At the risk of unleashing my inner martyr, I’m feeling called to explore a topic that is as close to my heart as it is excruciatingly painful. I share this topic, not for my own self-mortification, but in support of those, like me, who have been born with a different vision of Church – different, at least, from the one our parents grew up with and one that as yet, is unknown. While this Church is yet to be known, there is a very real sense of what it feels like and this “feeling like” Church is kicking, screaming, shouting and stomping its feet for its realization in our world. And, this Church that is not yet known is the exact topic of the book that tickled (pun intended) me to write today’s blog: The Great Emergence – How Christianity is Changing and Why, by Phyllis Tickle. 🙂
In this book, Phyllis Tickle acknowledges the enormous transformation that is currently taking place in Western culture and specifically how this transformation is ushering in a new way of being Church – much to the chagrin of those clinging to old models of being Church (“re-traditioners”) and much to the joy of those called to dream forth new models (“innovators”). The problem is that for the former, this unfolding transformation feels like the work of the devil and for the latter, it cannot possibly happen soon enough. As terror and impatience are not the best of bedfellows, Tickle warns us not to repeat the bloody patterns of those who have ushered in similar transformations – interestingly, every 500 years or so, since the beginning of time (think Protestant Reformation (1500’s), The Great Schism (1000’s) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (500’s)). Sadly, I fear Tickle’s warning has come too late. While in the strictly Christian experience of this transformation (let us not minimize the massive deaths of the past century that have ultimately been a part of this cultural change), literal blood has not been shed. But, believe me, gallons of metaphoric blood have been, by innovators in particular.
Here’s where my martyr, or at the very least, my empathy, steps in. As an innovator (using Tickle’s term) myself, and knowing HUNDREDS of others like me, I can tell you that the pain is excruciating. And the experience of this pain is nothing short of a broken heart and often requires the loss of one’s soul – at least the part of one’s soul that hopes for acceptance in the Church one loves while dreaming forth the Church GOD implanted in one’s heart. For those who are innovators/prophets, we know the routine. We’re going about our daily business (ahem…this probably started in childhood). We kinda like the Church – in fact, we might even love it. BUT….there is something in us that says, “This thing here, isn’t quite right. This doesn’t feel right in my heart and something in me seems to be DEMANDING that the Church look like this…” We experience dissonance when what we hear from the pulpit or see in the actions of “Church people” messages or actions inconsistent with what we know to be Jesus’ message of love. When we ask someone about this, or dare to confront these inconsistencies, we are told, “Sit down. Shut up. Do what you are told.” But how are we supposed to do this when we were genetically programmed to question authority? For prophets and innovators, authority isn’t assumed, it has to be earned. And quite frankly, most of Western religion hasn’t done a very good job of earning that authority.
Most of the time, we can tolerate “sit down and shut up.” We simply seethe in resentment over not being heard and for having our needs denied, while we go about doing what we want anyway. We use birth control. We eat meat on Fridays. We skip mass (most of the time). We vote democrat. We might even vote pro-choice (understanding that abortion is merely a symptom of deeper issues that need to be addressed). We divorce and remarry. We support gay rights. We go to yoga. We explore Buddhism, Wicca, Judaism, Islam, Unitarianism, Paganism, etc. And we meditate.
Much to the chagrin of the re-traditioners, we fully embrace and live our primacy of conscience. And while they may be content to judge and condemn us as sinners, they can’t because while we are doing what we want, we are also continuing the mission of Christ – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the poor, setting captives free, giving sight to the blind, working for the marginalized in our society and in our world.
This is where it tends to get personal. Re-traditioners like things black and white, cut and dried, reasonable and practical. The motivations and actions of innovators and prophets are everything but this. Instead, we thrive in the margins and in glorious shades of grey (or is it gray?). “I’ve seen her praying the stations of the cross and attending Saturday afternoon rosary….and yet she does Reiki too….isnt’ that the work of the devil???? It certainly hasn’t been handed down by the magisterium! She must be a witch….BURN HER!” While I say this a little bit tongue in cheek….it really isn’t far from the truth – at least in its effect. Condemned, rejected, painfully cast out for listening to the voice of God in our hearts that guides us and leads us toward our truth and toward the new vision of Church trying to be born.
Here then, is the key. As Phyllis Tickle observes, each of the past “great” transformations has ultimately been about the question of authority. WHO HOLDS THE AUTHORITY? I can tell you without a doubt that the authority for which we are currently vying is INNER AUTHORITY. As Joachim de Fiore prophesied in the twelfth century, we are entering fully into the Age of the Holy Spirit – when authority will rest within the individual and their personal relationship with that which some might call God. DISCERNMENT and personal empowerment will be the key and if the Church (which is currently dying on the vine) hopes to survive it would do well to provide the tools through which these goals might be successfully accomplished. In the meantime, my heart and my prayers of support go out to the innovators and prophets who are working on the margins – in the real world, seeing, believing and LIVING the new Church.