Not According To

I’ve been thinking about rule books today, viz sex and the church.

There’s only two books: The Church’s Rules and Not the Church’s Rules, although the latter comes in several various, often unique editions. Many people outside the Church use their favorite version of the Not the Church’s Rules. And I’m ok with that: I don’t expect people who are playing Baseball to follow the rules of College Football. I don’t expect NASCAR to follow the rules of Lawn Darts, and I don’t expect people to play Pinochle following the rules of Spit and Malice. People outside the Church are not expected to follow The Church’s Rules. But inside the Church now…

My journey began with a jettisoning of The Church’s Rules and the discovery of Not the Church’s Rules in a college youth group at a retreat center in upstate New York, in the winter of 1982-1983. Prior to that time, I’d worked really hard at using the same rule book everyone used for ever. From that point on, I tried to play by Not the Church’s Rules while staying inside the Church in various ways until, late in 1988 or so. Things were very odd., let me tell you. You can’t play golf without the right set of rules. Even croquet is not close enough to golf to let you play the same game.

So I decided the problem was I was using Not the Church’s Rules inside the Church: I left the Church. Cuz Not the Church’s Rules let me be me. And I was having fun. I was kinda ok, for nearly ten years. But oddly, whilst having fun, something was missing.

So, for a brief time, I tried again to play Not the Church’s Rules inside the church… but then I decided I actually wasn’t in the church since everyone was playing by Not the Church’s Rules in sex, in theology, in Bible, in economic culture… didn’t matter.

So I went and joined the Church.

But I still tried to play Not the Church’s Rules.

And… Still didn’t work.

So I left the Church again.

This cycle continued, unabated, until rather recently in Salvation History. I decided that maybe – just maybe – I needed to try the one thing I’d not tried at all: Being in the Church and playing by The Church’s Rules.

At no point in here did I think I needed to make the Church jettison her Rule Book: but I tried pretty much every version of not-following that book I could come up with. I finally decided that getting rid of one part of the Rule Book made all the other parts of the same book (Fiscal, Moral, Theological, Sacramental) as weak as possible, until it was easy to tear them out too.

When you’re left with the Church’s Empty Binder of Nothingness, oddly, you don’t have Church any more either.

This is why hearing folks trying to force the Church play by Not the Church’s Rule Book makes me really, really nervous, annoyed, sometimes angry. Then I remember the Church has stood up to people who were trying to kill her over that Rule Book for two millennia. So I’m ok with waiting this round out.

She always wins.

Run that up the Crucifix and see who genuflects

July Fourth always leaves me wrestling with my identity as a person born in this country. I have very little problem identifying with our past (even the bad parts) but the present has been a problem since, about 1980. That was the time I started to see through our Mythology. I remember one of the youth of our (Methodist) church running upstairs from the polling station, located in our Church’s basement, to announce that Ronald Reagan had won in our tiny little town of Rock Hill, NY. Our leader raised her hands heavenward and thanked Jesus.

I spent the next 8 years thinking Jesus had a funny sense of humor. I’ve continued to think that through the last 5 administrations – and even more so now.

When St Paul says, “there is neither Jew nor Greek” and elsewhere, “neither Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free” he is undoing all our identities. As Christians we are nothing by the world’s lights, “but Christ is all”.

Yet the secular authorities have a place, a purpose. And so it is that we pray for the king – even if the king, or queen, or czar, or dictator, or president hates the Church, persecutes the Church, tries to destroy the Church. The Churches of Russia commemorated their communist oppressors and prayed for them daily, that they would do their God-appointed jobs, perform their God-appointed functions, and leave the Church in peace. The Churches prayed for Obama and pray for Trump in exactly the same way.

The place where we are is all part of the mystery of Providence, like the family into which we are born. The whole of the universe has been designed to bring us to salvation. So, I am an American. To deny or wish otherwise is to belittle God’s design. We live in a hemisphere visited by God’s own Mother, and raising up saints to this very day in all the cultures that live in this half of the globe.

Yet, though individual laws passed or supported by various governments may tend more or less towards Christian morals there is no such thing as a Christian state or a Christian government. There may be a Christian sitting in the office, but no one following Christian morals can today (if ever) navigate the turbulent waters of statecraft without frequent recourse to the confessional.

And so it is that I sit here on the on the 482nd anniversary of the martyrdom of St Thomas More, and I wonder: how can I be the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.

How is it possible to live in this world, to gain sanctity, to work out my salvation in fear and trembling, while still being an American in any way other than only by the accident of what’s on my birth certificate.

I don’t think it is possible at all.

To live Christian Moral choices into the office of any elected official, into any state appointment, into any official function may well be impossible for me (for me not for you) because I am timid, fearful, irresolute. Having made that confession, I do honestly wonder about the sagacity of those who make that choice, who march knowingly into the post office, the political party boss’s calendar, or the county clerk’s office and ask for a job. I don’t doubt their faith – that’s known to their confessor alone – but I admit I don’t believe for a minute a faithful Catholic could knowingly vote for either abortion laws or anti-poor laws or anti-marriage laws and still honestly say in her heart she is a Catholic. So either these persons are foolish, silly, deluded, or outright evil.

God helps fools, the silly, and does not fault the deluded (unless it is by their own choice). But the Evil, now, the wolves in sheep’s clothing… these we must avoid at all cost.

Nancy Pelosi & JFK. Catholics(?)

And so, maybe, it’s possible that this very thing: this learning that we cannot be loyal Americans and faithful Christians is our reason for being here. Faithful Catholics and Orthodox were not loyal Soviets, but they were good citizens. They lived in the community God gave them, they became Saints in the the world in which God saw them born. We don’t have to be nostalgic for a mythic past or even pretend to be flag-wavers. We can be thankful for what God has given us, aware of what man has corrupted in God’s gifts, and wary of the Evil One’s prime temptation: to imagine that we did this, some how. To claim that the Church must thank anything secular for the blessings God has given us. Any good there is here must be known as God’s gifts, not the product of anything in the created order.

Any liberty we enjoy, is not by or because of America or the secular government, not by virtue of any national grace or unique identity; all good comes to us because God used America to give it to us. God is the author, America is only this chapter in the book. When it pleases him, this chapter will close (or is already closing) and something new will come along. It will be our duty then, to go, move, shift… and do a new thing joyfully.