Aug 14, 2010

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton: Walking Away from Blind Obedience.

The following is an excerpt from Bishop Gumbleton's brilliant,  piece,  A New Meaning of Obedience, published in the National Catholic Reporter yesterday, August 12th. It simply confirms what many of us have felt for years, that the Spirit is calling us to an alternative witness outside the formal boundaries of the institutional church. But I've never heard  such a stirring, inspiring confirmation  of this difficult path from a bishop of the Church before.  The fact is the institutional church in it's present state needs this powerful witness given by those who must in good conscience 'walk away.' The recent open statement of novelist Anne Rice comes to mind.  What we are being taught - in anguish and  in tears - is how relative the value of the institution and it's leadership really is. We are being taught to let go, because faith can survive outside it - though not without the sacred tradition it is meant to channel and which it  so often betrays. 'To go where perhaps we would rather not have gone, but to go where God needs us in confidence, joy and peace in our hearts.' Amen.

That’s another thing we find happening in our church today, where God seems to be leading some of us, many of us in fact, away from sort of a blind obedience to laws that were created, the human laws, even though they were created within the institution of the church. A couple weeks ago, I was part of the national meeting of the organization called SNAP, which is a Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests. Now these are people, almost all of whom have had bitter experience with the hierarchy of the church. They can’t go into a church like this anymore; they’re too traumatized and hurt, so they have to find their own way, but for many of them, it’s a deeper faith life than they’ve ever had before. They discover God loves them, they can follow the path where God is leading them.

And, you know, there are 30 million people in this country, 10 percent of this population in the United States, who have walked away from our Catholic church, from the institution of the church, probably some in your families, but that doesn’t mean they’ve walked away from God for some of them because perhaps they’re gay or lesbian and they’ve been excluded, called disordered, and they can’t accept that. They know they’re good people so they have to walk away, but it’s God calling them, and with confident assurance and strong conviction, they go where perhaps they would rather not have gone. But they do it because they have faith.

So all of us, I think, have to keep on listening in our lives to God speaking to us deeply within our spirit and develop a relationship to God, not a relationship to a human institution, not a relationship to human laws, not intellectual assent to doctrines, but we must develop a relationship with God that will give us that confident assurance and strong conviction that when God asks us to move in some way in our life, or to accept some difficulty in our life that we would rather not, that we can go where God needs us with confidence, with joy, and with peace in our hearts.


colkoch said...

It's amazing how many people and how many articles are saying we need to stop developing relationships to abstract concepts and definitions of nouns. If that really takes hold, the Vatican definition of clericalism and church as institution is dead.

Jayden Cameron said...

I agree, Colleen, a real example of synchronicity and the Spirit at work. Read your great article at Open Tabernacle, which really nails this. Once abstractions are out of the way and real people connect, one is able to discern the workings of the Spirit in people's lives in surprising ways - that frequently contravene our old stereotypes and prejudices. But if abstractions are turned into security objects and 'immortality' symbols and one cannot let go of one's addiction to them, then blindness sets in and it becomes the blind leading the blind. Too many 'laypersons' in the Church are finally beginning to "see" on their own. Amen

colkoch said...

I think this is one of the major lessons the abuse crisis can teach us. One of the reasons abuse by a priest is so devastating is precisely because the victim is made to relate to the abstract definition of priest and not to the man behind the collar. It's the abstract definition that gives the priest abuser all his power and in most cases, this abstract relationship is so strong it stops victims from fighting the abuser or reporting the abuser.

The brain itself will react just as strongly to an abstract concept as it will reality. This is the mechanism which makes PTSD so debillitating. The brain literally interprets a memory or concept as equal to an actual real time event. Every good interragator knows that threats are very often as effective as actually carrying them out. So do predators--can anyone say "threats of hell and damnation?"

Once one is aware of the dynamic, it ceases to have so much power. Essentially this is what happened when Vatican II removed all the threats and is now why the Church is powerless to change things back. To survive they have to dump the abuse dynamic and move into a new one--the actual teachings of Jesus.

TheraP said...

Threats, seen as empty, because we have decoupled the "threat" of "authority" as coming from God. We have experienced the Spirit as not threatening but instead as "calling us" - beckoning us to: Come to the Father. (and consider that for God we do not even say "Holy Father" but just "Our Father". We may say "Holy God" but when referring to God as Jesus taught us, we just say Father.)

I think we've experienced the Liberation of the Kingdom. At the same time as people WANT to walk away, they're not really sure where to walk TO. And that, of course, is a unique path for each. Some walk and find no Liturgy at all, which is sad frankly. I've found a home with the Orthodox, in a parish which affirms women in all sorts of ways, including our (married) priest's preaching. Big emphasis on the church as a place of healing. (Gay people are welcome, just like anybody else - and we've got a LOT of diversity!)

It's wonderful that at least one bishop "gets" that "walking away" can be a profoundly spiritual and authentic choice, which is both liberating and also like a command from God which you're carrying out, as he notes. As Jesus said: Take up your bed and walk! (Which I take to mean.... don't just lie there. Get going!)

Jayden Cameron said...

Love your description of your Orthodox parish, Thera, that's so affirming. Curious, though, as to what branch of the Orthodox Church it belongs to. Funny how stereotypes work, we in the "West" usually think of the Orthodox as more conservative than...than what. The Catholics? Surely not at this point in history. Yes, the walk is so important, where to walk to.....alternative parishes, The Orthodox, but so many of us have to take the chance. I'm so grateful you have found your niche, sounds truly wonderful .