great minds discuss ideas

Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Wow! I just came across this quote. A quick online search attributes it to Eleanor Roosevelt, but the original authorship is uncertain. Regardless, it got the cognitive wheels a-turning. Is this true?

On first reading it seems like a simple admonition against petty conversations and gossip. The quote could be useful for many of our media outlets today.  With the increased dumbing down of our news, more discussions on ideas would be a refreshing change. We have too many head-lines about the eating habits of pop stars or the sexual escapades of politicians.

But then I began to think about our church. Does the quote hold water when discussing things ecclesiastical? I think not. And here’s why.

Our Catholic faith is an incarnational faith. The meaning of the word, incarnate, is to ‘put on flesh’. We believe that God became human to show us how to be more like God. Jesus taught great truths in simple parables, to show how these truths can be lived out in the here and now. Ideas are not to be isolated in discussions. Ideas are meant to be lived. And, they are lived in events and people. They are meant to be incarnated.

Current media coverage of the Catholic Church has focused on sex abuse scandals, authoritarian bishops, condom debates, and papal fashion statements. It’s a difficult and depressing time to be Catholic. Do we have to be subjected to the horrific details of the sex abuse cases? Are diocesan squabbles really national news? Who really cares what the Pope teaches about condoms or what head-covering he chooses to wear? Isn’t the beauty of the Catholic faith to be found in its core teachings of truth, love, justice and peace? Why can’t we spend more time discussing these great ideas?

And yet, how are these ideas lived out? How is the world to know what we as Catholics, and as a church truly believe? The media is not going to report on the latest theological theses. It is going to report on people and events. And, sadly, too many people and events in recent years have shown the worst depths of depravity and sinfulness imaginable.  The teaching functions in the church have been zealously guarded by the ordained hierarchy. We have been raised to believe that these great minds are the keepers of our great ideas. But, what do we do when some of these keepers fail so miserably at living out the ideas? We can`t ignore it. The people and events in our church that are making scandalous headlines around the world must be faced head on. They must be discussed. And, there is nothing average or small about it. It`s imperative.

I’m not a fan of small talk. Conversations detailing every word and action of an event make me squirm. I have little patience and it doesn’t take much to test it. I do love a heady discussion. Does this make my mind greater than someone who wants to discuss the details of Aunt Daisy’s latest fling? Hardly! Discussing the meaning of life without showing an interest in the lives around you is meaningless. And, discussing the great ideas of our faith without showing an interest in how these ideas are being lived out through people and events in our church is also meaningless.