enlarging the tents vs. circling the wagons


Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;

do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. Isaiah 54:2

 Several years ago, I was asked to be part of a visioning team with my dear Benedictine friends. The Sisters were discerning the future of the monastery in a time of diminishing and aging members. One Sister proposed this line from Isaiah as a mantra and guide.

What a courageous and inspiring image! These women refused to allow their hearts to mirror their shrinking numbers. Instead, they began looking at new ways to share their cherished charism. Not ready to roll up their tents, they dreamed of expansion by embracing new ways of thinking and of being. Today, part of the monastery has been refurbished into St. Benedict’s Place; independent living suites for seniors who “seek to age meaningfully and gracefully with others in a peace-filled environment.”

The image of enlarging tent sites is a useful metaphor in today’s world of ever-narrowing ideologies. The Tea Party in the U.S draws those who want to circle the wagons and hunker down into a security seeking conservatism. Many religions, including Roman Catholics, have groups that would happily wave farewell to all members who do not follow their own fundamentalist or traditionalist ideals.

For these groups, a smaller, “purer” community of the faithful is preferred to the messiness of diversity or dialogue. Clinging to a perceived golden age of the past is preferred to facing the challenges of new methods and new times.

In this dreaming time of Advent, it’s worth taking a moment to vision what our world and our church would look like if we all worked at enlarging the tent site. What if we stretched those stakes and cords further than we thought possible – welcoming others more freely rather than turning more away? What if we learned to expand our boundaries and embrace the risk of newness?

the trad-lib pendulum in catechetics

My generation of baby-boomers was raised in the heady days after the Second Vatican Council. I am just old enough to remember Latin masses. And, I have a very clear recollection of the Baltimore-style Catechism in my early school years. Our religion classes consisted of memorizing, verbatim, responses to questions. I still remember the first two questions,

Who is God?

God is a Supreme Being. 

Why did God make you?

God made me to love Him and serve Him, in this world and the next. 

This is heady stuff for a six year old! Yup, back in St. Werburgh`s in Chester, England, we began the long journey through the Catechism as soon as we started school. The words SUPREME BEING, for some reason, terrified me. Is this what the fear of God is all about? And `the next world` sounded so eery!

We came to Canada when I was eight years old. The more liberal approach to catechetics was making its way into the parishes. Ours was named after good Pope John XXIII. For a couple of years we used more traditional text-books. Being a voracious reader, I loved these books; especially the ones on the lives of saints and Church history.

Slowly, the books were put aside and the art supplies came out. We were now taught that God was butterflies, and encouraged to express our faith through collages and drawings. We listened to Simon and Garfunkel and discussed the deeper message in their words.

As with most pendulum swings, going to extremes might have its strengths. But it almost always results in weakness for what is left behind and thrown away. We need a good grounding in the teachings of the Church. But, we need to ground it in a faith of the heart otherwise it becomes merely an intellectual activity. We need to tap into our emotions, for our emotions help our souls to soar! But love that is based solely on emotional feelings is bound to fail. We need deeply formed roots; a mind and will to remind us of the roots of our faith and why we believe.

And what about Simon and Garfunkel? I still love the lads. They taught me to seek the wisdom and truth in art and culture; whether it is a top 40`s hit, a symphony, a T.V. show, a witty ad, or a brilliantly done graphic design. God can, and does speaks through all. And, isn`t it good to seek God in the world around us?

roamin` catholics

Friends and family are well acquainted with my feelings about a certain Christmas homily from several years past. In front of a church of regulars and many `C and E` Catholics, the pastor announced loudly and strongly that the most important place to be in the world is inside the four walls of this church!

The memory of those words set me off on a long, impassioned rant. I`ll challenge that belief straight from the depths of my gut, spewing forth my anger at such a closed-minded and judgmental theology. There are those that are in. And those that are out. Choosing which category a person falls into is easy…does their back-side warm a pew on a Sunday morning?

Today, another pastor challenged us to be roamin`Catholics. We are called to go beyond the walls of the church; beyond the altar and tabernacle and into the world. Our faith is not a Sunday morning activity. It is meant to be a life choice, shared through our daily lives. AMEN!!!

This difference in views might not seem like a big deal. But it really is a big deal. Some folks view their faith as a call to barricade themselves from the rest of the world. The world is evil. The Church is good. Therefore, we should have as little to do with the former and give all our time and energy to the latter. This kind of ecclesial-centric faith emphasizes the liturgy and sacraments. And, since the liturgy and sacraments are number one, then so are her ministers. This is at the core of clericalism. The more this mentality is fed, the more power is hoarded and the greater is the divide between the ordained and laity.

Being called beyond the walls of the church does not minimize the importance of the liturgy and sacraments. Catholics believe in the efficacious grace of sacraments. We need their healing, nourishing, energizing, and forgiving gifts, given so freely and generously by a loving God. We need to gather as a community of faith and prayer. But we gather in order to be sent.

We are all called to be roamin` catholics. This is at the heart of the new evangelization, spoken about so frequently by recent Popes and Bishops. It is time to unlock the proverbial tabernacles and truly bring Jesus into the world.