Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Removing the Plank in Our Own Eye

By Paula Ruddy

I went to hear Michael Crosby, OFMCap, talk to the peace community, Pax Christi MN, at its annual assembly on Saturday, September 26. Inspiring is the word for it. Michael is the author of numerous books and consults widely. To learn about him go to www.michaelcrosby.net and to learn about his new program to teach the positive use of power go to www.choosingcompassion.net.

What was inspiring to me was the peace community itself in a day long workshop, about 80 strong, men and women who have been dedicated to the ideal of peace and the work of peace year in and year out. We clapped for a young person in attendance because he was a young person in attendance. They are living the mission of the Church from the strength of their own community. Nothing so beautiful as the experience of the moment within a community of caring persons.

Michael Crosby talked about power. First he asked us if we wanted it, and he got the expected ambivalence. Tentative hands went up for yes, lots of hands went up for no. We didn’t know what to think of the question. Should we want power or not? Crosby over several years has developed a constructive vision of power and its uses, undergirded by a theology of the Trinity that borrows from analogs of quantum physics and personalist philosophy.

All matter is composed of interrelated parts. Nothing exists in singularity, all the packets of energy combining and exchanging in constant communication to create power in the material universe. Analogously the individual person does not exist in singularity but in relationship.

Michael Crosby speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not as two men and a bird, but with language that gets to the heart of personhood, the “I am-ness” of the self and its essential relatedness. God is the I Am, in communion with Another, Thou Art, in a dynamic We Are. God’s life is a community, a communion of love. Jesus of Nazareth is humanity identified with the Thou with whom the I Am communes, from which communion breathes the We Are, alive in the universe. All humanity is destined for communion with God through our brother Jesus and in his Spirit. That is the Christian vision.

So what about this God-inspired human power? It is the energy of the person to influence others in relationship. The power to influence, exercised freely, can be positive or negative. Relating negatively produces control, coercion, exploitation, manipulation, domination resulting in fear, abuse, injury, conflict, violence, hate, and ultimately, indifference. Destructive control kills the ability to care. The person abused by power stops caring. Indifference, or hardness of heart, is the antithesis of the life emanating from the Trinity of persons related in love. A Christian cannot be indifferent. S/he must care.

The ability to care, power used in positive ways of relating, produces respect, affirmation, challenge and correction, resulting in freedom, trust, healing, collaboration, understanding, peace, love and compassion. The person influenced by loving care himself/herself becomes a caring person. A community of caring persons is in the image of the life of the Three-personed God.

Michael Crosby’s construction of the uses of power fit right in with all I have been thinking about during the past weeks. As a member of a work/study group of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) preparing for the Synod of the Baptized in September 2010, I have been thinking about the Church’s mission. What is the mission of the Church? Our study groups have been trying to articulate the mission first so we can think about what practices will create a culture that will help fulfill the mission. You can imagine my mental “Oh, Yesses!” as Michael Crosby spoke. Some people did say Amen out loud.

What is our vision of Church? First off, it is a community. Isn’t each community to be modeled after the Trinity in loving relationship? The Christian Church is a vast community of smaller communities of persons baptized into Christ. The Roman Catholic Church is one very big community within the Christian Church. Our Archdiocese—bishops, clergy, lay people--is one community within the Roman Catholic Church. Each parish is a community within the Archdiocese. Circles within circles.

And what is the power/energy within the community to be used for? Isn’t it about equality, respect, inclusion, affirmation, patient kindness, support of full human development through relatedness: in a word, love? The ability to care exercised within the community makes it a caring community to act in the world to spread the word and deeds of God’s love for humanity demonstrated in and by Jesus. That’s how I applied Michael Crosby’s power analysis to the question of the Church’s mission.

It was getting late in the day and I had a daydream during Michael Crosby’s last sentences.

Just as Michael finished, a bishop came into the church basement room where the peace community was gathered. He wasn’t dressed like a bishop, no cope or mitre, or even a Roman collar, but I knew he was a leader by the energy that emanated from him. As he was making his way to the front of the room, he was greeting people, “Hello, Joe and Marilyn. Tom and Darlene, how are you? Chris, thanks for all the great work! Hello, Florence, good to see you. Brigid, I knew I’d see you here! How are you Mary and Angelo. Duane. Steve. Mary. Kathleen. How wonderful to see you all.”

First he thanked them and acknowledged the years of good work they had been doing. His sincere praise was like water on a struggling garden. People came alive to it, their own energy uplifted by his.

His next words were electrifying, “How can I help?” Sitting down among the gathering, he said, “The people working in CCCR have recommended an Archdiocesan Peace Commission. We have saved some money out of the Chancery budget, but it may not take much money. We could publicize your projects and arouse wider interest among the parishes for the work you do. We could have training sessions for non-violent communication in parishes. We could have Peace Sunday once a month with materials suggesting help for homilists. We could show how the negative use of power in families is destructive of children’s development; we could show how affirmation causes children to bloom. What do you think? There are lots of possibilities here. I think it is at the heart of our mission. Any volunteers to help plan this? “ He must have earned their trust in their prior dealings with him, because many people volunteered.

The dream ended. But I was left with a glimpse of a church community mirroring the loving energy within the Trinity and the spark igniting the Church’s mission. Hmmm. A Peace Commission. Is it a good idea? Contact www.cccrmn.org and leave us a message if you want to work on it.

For more information on Pax Christi International, Pax Christi, USA, and Pax Christi MN, go to the following websites: www.paxchristi.net, www.paxchristiusa.org, and www.paxchristimn.org.

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