The Joy of Whining
Texts: Numbers 11:4-6; Mark 9:38-42
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 27, 2015
Today will go down in history as the day the Pope, a Pope, spoke to a joint meeting of Congress. There were moments of beauty in this speech that anyone of good will could sit and listen to and be inspired. Pope Francis, with his usual Jesuit insights, wove brilliantly talking about Americans, American Catholics, and life in this nation. It was well done.
While many are calling it a ‘political’ speech, it really wasn’
t was less a speech than a sermon and an articulation of his beliefs as well as a reflection of Roman Catholic social teaching. He said things that made Republicans squirm and things that made Democrats squirm. The early portion of his speech where he spoke about polarization should have made them all squirm. (Yeah, I squirmed too!) His perspective on the dangers of fundamentalism of any sort were perfect.
It is being dissected as a political speech which, frankly, it really wasn't. I think the perspective that it was a political speech reflects more on the listeners than the speaker.
In the midst of this had said some blockbuster words:
Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.
Fundamentalism is inherently dangerous and his words of being attentive to every type of fundamentalism are worth listening to. So much of faith requires a delicate balance between heart and mind. It’s important to FEEL in relationship to God but pure feeling makes religious faith be little more than emotions run amuck.
Conversely, we must also use our minds. Religious faith is built on faith and, on one level, faith is irrational----but…..when it becomes purely irrational it gets crazy. Additionally, when it gets purely rational Worship becomes little more than a classroom and is sterile.
Religious practice, at its best, balances the two. Fundamentalism, however, eliminates both. It takes things literally to the point of missing the spirit behind the words, losing the heart behind the words, and no longer analyzing or critically thinking through things. Its consequences are awful and, as the Pope said so well, can often lead to violence.
While we often focus on Islamic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism is also a problem. Within the Protestant tradition that fundamentalism is taking the Bible more literally than it was even intended to be taken and eliminated such things as science, psychology, and history. Once speaking to a group and getting into a debate of sorts with a man who challenged me when I said that the Bible is a product of the early church; and not visa versa. He argued with me that I was wrong because another pastor in another church said the opposite. I very coldly (bad on my part) stated that this was not my opinion, but was a fact and that you really can’t debate facts.
I never saw him again.
Within Roman Catholicism the Pope deals with the “Tradition’ fundamentalists who look back on Medieval teachings and want to abide by them literally. In the same way Biblical literalists follow the Bible, these people cite Popes and others and state that their church must abide by these laws.
Pope Francis’ words cut in all directions and do so well.
I greatly appreciated his articulation of simplistic reductionism. His early remarks about polarization were interesting because simplistic reductionism is the mantra of American politics. There is right and there is left. The center is scorned. Boo hiss, if you are center on something. You are road kill.
The great myth is there are two sides to everything. Sometimes there is one side. There are facts, ie, the Bible is the product of the early Christian Church. The Pope was born in Argentina. The President was born in Hawaii. (Funny how that fact is a subject of debate!) The sun rises and sets every day and the oceans are vast. Facts.
It is often simplistic reductionism when we say that there are ONLY two sides to things. It may be what we hear from our government leaders and it may be what we hear on talk radio or the news, but the world is more complex than that. When a couple has a second child the family dynamics change a lot. A couple relates to a child; the child relates to the couple and each person in the couple relates to the child as individuals. Add a second this and you add the relationship of the two kids as a unit and as individuals and by the time you are done 1+1 = a lot more than two.
Today truth spoke to power. Will power listen? I’m curious.
Liberty University is in Lynchburg, Virginia and was the brainchild of Jerry Falwell who, at the time, was the Senior Pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church, also in Lynchburg. Jerry Falwell was one of the leaders of the organization he co-founded, The Moral Majority, and was a leading voice in the Religious Right. The current Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Church is his son, Jonathan Falwell. Although Jonathan is not as nationally known as
his famous father, one would presume his philosophy and theology are comparable. The President of the school is Dr. Jerry Falwell, Jr. Again, one would imagine his philosophy and theology are comparable to his Dad’s.
Liberty University has been a stalwart in conservative political thought and philosophy and, theologically is an institution that prides itself on it’s theological fundamentalism. This is who they are and I’m not going to make any value judgments on this. They have every right to be who and what they choose to be.
Most of the politicians who have been invited to speak at Liberty have been people who are pretty much in harmony with the people at the school. The people who have spoken there wanted to speak to a friendly audience and be of one accord.
Yesterday, however, a self-professed Democratic Socialist Jewish politician spoke there. Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to everyone and they all came and listened.
Some applauded wildly at everything. In some instance a large number of people applauded respectfully. Some people never applauded. Sanders spoke respectfully to them acknowledging they differed in a lot of areas, but respected their opinions. The Liberty Students did likewise.
Dr. Falwell, Jr. said he admired Senator Sanders courage to come. He was asked some difficult questions and responded respectfully and honestly, recognizing that many would disagree with him. Conversely he challenged people with their own faith development and people received his challenge with grace.
Many of the students walked away saying this even was going to evoke a lot of good discussions.
I suspect Bernie Sanders is not going to have an abundance of Liberty students voting for him and I also suspect that his mind is going to be changed by them. But I applaud both the school and the Senator for having the intellectual courage to look further than their own noses. So often we listen and read only those people and those things with whom we disagree. We find out other people’s opinions through the filters of analysts with whom we agree. Bernie Sanders and Libert University had the courage to talk face to face. To me, something good happened.
Please note, I did not have my recorder at Worship and this was recorded later on so it may lack the same aspects the sermon had in front of the congregation.