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|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|February 6, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 197
When a local church is decapitated
By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration
At midlife and in mid-stride, Flynn was in terrible transition, realizing that the massive, systematic intellectual formation he had received was like the King's English in a world that spoke Esperanto.
Radical transition makes demands. John the Baptist was the last of the old prophets. Jesus said of him, "John is the greatest person ever born, but the least in the reign of God is greater than him." Something new has occurred, and to discern it we must leap across some immeasurable gap and be reborn, not just by water but by fire and wind.
John, who knew God's justice in his bones, did not recognize the reign of mercy Jesus was proclaiming. So John, in prison, sent disciples to ask Jesus if he was the messiah, or if they should look for another. John was about to enter the mystery Jesus has inaugurated, but without his head.
Jesus hinted at his own radical separation from old ways of thinking when he said, "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head." There is no comfortable ideological resting place once you enter the ongoing rebirth and conversion required of the disciple. You will never be "learned" again in the sense of finished; you will always be learning something new. Head ideas are another way to label and control change. Jesus calls us to an accelerated understanding that moves faster than we can think. God is doing something new and different. Entrust your heart to me and your head will follow.
The church in crisis is a church being reborn. Radical transition often starts not in the head but with the heart. Continuity, personal and official, is critical to the survival of our fragile communities of faith. From the struggling base communities of Latin America to the priestless parishes of Montana, the Spirit is present and at work, especially among the laity. What will emerge is a matter of speculation, but one thing seems certain. If the church is to make passage in these times of institutional dislocation and official gaps, it will be because the seeds of faith are rooted deeply in the hearts of the baptized.
At the Last Supper, on the eve of a catastrophic loss for the first Christian community, the disciples gathered close around Jesus. Their minds were confused, their heads useless to grasp the enormous change that would occur after the death and resurrection of their leader. One disciple, John by name, perhaps exhausted with anxiety and fear, leaned over and put his head on Jesus' chest. Head to heart, he would hear the mystery that would make him the Beloved Disciple, the first one to understand the meaning of the empty tomb.
We need to keep our heads, rule number one in a crisis, but something more is needed as well. A well-tuned heart speaks a different, more universal language. What is your heart saying to you today?
Pat Marrin's e-mail addres is email@example.com. Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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