Spiritual Leadership

It was some time around 2014, soon after Pope Francis was elected, that I was at an ecumenical meeting of clergy for something or other. We were having coffee and talking, and I found myself at a table with 3 Catholic priests. The topic of the pope came up, and I said that I was hopeful about where this new leader would take Catholicism. I also said that I have had respect for every pope in my lifetime, but I have also disagreed with some of their teachings. One of the priests asked me, “But don’t you believe the Holy Father is the head of the Church?” I was a little surprised by the question (I am a Protest-ant, after all), and replied that while I have great respect for the position, no pope is my “Holy Father.” To make matters worse (why stop there?), I said that I find myself agreeing with the Dalai Lama more often than with the pope, which causes quite a bit of consternation among my new friends. I like the pope, but he’s just another priest to me.

It may be part of the problem with religion in general; too often, we believe the words of the pastor or priest or rabbi or imam to be God’s truth rather than an interpretation of God’s words, and it gets us into trouble. Personally, I try to be correct in my religious opinions, and my sermons are deeply considered and thought out. But I am not God’s mouthpiece, I am just another follower of Jesus trying my best to make things better and do the right thing. There are, and have always been, a number of people in my life who think I’m wrong, and they have that right. None of us truly knows the mind of God; we are just giving it our best shot (or guess.)

This is why I read a lot. I try to glean the best ideas from a variety of people who, like me, are trying to do the right thing. I don’t always agree with them, but I try to see why and how they have come to their conclusions so that I can learn from them. The person who buys everything they are told by their spiritual leader isn’t taking things, as the Apostle Paul said, with a grain of salt; they aren’t using God’s gift of intelligence and discernment. Paul also told his readers to test everything, and I am fully convinced that he had no intention for his writings to be considered holy scripture. He just wrote newsletters that addressed the concerns and questions of the people in the churches he founded. He was herding cats just like me.

So, when the pope asked, “Who am I to judge?”, some of us cheered while others booed. When Pope Benedict refused to acknowledge non-Catholic churches as churches (he called them “ecclesiastical communities”), some of us booed and some of us cheered. We are all bound by certain limitations, and we see God through those lenses, often blocking out other possibilities and ideas. For me, the best way to live my faith journey is to be open to those ideas and possibilities, because even though I think I am right, I also could be wrong. None of us goes through life believing things that we think are wrong; that would be the pure definition of deliberate ignorance. We all should be evolving, and part of that evolution is to acknowledge that there are lots of smart, deeply spiritual people out there saying and writing about God in ways that can change our minds. Maybe your mind could be changed too. Be open to the Spirit. She’s pretty amazing.

Prayer – Holy God of so many ideas and people and practices, show us the great diversity of faithfulness, and help us to be better followers. Amen.

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