Messy Marvins

Having ushered, for many years, in my Catholic parish and now at my Lutheran church, I have an observation educated by experience. Catholics are way messier than Lutherans. To put it in kindergarten-simple terms, Lutherans seem to be better than Catholics at picking up after themselves.

I’m not just talking about a slight difference here. On the average Sunday when

I usher at Faith Lutheran, I may find one bulletin in a pew on the left side, and one

contribution envelope on the floor on the right. After any given mass at Most Holy

Trinity parish, nearly every pew would be littered not only with several bulletins and

envelopes, many of them festooned with crayon child-scribble, but also with cast-off

disposable baby bottles, crumbly sugar cookies and wads of boogery Kleenex, along

with various other items so scary I dared not try to identify them.

It says something deeper about people when they don’t respect the space

around them. Though at least some Catholics might piously spin this by saying they

tend to have more kids than do Lutherans, that hardly suffices as an excuse. There

are quite a few children every week at my church, too. The difference is that their

parents make them clean up after themselves. Again, they understand where they

are.

Catholics seem to think that, on the whole, it’s somebody else’s job to pick up

after them. Just as it’s somebody else’s job to think for them, to fight their battles for

them and to sing their cheesy hymns. If the Pope and the Cardinals don’t take care of

it, the bishop or the parish priests will. Or the groundskeepers, or the choir, or the

ushers who pick up their boogery Kleenex. They are, for the most part, so passive,

they seem to have sunk into a state of sticky lethargy that rivals that of the cocoon

people in Space Hunters in the Forbidden Zone.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on Catholics. I merely use them as the example,

given my own, personal experience, that is closest at hand. Given the way so many

of them vote and the general causes they tend to espouse, I can see that this

passivity is a hallmark of those in authoritarian churches in general. The more

hierarchical and authoritarian a church or denomination is, the worse the problem

seems to be.

Southern Baptists aren’t any great shakes, either. Which may not be too

difficult to understand, given the way their very denomination came about. They didn’t

like being made uncomfortable by those pesky, abolitionist crusaders before the Civil

War, so they threw out everybody with a conscience and seceded from the main body

of the Baptist Church. Look it up. If more Southern Baptists bothered to, there might

be fewer Southern Baptists.

The problem doesn’t seem to be related to whether one remains in the old

church or splits to become part of the new. Nor does it appear to be something we

can blame on “disunity in the Body of Christ” itself. The problem is the nasty, allergic

reaction so many Christians have to the truth.

If you are not willing to pursue truth, then you all too obviously aren’t interested

in obtaining it. Even the always-easy fallback position — that the Holy Spirit somehow

“infallibly” guides them, either in helping them individually interpret the Scriptures,

Pastor Billy-Bob of the Jesus Channel interpret them or the Pope himself — crumbles

into utter absurdity when examined more closely. If we are to believe that the Holy

Spirit guides the Church today, we must also believe “He” has been doing so for the

past two thousand years. Which means that if anybody wishes to credibly claim that

the Holy Spirit is doing or saying anything in particular today, the test we must apply

to their claim is to compare their example with how the Spirit has consistently

operated in the past. I know I’ve made this assertion before. But so many of us get so intimidated

by the seeming certitude of our antagonists that I think it bears repeating. Their

supposed certitude is mindless — no less an unconscious tic than any hiccup. I’m not

afraid enough of the conservative Catholics or Evangelicals to run from them because

in order for them to condemn me, they must break their own rules. Were they to

interpret the moral teachings of the Bible with any consistency, they would not be

able to judge us any more harshly than they do themselves.

Indeed, the Holy Spirit has left “His” footprints across history. We have no

reason to believe that God — Who has always been perfect, right from the beginning —

will suddenly decide to change the way “He” does business. Therefore, for example,

the Protestant Reformation cannot have been the anti-Christly tragedy hard-line

Catholics want to think it was, because if it had been, God would never have allowed it

to happen. The very argument so many Catholics use to support their notion that their

Church is the one true one is blown out of the water by the very continued existence

of Protestantism itself. You can’t claim that having been around for two thousand

years means anything special if having survived for at least five hundred doesn’t.

Had the Roman magisterium truly been infallible, there would never have been a

need for the Reformation. Had there been no need for the Reformation, it would never

have taken place. The Catholic Church is not infallible, nor is any particular

interpretation of the Bible (when some Protestants claim the Bible is infallible, what

they really mean is that their own interpretation of it is infallible — which is nothing

more than a rather wily and disingenuous way of saying that they are). Only God is

infallible. Once you bring human beings into it, even the brightest, most blessed and

best-intentioned of us can really manage to screw up the works.

What Jesus promised, in essence, when He promised to send the Holy Spirit

to be with us ’til the End of Time, and when He declared that the gates of Hell would

not prevail against the Church, was something that gives glory not to us, but to God.

In our egotism, we want to make it all about us. To think that in some sense, Jesus

was promising we’d be perfect. No, what He was telling us was that because God is

perfect, God will not allow our screw-ups to ruin “His” Church.

The very first Pope bungled so badly, on a matter involving the very sort of faith-

and-morals judgment in which Catholics insist he cannot err, that the very New

Testament itself records it for us. Don’t just take my word for it; see Galatians 2:11-

21. The apologists tell us that because he changed his mind about the acceptability

of eating with the Gentiles, that means that his infallibility won out (sorta the way

Superman’s native strength can overcome his having been exposed to Kryptonite).

What that shows us is that the Holy Spirit did not allow Peter to remain in error. It

certainly didn’t mean that he could not err in the first place.

I don’t believe that, a thousand years from now, the Pope will still be repeating

ignorant lies about homosexuals. I have faith that, if we’re still awaiting Jesus’ return

then, the Holy Spirit will have since turned the Papacy around. But “infallible” implies

that no growth is necessary, because perfection has already been attained. That very

theory is so obviously ungodly that it may be known by its fruits. Far from having

made those in the Roman hierarchy better people, it has brought them to the brink of

moral ruin.

We could sit and debate all day as to whether the hierarchy has led the flock

to ruin or whether the flock has corrupted its shepherds. It’s an argument not too

different from that of “the chicken or the egg.”

I point out to you, on the Protestant side, the mess in which Dr. James Dobson

recently found himself. All the good doctor said was that some sort of legal provision

ought to be made for couples not married in the legal sense. He didn’t come out,

flaming all over the place, and proclaim that there’d be homos in Heaven. He didn’t

really change his stand on anything; he merely showed some glimmer of basic

fairness and common sense. To punish him for this, legions of fundamentalists

promptly threw a tantrum, and some even called for his head.

And we wonder why more conservative Evangelical leaders don’t offer us any

support. I have long suspected that at least a few of them — I have no way of knowing

whether Dobson himself is among them — at the very least would like to cut us a little

more slack. Of course, to dare to do so would be, for Dobson or any of the others in

the pantheon of celebrity Christians, to commit career suicide. They didn’t get where

they are to blow the wad on us — and their minions aren’t about to let them.

Why did these people get so hornets-in-the-pants angry because one of their

leaders said something even so tepidly challenging? Exactly what sort of passive,

lazy-thinking nincompoops are passing for Christians these days, anyway? Not only

do they recoil from the prospect of thinking for themselves as if it would cause them

actual physical pain, but they can’t even stand it when one of those to whom they look

for guidance comes up with an original thought. If they examined why they were

angry, they’d have to recognize that they had no reason at all. Except that they were

— triple-gasp and God forbid! — being made to feel uncomfortable.

These days, in the eyes of all too many Christians, no worse sin can be

committed than that of making them uncomfortable. They now seem to count their

comfort among the Cardinal Virtues. And along right behind that, trailing a close

second, comes their convenience. The only thing that makes them as mad as being

asked to think for themselves is being expected to pick up after themselves. Thus do

their sanctuaries, following worship, resemble the house of Sarah Cynthia Sylvia

Stout, who — according to Shel Silverstein’s poem — “would not take the garbage out.”

God’s house? Why, it’s their house! Don’t you remember? It’s all about them!

Is there even room anymore, in their houses of worship, for God? Or has their

garbage, like that of Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, been piled up so high it’s reached the

ceiling?

Let me put this bluntly. Christianity is not for cowards. Even an infallible Bible

will do lazy, childish “believers” no good. The Holy Spirit cannot lead to the truth

those who won’t get up off of their sad-sack duffs and follow “Him” because they’re

afraid to go where “He” might take them.

When will issues like inclusiveness and compassion be honestly discussed in

the Church? Not ’til we’ve roused the cocoon people from their stupor and made the

messy Marvins pick up after themselves. That won’t happen because we hector their

leaders. It all starts when we remind those in the pews that they are, indeed, sitting

in God’s house.