Is the Pope Protestant?

July 12, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Don’t worry. I’m not going to talk about the European Union or the Euro or Greece, even though they get pretty close to my subject of unity. My subject is the spiritual meaning of unity -- and why we love it and hate it and want it and don’t want it and need it and don’t want to need it. When Frank Sinatra croons, “I did it my way, “ most of us are listening.

In a way we are all stuck in a kind of spiritual adolescence, which goes something like this, “I hate you Mom and Dad and could you drive me to the mall?” I hate you, fellow citizens, and I hope we can come together soon. I have always disliked the Pope and therefore I intend to continue so doing until the Pope becomes perfect. Like me.

We are simultaneously independence and dependence seeking machines. We want to lean, as long as nobody notices we are leaning. We want someone to watch over us, as long as that God doesn’t extract too much from us. We want leaders, as long as they don’t tell us what to do. We want teachers, as long as they interpret things the way we think things are. We love genuine authority and hate phony authority and think we know the difference between the two. We are mixed about unity, even more mixed about connection. Unity is lots of connections made well. And most of us have an ongoing tiff with someone, most of the time. Often the tiff is with our lover or best friend or sister or mother. Right relationship is the foundation of unity, right connection is magnificent, when sisters and brothers dwell together in unity, and right connection is as rare as it is magnificent. When you take right connection between people who know each other to the next level, into unity between people who don’t know each other, you imagine extraordinary goodness and extraordinary trouble. And that doubleness, of hope and danger, trouble and touch, can keep a person a spiritual adolescent well into her nineties

I am going to argue that maturity is an important way through a lot of doubleness. Why? Because maturity is not a straight line. It is a circle. Like the death and resurrection cycle of Christianity, we go up and down, in and out. Three steps forward, two back. Maturity is like physics, quarky, interrelated zooming in and out of relationship. Maturity is like biology in which the seed contains the flower, which flower contains the seed.

The Nicene Creed imagines an ecclesiastical unity. I am using it as our ancient testimony today not because I want you to believe it or recite it as belief. But I want to properly put it away on the shelf where it belongs. I have utter respect for it as an agreement negotiated with the fervor of those who wrote the US Constitution. Real people were in a real theological battle and came up with a real solution, in words. They met for several years, that’s how important they thought getting it right was. Also I have no interest in converting any of you to the Trinity but rather do like to note what a quarky definition of God it is. Quarks: interrelated subatomic motions. Zooming around all the time, showing you that matter is fundamentally in motion not at rest. I Love quarks. And the Trinity is a quarky notion 0f God, who has at least three parts and they zoom.

I want to focus on the one part of this creed which is about Christian unity. You know the line. One holy catholic and apostolic church. I worshipped with my 90 year old mother and 60 year old sister in Minnesota last month. All three of us knew this creed by heart. We were surprised to say the least. I may recite by heart but don’t believe by heart. This notion of one church is immature, not wrong but immature. There is a new notion of Christian unity, that is maturing among us, and I for one am quirkily and quarkily excited about it.

That notion of unity is being evoked by none other than the Pope. He is taking Roman Catholic Conceit and turning it into Roman Catholic humility. Who am I to judge, he says? He is arguing firmly that the church’s primary business is to care for the least and the lost. He is also inching us towards the kind of decentralized or quarky unity that actually works. The pope is giving lessons in leadership, the kind of leadership that might yet turn the tides. And I do mean the tides. An international leader with a global microphone and an international organization was exactly what the environmental movement needed. Who would ever have thoughtv it would come from the so-called one holy Roman Cahtolic church? The Holy Spirit has such a good sense of humor. The Holy Spirit is at work to mature us.

By the way I know he is not perfect. Women are not yet ordained. Even though that joke document that went around, on papal stationery made me believe he had so announced. He did appointment a tribunal on the bishops but just writing that sentence gives me the heebs. Tribunal. Bishops. OMG. No wonder people don’t trust religion or trust leaders or trust much of anything at all. No wonder we remain in spiritual adolescence if too many of our leaders are child molesters. Just say that again and let it sink in.

Some really smart people don’t like the Pope either. Ross Douthat: “The Pope is a catastrophist… he sees a global civilization that for all its achievements is become more atomized and balkanized, more morally bankrupt, more environmentally despoiled. In contrast, Dynamists on the left believe in technocratic government and Dynamists on the right believe in the genius of free markets. Both assume that modernity is a success story whose best days are ahead…” This is an important argument, containing within it the big fight between the Reformation and the then Catholics. The Catholics were capable of more tragedy than the Protestants. Note Douthat’s crippling binary. As though you could be one or the other, catastrophist or evolutionary. What we need are evolutionary optimists capable of tragedy. And catastrophists capable of evolution. The Pope is not a Protestant. Nor is he a Catholic. The Pope is a Christian, one who understand maturity as death and resurrection, cycling, quarking over and through time.

Did you know that the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is this fall? A month before the Pope will address the UN in Paris about carbon reduction. On October 31, 2017, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door. And now the Pope never preaches without saying, “Open the Bronze doors.”

Protestantism has been blamed for or credited with the rise of the modern nation state, liberalism, capitalism, religious wars, tolerance, democracy, individualism, subjectivism, pluralism, freedom of conscience, modern science, secularism and so much else. It also brought us critical thinking, women’s rights and a positive outlook.

As we go into the 500th year, wouldn’t it be interested to imagine an end to the spirit of recrimination and competition between Protestants and Catholics or Jews and Moslems or all four and more? Who needs religions to be involved in mutual recrimination and us versus them? At our core, what we hope for is the elimination of the necessity of enemies, not an elimination of the necessity of arguments. Paul Murary, a Catholic theologian, calls this a “receptive ecumenism, one where we receive each other with gladness. What an idea.”

It would be interesting to imagine an ecumenism that commemorated the Reformation with repentance as well as celebration. Like Dr. King’s unfinished agenda, the Pope has yet to succeed. Nor have we yet to spiritually mature and ripen and flourish as Protestants. There is as much diversity as ever, as Holly and I will try to show you in the talk back today about the Baptist and UCC conventions we just attended.

So unity: What about it? How about we say

Unity is good when it is not enforced but bubbling up from the roots. Who ever thought a person like me could be as Pro-Pope as I am? He has won my interest, not enforced it. In fact, he has won my attention by NOT enforcing it.

Unity is not good when it is “fakey,” the way people ache to just get along or make believe we’re all in this together. I loved the comment of one gamer who said he really preferred games because reality was so fakey. Ben Cohen had it right when he said, the system is not broken, it is fixed. We are not all in this together. We are all in this apart. When unity goes sugary and sappy, it neglects the realities of moral, spiritual and material injury, which has as long a history as religious fights and religious hopes.

Did you know that the number one reason people leave church is over fights? We fight, even in the smallest of congregations. Warren likes to say there are always two synagogues even in the smallest town. One you like and one you wouldn’t be caught dead in. People find disharmony unreligious and yet that is there hope speaking. Disharmony is ordinary for religious people. As Paul Murary says about a receptive ecumenism, there is a difference between acrimony and argument.

So how might we spiritually mature in such a way as to get a unity that wouldn’t oppress or homogenize? We could get over our self-consciousness. We could enjoy a genuine humility, the kind that leads to harmony. Pride leads away from harmony and unity. Humility is the route there. Andrew Sullivan (not one of my favorite people) argues that what we need next is gay humility day. He defines humility as not thinking less of yourself but thinking less about yourself. Many of us are our own primary obstacle to the unity we might enjoy. Teju Coates in a powerful letter to his son, part of his new book and just released in the Atlantic, argues

SO as long as the Pope doesn’t go too far, I permit him to be Protestant and myself to be somewhat catholic. Nicene or not.

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