Sunday, July 20, 2008

On Questioning Authority

To my readers relief, I took a road trip this week to Blaney's parish, St. Mary's in Columbia. They have recently completed their new sanctuary at the expense of some 4 million dollars. Judging by the stained glass windows, it is definitely a "Mary" church. The inscription under the window behind the altar reads "Whatsoever he says, do it" from Mary's advice to the wine steward from John 2:1-11 (I like the KJV "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.") All of the stained
glass windows in the nave are going to depict special events in Mary's life.
(Blaney also had suggested engraving over the main front entrance,
"Servants' Entrance". That hasn't gone anywhere yet.)
They also built a "cry room" in the back of the sanctuary. This is a sound proof room for parents to take unruly or crying kids. The room has a window which gives a view of the service. Good for them. I remember a former parishioner who left our church after the rector told his wife to try to not take her kids out during the sermon as it was distracting to him. At least St. Mary's is making some accommodations for moms.
They also have a successful Hispanic service at 12:30 with an ASA of about 70-80.
Of course they have a priest who is Spanish speaking (Fr. Gonzales) which helps.
And, no I will not get into the issue of "Mary worship" because that would be stirring up trouble.

Getting back to the window at St. Mary's and the inscription "Whatsoever He says, do it," reminds me of the problem of authority. The quotation leaves no room for questioning. No room for "Why?" or "I'll think about it." This rule is often misapplied to our religious leaders.

As a long standing critic, I have to constantly examine my relationship to authority and authority figures. Can I simply say that the Spirit is my authority, or should I rely on the Church as that agency on Earth that discern the true Spirit versus the whims of the individual or group? Is the Church infallible in it's resolutions? How do I know when I am not just following some selfish agenda of some misguided Church leaders?
I responded in this way at PerpetuaofCarthage the other day as follows:
"I have been outcast because I dare to discuss the Sunday sermon in a blog format. I know people do this behind closed doors, in little whispers so no one else will hear, and we are seeing some choice examples being put on the web for all to see. The blogs bring these private whispers into the public arena, but only for those who choose to log on and look for these thoughts and ideas. When the "conservative" Anglican blogs start sounding "Pharisaical," as C.S. Lewis would put it, "too good... it leads not only to the wickedness but to the absurdity of those who in later times came to be called the 'unco guid' ""
(Reflections on The Psalms by C.S. Lewis pp 66-67)

For your reflection from Robert Burns,
Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human:
One point must still be greatly dark, -
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted.
(Robert Burns Address To The Unco Guid, Or The Rigidly Righteous)

This is the view of those who protest the Anglican blogs, that the "conservative" blogs are self righteous and quick to cast the first stone. Those of us on the "conservative" side have to pray to stay humble and to not become "prigs" even though we may seem to be "priggish" as St. Lewis warns us.

It seems to me that those who don't like the grumblings of dissent, often have no problem becoming dissenters themselves. A prime example is that of Joan Chittister O.S.B. who should be well versed in obedience and the problems that come from grumbling. In Insights for the Ages Chapter 66, April 24 she writes,
"Benedictine spirituality sees the community as something to mold us, not something to be used for the interests and vanity and power struggles of a few. It is a life dedicated to the spirit, not enmeshed in the agendas of the political. Where the authority of the abbot or prioress is constantly contested, routinely ignored, mockingly ridiculed or sharply questioned, then the eye of the soul is taken off of the Center of the life and shifted instead to the multiple minor agendas of its members. At that moment, the mystical dimension of the community turns into just one more arm wrestling match among contenders. At that point, the Rule says, get rid of the people who lower the purpose of the group to the level of the mundane, making light of the great enterprise of life and diminishing its energy.
It is good advice in any human endeavor whose higher purpose is being fed to the appetites of the immature and the selfish to rid itself of those who have given over the lode star of the group to a lesser direction"

Remember that bit about ridding itself of those people following their own selfish agendas.
But from an interview in which she is questioning authority regarding women priests she says (read it all here),

"It comes down to how many snowflakes does it take to break a branch? I don't know, but I want to be there to do my part if I'm a snowflake."

My take on Sister Joan's comments is that when you want to break a rule that you personally feel is unjust, go ahead and do it. However if you are content with the prevailing authority, then call rule breakers "immature" and "selfish" and throw out the "flakes" as troublemakers. This sounds a bit like she is creating a new authority, herself and she can do all the name calling she wants, just don't let anyone else call her the same name because she has defined what is right.

"Sister Chittister: Of course. That whole notion of the military meaning of obedience had, whether we realized it or not, begun to consume us. And worse than that, we were women, and women were expected to conform. So it's not until after World War II when education itself became as possible, at least in some ways, for women as for men and then became as important for women as for men, as it is now, that you begin to see this shift from military conformity to a sensitivity to the impulses of grace in our lives. The word "obedience" comes from the Latin word oboedire, 'to listen.' And the first word of the Rule of Benedict is 'Listen, my children, to the precepts of your teacher.' Listen to them, learn from them. Not 'Jump.' 'How high?'

Ms. Tippett: I wonder if you'd talk about some of the concrete ways in which, as you say, this move from obedience, which is about conformity, to obedience, which is about being sensitive to and responsive to grace."

Sister Chittister: Oh, that's easy."

Maybe it is easy for her; she has already decided to become a snowflake in hopes of breaking branches. She forgot the part about getting rid of the snowflakes.

For us pewsitters to follow the Spirit, we need remain humble and listen to the guidance of our forefathers, our traditions, the scriptures, and wisdom from our Church leaders. We need help in understanding false teachings and it should be acceptable to question or criticise authority figures. To be asked to blindly accept the "wise and powerful" is to imbue them one thing they never should have aspired to, and that thing is power.
Sister Chittister knows that the real power is in humility, something that I pray to be given to the Bishops at Lambeth, those not invited to Lambeth, and those boycotting Lambeth. Imagine being led by humble servants who enter through the servant's entrance.
"Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."


  1. Anonymous11:40 PM

    Blaney - Still the fool he always was... Did he have any of his ex wifes sitting in the front row? What a lovely time that was at Our Savior. Does he still turn his back on folks that he doesn't care to acknowledge? No one misses Blaney - the old goat!

  2. Issues re: Authority and God's Will etc. are best decided by reference to the His Word. If something said or desired is clearly contrary to God's Word, then it is not of Him and any purported authority saying otherwise should be ignored.

    I think it was Harry Truman who said, "The way to get a reputation as a good leader is to find out what people want to do and tell them to do it."


  3. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Pewseter - you are missrepresenting an issue - again - Charley asked the former EOOS church members to take their children out through the back of the church if they needed to leave during the sermon or at any time during the service. The parents in question, and yes the father is a local doctor, could not and would not control their children. The children never wore shoes, they ran wild at all times and not just during the service. During services they were allowed to wallow on the floor in front of the pulpit, crawl under pews, jump on the pews and run amok as they pleased. The children in question were not only a distraction to Charley, but to the congregation as well. There was many a time that I had to explain to my children why they had to sit quietly and try to follow the service when the doctor's children were allowed to play and distrupt the service. It was a relief to many in the congregation when Charlie asked the parents to control their children. Charlie delivered a long over due lesson in parenting for which many of us give him thanks on a regular basis!

    To give you credit Pewster - another rant that puts EOOS in a bad light. You are batting 1000!

  4. Anon, you too are batting 1000. Another bad comment that puts the church in a bad light.
    I checked my sources before posting this one.
    Unruly kids are distracting, it must be a challenge for everyone on how to deal with them in a pastoral loving way. Getting rid of the family is not such an approach. We should be ashamed that occurred. My hat is tipped to the people of St. Mary's for their forking over the dollars to build the cry room.

  5. Anonymous3:51 PM

    Pewster - because I know you and your family and how fast you are to complain about other's children I am shocked that you think ANNON is wrong ... check your sources again!

    A wise man once said:

    "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones".

    You have been throwing boulders!

    Thankful EOOS Parent

  6. I went to the witness. I understand that witnesses may give different versions of a situation. Whatever version you ascribe to, the end result was another parishioner left the church. Did I get a hint of "good riddance" in the earlier comment?
    Maybe I did say that "Children should be seen and not heard" once or twice in the past. Hence the cry room.

  7. Children, quit arguing. In order to change the pewster's course, and hopefully some of the anonymous commenters' as well, I have sent the pewster a chance for redemption.