceive, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” In Verse 25 it also says to name the child Jesus. So why does the Bible use both names and how did they know to choose Jesus. I know that Emmanuel means “God with us” and Jesus means “God saves”, but why the name Jesus and not the name Emmanuel to fulfill the prophecy?
Yours truly,
Jimminy Piveau
Dear Jimminy,
The texts to which you refer are Matthew 1:2-23 in which the angel tells Joseph:
“She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel which means God with us.”                                
The angel is quoting Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” In around 738BC the prophet Isaiah confronted the bad king Ahaz and told him that a good king was about to be born who would succeed him. That was the specific situation to which the prophet was referring. The good king was named Hezekiah, not Emmanuel.  The prophecy took on a greater meaning in reference to the Chosen One (“Meshiach” in Hebrew, “Christos” in Greek, and “Christ” in English.) That’s how Heaven works: layers and layers of meaning. We want a simple meaning: A=B=C, but that’s not how Heaven works.
You say that you know that Jesus means “God saves”, but it’s much more than that. Let’s look at the words.  Have you ever considered what the word “god” means?  Our word “god” comes from early German which in turn comes from the Indo‑European word “ghutóm” which meant “the one who is invoked”. In other words, our word “god” just means the one to whom prayers are addressed. It’s not a name. It’s a job description. In other languages there are other words describing the Supreme Being. In the Semitic languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, the word is “El”. Which simply means the one who is above. In the Latin languages, Spanish, Italian French etc. the word for god all come from the Latin word “Deus” which probably means “the one who shines”. The Greek word “theos” is also related to the Latin word “deus”. These are all descriptions, not names.
What’s in a name? Power! That’s what. When I am dressed up in my little plastic collar and a perfect stranger calls me “Rich” instead of “Father” I know exactly what he is saying. He is saying, “I do not acknowledge your supposed authority as a clergyman”.  When a sweet little old lady who is about 98 years-old calls me “Father” it means she does acknowledge my authority and I respond by calling her “my child” or “daughter,” she then giggles. Names are about power. For you to call me by my name means we are equals, and in God’s sight we are, but there are roles that have meaning in human society. Have you ever heard a little child call his parents by their first names? “Come in for dinner, little Timmy!” “Not now, Sue and Fred. I’m watching TV.” You just want to go in there and smack that little tyrant upside the head, which of course you would never do, even if you wanted to. Still something just rankles. The child is stating that his parents have no control over him, and probably they don’t.
To accord someone his title is to acknowledge authority. To call someone by his name is to claim intimacy and equality. God revealed His name to Abraham in order to invite Abraham to intimacy with Him. He said His name was YHWH, which probably comes from the Hebrew word meaning “the cause of existence”. That word is indescribably sacred among Jews. They never say it. NEVER. NOT EVER. It was said once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. He would enter the darkness of the Holy of Holies and say the Divine Name. For 2,000 years, since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, no Orthodox Jew has said that word.
Beginning in the 6th century AD, in Tiberias on the shores of Lake Galilee, Jewish sages edited the definitive text of the Hebrew Scripture. They were called the “Masoretes”, or “Keepers of the Tradition”. People no longer spoke Hebrew, and since Hebrew was written without vowels, the memory of the correct pronunciation would be lost. The Masoretes decided to add vowels, but how?  The sacred text could not be changed, so they developed a system of lines and dots that would go above and below the consonants of the sacred text. This system is called “nikkud”, or in English, simply “vowel points”. When the Masoretes came to the Sacred Named YHWH, they hesitated to add the correct vowel points, lest someone inadvertently say the Holy Name correctly, so they added the vowel points of the word “Adonai”, that is “Lord” which is what the Jews say when they see the word YHWH in the text of Scripture. This leads to two interesting sidebars.
If you read the Hebrew texts as the Masoretes wrote it — that is with the consonants of YHWH and the vowels of “Adonai”— it comes our “YaHoWaH”, or “Jehovah”. This word doesn’t seem to have existed before 1520 when it was invented by a fellow named Galatinus and used by the English Protestant Tyndale in 1530. To me this is humorous. There are whole religions built on a mispronunciation. Ain’t no such thing as “Jehovah”.
Another interesting sidebar is the text, “No one can say Jesus Christ is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1Cor. 12:3) St. Paul is saying is that no one can recognize that Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth is YHWH, the God who spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob unless they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Enough of the sidebars, YHWH the unspeakable name of God has a short form that is perfectly permitted, “Yah” or “Yahu” or even “Ia”. Anytime you see “yah” in a Hebrew word or name, it refers to the God whose name we do speak, words such as AlleluIA, (praise YHWH) or EliJAH (which means my God is YHWH) or ZecharIAH (YHWH has remembered) and finally the one we are interested in YAHshua (YHWH saves) which is of course known to us in its modified Greek form, “Jesus”.
The name Jesus becomes the pronounceable form of the unpronounceable name “YHWH”. Through Yahshua, we have in intimacy with YHWH. That is why Pope Emeritus Benedict forbad the use of the Yahweh in the liturgy and in liturgical music. First it is an insult to Jews who do not pronounce the name and second, it is a kind of step backwards to address the Cause of Being without acknowledging that the Cause of Being loves us and wants to save us. We know more about the Holy Name than Abraham and the patriarchs did. We know the fullness of the Love of God in the person of Jesus.
So why Jesus and not Emmanuel? Jesus is the fulfillment of Emmanuel. Remember what El means, the one who is above. It is not a name. The one who is above, who slowly revealed His name, the one who causes being, is with us in his incarnate Son and loves us.
There is another very important dimension to the name Jesus. It was one of the most common names, if not the most common, at the time of Christ. He was like us in all things but sin. I believe that if you could get into a time machine and go back to the carpenter shop in Nazareth, you wouldn’t be able to pick Jesus out of crowd of two. He chose to be that ordinary. Jesus was in fact God with us. God as one of us that’s how much He loved us and loves us still, our humble Carpenter God. That’s why the angel told Joseph to name Him Jesus.
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, January 3, 2014

What's your take on the Duck People?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all
What do you think of all this Duck Dynasty business?
Drake Mallard
Dear Drake,
I guess I don’t think about it.  I have never watched the show, but I have always been a little amazed that people who look like they need regular flea baths could parlay a business that made duck calls into a lucrative enterprise. Beyond this I cannot understand why a show about the travails of a family full of these people could command one of the largest viewing audiences in American history.  The phenomenon could provide doctorates and government research grants for years to come.
I assume however that you are referring to the comments one of them made about same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage that caused a ruckus. I didn’t see that either. My complete ignorance about the show and the interview that let the network to placing the family patriarch on “hiatus” will however not stop me from commenting on the whole business.
My suspicion is that the Arts and Entertainment Network of Cable TV started the show so that they could cash in on the enjoyment of mocking a bunch of fundamentalist rubes. I imagine that they were both pleased and chagrined that the audience loved it all and took it seriously. The audience, I suspect, sees the Duck People as quintessential Americans. They have managed to make a small fortune by thumbing their noses at the world. What could be more American? The clan patriarch, Mr. Robertson does not own a computer or cell phone and is publicly a fundamentalist Christian who belongs to White's Ferry Road Church of Christ. It is a Congregationalist church that believes in “word only”. They believe that the action of the Holy Spirit is limited to the Bible. That means every man is his own pope, able to read the Bible without any clerical help. Could anything be more American?
Here we have the crux of the problem. Mr. Robertson believes in his own infallibility. So do his critics. Which one is right? Well, the one who is right is the one who agrees with your particular opinion — or, perhaps, my particular opinion. I’m not sure which. I suspect that if I can drown out your voice by yelling louder than you clearly my opinion is the correct one.  This is a Congregationalist country founded by the followers of John Calvin. The founders of the republic rejected the idea that there should be an established religion precisely because the Congregationalist faith of the new nation could not agree within itself on the nature of truth. They founded a republic on the principle that we have the right to disagree with each other.
A woman waited outside the locked doors of the constitutional convention in 1787, wondering whether the framers had chosen a monarchy or a democracy. When she asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, what have you given us?” He responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
The Congregationalist political experiment has been in doubt for the past two centuries, and I think it is more in peril now than it has ever been. The invasion of media into the private thought of citizens could never have been imagined by the founders of this country. The desire to belong is an overwhelming human need. “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) We are terrified by loneliness, and so we fill the holes in our life with anything that will drown out the silence. Cell phones, I-pads, Twitter, Facebook, Wi-Fi, on and on and on.
Do you know how carbon monoxide works? Our blood has receptors for oxygen. Carbon monoxide will fit these receptors just as well, but it is poisonous. We can’t take in oxygen if we have filled the receptors with poison and so we suffocate. One can put the wrong plug into the wrong outlet. Just because one can do it, doesn’t mean one should. There will be a fire or some other disaster.
We have plugged chatter into the holes where dialogue is meant to go. The Duck People are untroubled by cell phones and email and computers. That, I suspect, is why they are so fascinating to the American public. They have a confidence in their own self-worth that left our republic years ago. They don’t care what people think of them, or at least they seem not to. They have formed their consciences, right or wrong, they have formed them. They need no external approbation and this both maddens and fascinates us. It’s who we imagine ourselves to be, but we haven’t been that independent since the ink finally dried on the Declaration.
The whole snafu takes me back to a parish I pastored many years ago. The Inflexibly Tolerant Committee forbad me to offer the 9AM Mass. It was clear that I was Intolerant because I called God “Father” and used the word “Lord”. They firmly supported a woman’s right to kill her unborn child and always used the feminine pronoun in the readings at Mass. They would often say things like “Jesus and Her disciples...”, though it was always “the devil and his angels...” (I’m not making this up).
It was clear that I was intolerant because I did not do this. And they simply would not tolerate such behavior. After three years I decided to dialogue with them. At one point I said to them, “Whatever you do, don’t change the words of Baptism. I have to sign a statement that says, “This child was baptized in name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  Not “this child was baptized in the name of the 9 o’clock Liturgy committee.” They had been in the habit of having the special priests they brought in for “their” Mass baptize children in the name of the creator, savior, sanctifier, the father-mother, the earth mother, the four winds, and anyone else who happened to come along. I told them that I had a conscience too, and they had no right to make me sign on to their decisions of conscience.
The next week, they had a child a baptized in heaven knows whose name. I called the chancery and all whatever broke out. There were pickets in front of the rectory, nasty letters to the bishop, calls from the dean and unpleasant faxes from the chancery. They boycotted the collection, which started, strangely, to go up. They left the parish which then doubled in size. They sure showed me!
Like the 9 o’clock liturgy committee, the Current Moral Movement, that will tolerate everything except intolerance claims to be a movement of conscience and that those who don’t agree are immoral. I was rather impressed by one the critics of the Duck People who said the Duck People weren’t true Christians and no true Christian would agree with them. The True Christian commentator knocked 95% of Christians out of the Church, including its founder, Jesus, and the apostles Peter and Paul.
When people in the Current Moral Movement say they are merely following their consciences, I wonder. My conscience usually disagrees with me about what is good and right. I keep trying to tell my conscience that if it feels good, it must be good. My conscience just rolls its eyes when I say that and then starts making me feel bad. My conscience is constantly telling me I should be good to the poor, share my money, not eat that second piece of cake and not insult people who really seem to need a good insulting.
I don’t know. I wish I was as good a person as the Current Moral Movement people. Their consciences always seem to agree with what they want. Even more, they are not content simply to follow their own consciences. They are so concerned for me that they want me to follow their consciences too. It’s as if they aren’t quite sure that they are right, and by forcing me to participate, not just allow, but to approve and participate in their decisions of conscience, and occasionally to pay for them, they will finally be sure that they were right all along. They do not concede me the right or the freedom to be immoral, at least as they define it. Heaven forefend that I should call them immoral. That is hate speech, which, of course is immoral and increasingly criminal. They can’t yet stop me from thinking it, but at least they can stop my church and my children from thinking it.
Our republic is founded on the right of people to disagree. Our Church is founded on the Way the Truth and the Life, securely set on the Rock of Peter. The state is a compulsory society. I must respect and agree with the right of others to disagree. The Church is a voluntary society. If I don’t hold what it teaches, I am free to obey my conscience and leave it or not to join it in the first place. It seems that we have turned things upside down. If I don’t agree with you, but can outshout you, you must go along with the crowd in order to be part of the general society. To disagree is criminal hate speech. However, in the Church if you have the bad taste to point out that my theology or morality runs counter to the whole history and teaching of the Church, you must be a mean spirited un-Christian, inflexible, narrow-minded, bigot who isn’t a true Christian.
I can’t figure any of it out frankly. Maybe that’s why the Duck People are so fascinating. They have the freedom of Citizens and the hearts of believers, and besides, they have really cool beards.
The Rev. Know-it-all