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Monday, January 29, 2007

Funny hats or no...

Could it be that I crave authority?

This morning on NPR, Congressman from Massachusetts Barney Frank gave a eulogy-remembrance of the man whom he replaced in Washington. Father Robert Drinan was the first Roman Catholic priest elected as a voting member of congress. He served from 1971-1980, when he declined to run for re-election.

Rep. Frank described Drinan, a human rights legal pioneer, law professor, and most centrally, a Jesuit, as extraordinary. Frank said Drinan never considered rebelling against Pope John Paul II's order barring priests from holding public office. Drinan was disappointed, and hoped the decree would change, but followed it unequivocally. This further supported his reputation as a man of integrity. It's easy, Barney said, to follow an order when you agree with it. It's a point of character to do so when you feel you could accomplish good things through defiance.

Life's not set up for people outside certain exceptional religious communities to submit to authority much today. In Sunday School yesterday we were (sort of - there's a lot of ADD in a futon-furnished room full of 8th and 9th graders) talking about the "lesson" of Esther. What's the moral of the story? Sometimes hide your identity, sometimes put it right out there? Sometimes do exactly as you're told, sometimes take risks and push the legal boundaries? How do we know when it's better to obey than to follow the wisdom of our own guts? This is a contemporary Christian problem.

The knee-jerk answer is something about community: safety in numbers. But, I'm not sure we do this very well today, either, because the Individualism, Situational Drive thing is so saturated, so overwhelming in its flavor, even if in theory we're trying to balance or integrate it with submission to a community of committed, tested, mature voices.

I think I do miss authority. It is not simply a lazy or apathetic thing, wanting someone to just make it easier for me and tell me what to do. On the contrary, I'm an obsessive controller, and a little bit bossy. But I never feel that I can confidently hear someone or something - especially if what I'm hearing conflicts with my gut (those church tests show I have the "gift of discernment") - and do what is said, because of the value of Authority. And perhaps I feel, experience, this as an ever-present sense of dis-ease and disconnect. Were we created - is it in our ordained human nature - to function in hierarchical relationships, and does our current, Protestant, American, democratic, dislocated-meta-narratives way of life leave us out of a better way?

(If it does, then the Internet is the root of all evil.)

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