TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Rebuilding Christianity

For God’s foolishness is wider than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (First Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians 1:25)

I was really struck by these words and the words of St Paul that preceded these in Sunday’s readings. It seems that for seekers of any sort, most likely all humans, there is a tendency to want what we are not able to see. Some want proof of the purpose of human existence in knowledge, in the intellect; others what proof from physical attributes and others just want to abandon or rubbish any attempt to search for meaning-making. So the thought of believing in a person who is crucified is still an obstacle or madness.

And yet there are some weeks when things just appear to be too hard, and it feels as though it would be easier not to seek out the gift of the faith journey. This thought came to me while preparing for the weekend’s readings. John’s Gospel (Jn 2:13-25) recounts Jesus entering the temple only to see it being used for purposes contrary to its real purpose. This caused me to think about those of us, who at times struggle with the institutional church – when the gospel message seems to be lost in the ‘market-place’ of what is deemed right. I read the following words during the week as part of a Parables Weekly Newsletter, I receive from GPBS.

Just Lose It Sometimes!

He loved people so much, he sometimes just lost it.

This was the situation. Faithful Jews coming to the temple for worship first had to buy animals for sacrifice and exchange their coins for those that would be acceptable for their temple tax. But some Scripture scholars say the people selling the animals and changing the money were making a huge profit because people had to deal with them. They had a monopoly.

Some scholars say this infuriated Jesus. He saw a system set up to take advantage of good people coming to worship their God. The system especially hurt poor people. It was an example of how the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ time abused people.

Getting angry over injustices isn’t unchristian – but it doesn’t have to lead to violence.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a perfect example. He fought racism with righteous anger, but never used violence or threats of it against his opponents. Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Oskar Schindler, and Salvatore Massaro “Eddie Lang” are other fine examples.

The closer you grow to Jesus, the more you’ll become angry when you see people – especially the outcasts – ignored or abused. Use that anger as fuel to stand up non-violently for people. Speak for young people at school who are put down. Refuse to back away from our society’s outcasts, like poor people or people with a disability. Join with other Catholic activists when they mobilise for peace or pro-life issues. But always remember Jesus’ other words, “Love your enemies,” even while you oppose their actions.

Just think how much the world will change when more Christians lose it over injustices like Jesus did.

What injustices anger you? What are you doing about them?

I then remembered reading previously about our own emerging church and an invitation to reflect upon Christianity as a movement, with the Spirit as the ongoing presence of Jesus on earth, who is the mover, sustainer, teacher and guide of the church we now have. Emerging Christianity is both a longing for, and moving toward, a way of following Jesus that has much more to do with lifestyle than with belief. It is the Spirit who is the glue between Jesus and the church. Movements are the energy-building stages of things, before they become monuments, museums or machines (Richard Rohr December 2, 2017)

As part of the work of Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediations about the emerging church, Brian McLaren offers guidance in rebuilding Christianity from the bottom up:

We are on a quest for a new kind of Christianity — a faith liberated from the institutional and dogmatic straightjackets we inherited, a way of life that integrates the personal and the social dimensions of spirituality, a practice that integrates centred contemplation and dynamic action. In our quest, we must remember how easy it is to self-sabotage; we must remember that how we get there will determine where we will be.

I see four areas where many of us need to pay special attention to the how, so we can be examples and midwives of emerging Christianity instead of its accidental saboteurs.

First, we need to process our pain, anger, and frustration with the institutional or inherited forms of church….. [If] we learn to process our pain, if we join Jesus in the way of redemptive suffering and gracious forgiveness, we will become sweeter and better, not meaner and bitter, and we will become the kinds of people who embody an emerging Christian faith indeed.

Second, we need to manage our idealism……. The emerging church will never be a perfect church; it will always be a community of sinner-saints and stumbling bumblers touched by radical grace. Liberated by grace from a perfectionistic idealism, we can celebrate the beauty of what is emerging instead of letting its imperfections frustrate us.

Third, we need to focus our circle of responsibility……. That means letting go of the things you can’t control - which includes the decisions that popes, bishops, pastors, councils, and church boards may make…… [If] you can’t get your congregation to care about homeless people, you can get involved yourself. If you can’t get your congregation to treat gay folks with respect, you can do so around your kitchen table. If you can’t get your church to focus on cross-racial relationships, you can take a step this Sunday and visit a church where you’re the minority, and from there, begin to build relationships. You don’t need anyone’s vote or permission to do these things: you only need to exercise your own responsibility and freedom……

Finally, we need to start small and celebrate small gains. One of the curses of late modernity was the belief that unless something was big and well-publicized, it didn’t count…… [Jesus] spoke of tiny mustard seeds, of a little yeast in a lot of dough, of a little flock, of the greatness of smallness, of a secret good deed and a simple cup of cold water given to one in need.

As we process our pain, manage our idealism, do what’s doable, and celebrate the small and beautiful, we discover that all around us, new forms and expressions of Christian faith are emerging. Through a better “how”, a better “where” is possible.

I found the words of Brian McLaren reassuring and hopeful. I trust that they might impact upon you in the same way. I am mindful that this week some of the small and not-so-small events are: Catholic Schools Week, Sisters in Faith Dinner, Bishop’s Awards and the celebration of International Women’s Day and our own Magdalene Awards.

I am also mindful that the change management people who worked with us in the Diocese last year spoke to us about our need to use an emergent model of change in the Many Parts. One Body. One Mission. change project that is being undertaken presently in the diocese. Clearly emerging models are about the ‘Cross’, madness to some and wisdom to others. I have written often enough about non-dualism, so I wonder if we can live with madness and wisdom at the same time!

Exponential change creates exponential fear along with exponential hope. Massive transformation creates the double-edged cultural sword of decline and renewal. Exponential change ends those things that people once assumed and trusted to be true. At the same time, upheaval opens new pathways to the future. Change is about endings and beginnings and the necessary interrelationship between the two.

I finish this week’s message with some wise words from the psalmist:

The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye.
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just.
They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.

Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11

Being a midwife is not always pleasant and can be messy!

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.