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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.

July 7, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 63




global perspective Keeping the family talking

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

Not even parents who manage to hang on to love, raise kids, survive financially, babysit grandkids, and more-or-less live happily-ever-after, escape Scot free. Same's true for the church.

A panda bear reminded me.

This day, temporarily ungridlocked after the climb over the mountain, it was the customary 75 mph in the slow lane. I glimpsed a dirty old panda bear in the highway detritus to the side.

I knew a version of the tale. Poor mom or dad at wheel bounded along in a line of high-speed traffic that stretched miles ahead and miles behind.

Inside the minivan someone opened the window to let panda bear enjoy the wind for a change -- until the wind got the better of panda bear and whoosh! Toyland's equivalent of road kill.

Forty years from now, when Mom and Dad mark their golden wedding and the stories are told, some kid -- who's aired the grievance at every family gathering -- is going to say again, "you remember the time when panda bear got blown " Parents grimace with joy, sibs roll smiling eyes, the tale is told to completion.

It matters that such tales get told to completion. They weave us together, as family, as church. Perhaps, even especially, unhappy stories.

Things need to be talked out. Often repeatedly. Sometimes to let go, sometimes to renew.

But things can't be talked out if there isn't any listening and response. And that's much the state of the church at present.

The church of the 1950s headed toward gridlock. Rising lay ambition forehead to forehead with institutional intransigence.

Vatican II (1962-65) burst the pending jam open and there was foot-to-the-floor for reform. Some who called, "Hey, there's something worth saving," were sucked through the window, and ignored. Then a fresh gridlock -- ideological.

The present pontificate burst the next gridlock wide open; the restorationists went foot-to-the-floor -- toward their next gridlock.

It will manifest itself in many parishes in the friction between the cassocked elitist on the altar who believes he's church, and the don't-believe-that's-what-Jesus-had-in-mind Catholics he'll willingly alienate as good-riddance.

The lesson lost is one most moms and dads have gained, if only from experience: the need to keep the family talking openly in order to celebrate together.

Parents finally learn what was most important -- to listen to the cries, to take the detour, wait until the traffic slowed, and swing back to pick up panda bear.

Not for tranquility's sake, but because the panda bears are part of the family, too.

Arthur's Daily Ditty

In an L.A. of fast speeds plus gridlock,
Where catching a plane's tour de force,
It's 35 miles in two hours, and
Actually faster by horse.

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