The Church; always reforming. In 1517, Martin Luther started something that became known as the Reformation. However, from the very beginning of human history, we can observe the growth and development or evolution of religious thoughts and structures. As cultures moved and experienced change, religion and spiritual life also underwent transformation. The development of consciousness to some degree resulted from the development of language and curiosity. We began to ask questions and to arrive at answers that met our need to find meaning in both life and death; in the midst of a constantly changing universe.
Every so often, major shifts come along – within the larger culture and also within the church. Martin Luther, among others, demanded reformation – a letting go of the corruption from the Vatican. The corruption was centered around power and money and the trigger for this revolution was the selling of indulgences, whereby for money, you could buy salvation for yourself and for your ancestors. The history of the church, throughout the centuries, is filled with stories of corruption, a thirst for power and hypocrisy. It is also filled with stories of great heroism, compassion, and service. In other words, It is a church that is both human and divine. It is and has been a community constantly evolving, pregnant with new life coming to be.
When we read the Gospels, we read of Jesus, born in a stable, the son of a carpenter, a Jew, an itinerant preacher, crucified on a cross by those in power, teaching his disciples to become servant, not master. The early followers of Jesus attempted to live the common life, to struggle with his teachings and to experience the Spirit of God within community. Somewhere along the 4th Century, the church accepted the role and the trappings of power; of royalty. Those in power expected uniformity of thought and action, demanding conformity of all, willing to destroy individuals guilty of heresy or independent thought by the thousands. Power became the ambition and goal of kings, emperors, and popes along the way, as they waged wars to acquire and maintain their positions. We observe the extreme example in the wars of the 20th century, where millions died because of the lust for more power and control. While nuclear weapons have slowed down our readiness for war, the lust for power within all aspects of our cultures remain. In a real sense, we are still addicted to power and feel lost without the emperor or king to wear the crown. We look to give someone power so that we may feel safe from those that are different. There are many within the American Culture that are still convinced that America was and is a gift to White Anglo Protestants and that all others are not welcome.
Throughout history, the church has experienced many transformations. Contrary to the opinions of some, we are a living community, transforming and being transformed. We are alive, filled with the Spirit that touches and heals a broken and wounded world. We are presently, along with the rest of the world, experiencing once again a transformation of understanding and growth. We are in the middle of one of those reformations that come along every so often. Creation is like a pot of water, heating to a certain point where we begin to see the bubbles floating to the surface, and then we experience steam – a radical change. Life happens!
It seems that we, as a church, are learning to let go of our dependence on mediators between God and ourselves. We are in the early stages of community without the need for royalty – for those set apart. Throughout the christian community, we are seeing the clergy as wounded healers. During the past years, we have been afraid of scandal; of upsetting the carefully contrived image of a perfect community, where God speaks only through the chosen few. We have accepted a class system within the church. We have attempted to create the impression of God acting only through a patriarchal clerical class. We have accepted that the clergy are a class set apart; holier than the laity. What we have failed to see is the face of Jesus in the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, and refugees, the so-called ‘unclean’. At ordination, the priests promise obedience of action, mind and will to the Bishop. They have created a closed community whereby they depend on each other and they protect each other. The expectation of the laity, the lower class, is obedience – pay, pray and obey.
REAL REFORMATION COMES FROM THE GROUND UP
Often, when we look at the power structures, that we are told are necessary, all we find is corruption. We find people grasping for power and wealth; for affirmation and image. They are convinced in their greed that the people are there to serve them. They become addicted to position and self-aggrandizement. Where we find a more realistic vision is in those who put their lives on the line for the sake of others – who serve others without fanfare, even to the point of being put to death by those who feel threatened. Even in our own time, we see political leaders having no problems destroying others. In some instances, this can be directly, in others indirectly. Leaders who are addicted to their positions will do or say whatever helps them maintain a particular image. As they identify themselves by their position of authority or power, they work to project a certain image that enhances them or at least does not tarnish them or their work.
Reformation is constant, not random
Over the centuries, sexuality has been one of the points of contention. Women have been looked down upon as inferior to the male intellectually and physically. Historically, women have been and are still in many cases, property. Sex has been seen as having the purpose of procreation and of pleasing the male ego for dominance. Sexuality and power have always been connected; dominance and submissiveness are the image that we see as normal. Rape has been a symbol of winners and losers throughout history. Rape is the product of a lust for power; to feel powerful and dominant. Rape happens throughout history and throughout every culture at all levels. Husbands rape their wives, men rape other men, men rape children. Those lusting for a sense of dominance seek out the weak or powerless and force themselves on them. Rape is not just experienced in the sexual act, but within corporations, institutions, families where one person demands to force his/her will on others. Priests struggle with their lack of power and at times find ways to become dominant through their imposition on others and their ability to make others feel guilty and afraid. Racism as well as sexism are other examples of rape; of forcing others into submission as inferior.
Love one another: Care for our earth – and for all living plants and animals – for our water and our air; for each other. Let go of the power image and accept the servant image. This is why we really don’t listen carefully to the teachings of Jesus, but much prefer to listen to the artificial structures and those who decide that they speak for God. It seems as if we are in the middle of a new reformation within our church and within our wider global culture. The old pyramid structure are breaking down as well as the patriarchal cultural remnants. We keep moving to community based structures where all are included in the process, without regard to sex, age, race, religion, or any other artificial lines of division are acceptable. This movement does not come without serious pushback and struggle. It does not come quickly or smoothly. But as we see, looking backwards, the hand of God continually leads us forward into the fullness of life. As we learn to let go, we also learn to experience the resurrection to new life. Death and life are two sides of the same coin. Death is necessary for the new to be born; and letting go of the old is dying in order to experience the demands of ongoing creation. We struggle to learn how to help one another and to accept help from others, and to let go of dividing and conquering. We struggle to learn that creation is interdependent; we are all connected and we thrive within the grand and awesome diversity of Creation coming to be.
It is time to discern where we are now being led. It is important for the whole community to examine carefully the structure of the church; at the rules and traditions of celibacy, the class system, the theology of guilt and damnation, original sin, and the emphasis on the structure. We need to be open to mysticism, recognizing that any structure without the Spirit is just an empty structure. As we look around are churches that are merging or closing, dwindling number of participants and priests, and anger, it becomes obvious that the people of God are fed up with the need for control and dominance by the hierarchy. The Gospel tells us of an itinerant Rabbi, walking the dusty roads, feeding the hungry with the Good News of Gods love and healing. The great question has always been, how do we continue this journey today; how do we recognize that that same Spirit that resided in Jesus, resides in us and calls us to care for a broken and wounded world. We live on a planet that is in need of healing and we live with several billion other human beings and a wild and luxurious diversity of plant and animal life. We are here together and we have been given the responsibility to heal and feed – to let go of our addictions to comfort and to act. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in our world, and if we do not act – who will? We are given the gift of freedom – to choose life or death. It is our choice. We are created, male and female, in the image and likeness of God – the Creator of all that is.
One within the many and the many within the one.