This wasn’t what I had in mind when I contemplated writing about authority and power. The difference. The balance.
But it’s a start.
And this start itself began while sitting in church a few weeks ago. How do we share our faith with others?
And I thought, Well, whatever we are doing now, it’s either inadequate or flat-out wrong because the nonfaithful don’t appear to be interested in the least.
And so, in times when I could sit and think, I counted up the ways we promote Christianity.
Catholics have it different from Protestants, granted. And so I began there.
Here I was sitting in a church that has continued the tradition of not believing in the ordination of women. To my mind, just that alone would put a whole lot of people off when talking about faith. We are now, after all, living in the age of Women As The Only People Deserving Anything And Everything They Want.
In my imagination, it’s as though the world has been taken over by Zombie Gargantuan Woman, along with other Godzilla-like monsters seeking to rule the world.
And that’s the thing, it struck me: any argument I would make would come through negative terms. And that’s not a good thing as a basis for a conversation, is it?
We do not have the authority to do so, claims Pope Francis. He is speaking for his entire church. Except for all those who disagree with him on this point.
It’s a matter to sigh over, that’s for sure.
But at least Francis’s assertion isn’t loaded. Aimed. And fired. It is a dispassionate, bloodless assertion of fact.
The actual fact is that every church authorizes just about everything and anything it has a mind to.
So what is this matter of authority in terms of the church all about, then?
In My Book, the definition of authority is a simple one: Authority is the power to say, “no.”
Now this fits quite nicely with what Francis has to say. He says, The Church Says, “No,” On This Matter, and he means it. And he has canon law and the church’s catechism to back him up.
Even though both are written by man to suit man’s viewpoints at the time of the writing, and can be changed at any moment.
In truth, nothing in the church is written in stone.
It’s more like a parchment that is continually dipped in a stream to keep it malleable.
So I tried moving this whole concept back a step. Just who is the authority that tells the church what it can and what it cannot do?
God, I suppose.
Except following the definition he, himself, has given me on authority, the power to say, “no,” God has no authority.
God does not say, “no.”
In the Bible, God may try to say, “no.” He may try to set limits on his creation. But most times it seems like he’s just chasing little white mice around an all-white tiled bathroom. Oops, there goes one. Damn, missed another one.
In the Old Testament, it’s one forgiveness exercise after another after another. And so on. I TOLD you not to do that. Why’d you do it? Oh, nevermind. Try again. Do it right this time, will you?
And, yes, every once in a while someone does get something right. And is rewarded. Or not.
But then inevitably it’s back to the drawing board, kicking rumps and putting them all in time-out.
So where is God’s NO? It starts in the Garden of Eden, but even after he kicks the lovers out, he follows them and then just stirs up more trouble. What a troublesome father/father-in-law/ruler of the universe he is.
In terms of women’s ordination, can God be the authority? He can with me, certainly. I had years of visions and work on this very specific issue. And while I can’t really share my entire experience with the study, over the years I worked on it, I got his point: There is no such thing as the ordination of women.
I got it. Completely. Fully. Resoundingly.
But I’m no authority. I have no ability to pass on God’s teachings as something other than my own ramblings. I have no one to say, “no,” to.
Which is a shame, admittedly.
Here’s God, working hard to get me to focus on what he is trying to show me, and all that he gets for all his effort is just me.
But perhaps that’s the whole point of authority.
Perhaps it’s not supposed to be a trickle-down kind of force. Perhaps it’s supposed to be a kind of groundwater that nourishes all that is around it.
Because, in truth, I do have the authority to say, “no,” to women’s ordination just by the church I frequent. And perhaps, but not likely, by the arguments I make.
By going to my church, a church with no women with orders, I assert my authority.
But is that it?
Is that right?
Am I the authority of the church? Are you the authority of the church?
So then there’s Jesus.
The boy who grew up to have a whole lot of authority. And he used it.
He said “no,” to you, and to you, and to you.
Some, admittedly, didn’t accept his, “no,” and said, “no,” right back to him and won the challenge.
Fairly exciting. Saying, “no,” to God who is standing right there in front of you.
Jesus does have authority. He has the power to say, “no.” And he uses this power. He confronts the authorities of his church. He confronts the authorities of his nation. And, in part, he dies for this.
He even exerts his authority over aspects of the unseen world. Demons, and such.
But what does Jesus’s administration of the concept of, “no,” teach us about the authority of the church? Who assumes this authority after him? Well, his disciples. That rag-tag, motley, boisterous clump of mankind, the members of which appear to have no real perceivable virtues. If these are the rough drafts of saints, well then we all have a great deal of hope of becoming one ourselves.
From Jesus, God and man, to man. A simple transference.
Not to kings. Or prelates. Or tetrarchs.
Just guys. Guys who took seriously their endowment of the power to say, “no.” Both to men and spirit.
And died accordingly.
So the men who represented the congregation of Jesus’s church, those who sat and were taught by him in word and action, become the self-proclaimed promoters of a constructed belief system.
Fishermen (for the most part) as authorities.
So we are still at a groundwater-as-authority place in this discussion.
So where does that leave us exactly?
In the pew, and on the street corner, and in the diner, and at the bedside of our ailing friend. And in each and every place we find ourselves, we have it before us to exercise our power to say, “no.” And to keep saying, “no.”
Today’s culture, with it’s pretense of having a passion to only say, “yes,” not only drains us of our God-given authority, which is a form of power, but it degrades the meaning of, “yes.” A true, “yes.” Which is another subject-matter altogether.
This wasn’t the essay I thought of writing when I thought of writing about authority and power. About the difference and the balance.
This wasn’t even the essay I thought I was going to write a few days ago when I started it. And stopped it. And went about my business.
But it’s a start.
We’re the start.
Of authority in the church.