The Taser's Edge


In Which Pope Gregory Keeps Me Honest

In my last post, I wrote of my own reticence to embrace Christian leadership, my false labeling of that reticence as the Christian virtue of ‘humility’, and of the cover for myself that I can find in both the Christian tradition and in Christian Scripture, specifically in the Catholic tradition represented by The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.  It turns out that I was only looking at one part of tradition and one part of Scripture.  (Funny how often it happens that even when we are well-intentioned, as I was in that post, we see in our sources of authority the things we want to see.)

Back to this post, Thomas Oden was a liberal mainline Protestant (Methodist, in fact) who became widely known only when he broke with that tradition for a return to patristic sources as resources for theology and pastoral care.  Among the books he has written is 1984’s Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition (available online through this link)part accusation and lament that the Christian tradition had been largely removed from 20th century pastoral theology (others have had to agree that he was right on this point, whether or not they agree that it is a problem), part monograph on the pastoral theology of Gregory the Great.

Oden writes (to me!):

“Everyone who has seriously thought about ministry has encountered the special temptation that says, yes, I feel called to ministry but I do not want to be thrust into this gravely responsible position of guidance of souls…Gregory answered candidly out of his own intense struggle with his vocation: It is hardly genuine humility to refuse responsibility when you have understood that it is God’s call for you to take a certain kind of leadership.  Here the vice of obstinacy may be parading under the guise of humility.  This vice gains its power from the burdensome awareness that we still do not desire to take on responsibilities for which we have in fact been thoroughly prepared because they run counter to our egocentric inclinations.”

I am as quick as the next modern to dislike labeling myself as ‘obstinate’ or ‘egocentric’, but to get caught up in that part is to miss the point.  I, to quote Oden, ‘have, in fact, been thoroughly prepared.’  I have a Duke degree, some very good and ever-growing experience, some gifts, some talents, some weaknesses, some struggles, and a calling.  I’m not comfortable with claiming all that all the time, but I do believe it (nearly all the time).

And, just as I last week presented Thomas a Kempis as truly representing a Scriptural tradition (which he does), I should mention in closing that Gregory also has a Scripture at his back, a Scripture I’ve heard many times, but never as speaking to my particular leadership ‘issues’, even though now it seems plain enough.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Lk. 12:48)

Lord, have mercy.  Really.  Amen.