Sparring with the Beast: September 2004

They say you can't fight city hall, though most of us do in one way or another. If not the government, than some other institution where we find ourselves lost in a telephone maze, or standing in slack jawed amazement at some bureaucratic BS that is interruptive to the very thing the institution is supposed to be serving.

My latest battle was with the school system, which moved out my son's math teacher six weeks into the school year because they had 'over hired,' and then couldn't keep his schedule intact because 'all the classes were full.'

It occurred to me as I raged at all these lovely people who 'couldn't do anything,' that perhaps the reason we so often hear people say they are not interested in the 'institutional church,' is that they have had so many years of being battered by the educational beast: a snorting dragon that is more interested in having them jump through academic hoops, than in serving the heart of their personal educational interests; a monster so focused on self-preservation that it destroys the very thing it is supposed to be building up.

The church, of course, is equally capable of being self-serving, and has a long history of murdering those who try to turn the tide. Beasts lurk in every bush: medical, governmental, religious, corporate... We come together for the common good and then create 666 rules and regulations that calcify into a monster. We expect that the grand institutions we build, the new laws we make, will bring us up to heavenly heights, but instead we create a tower of bureaucratic babble.

The horrifying thing is that we all are equally guilty of feeding and protecting the beast; we all are self-serving. WE make up the building blocks of the institutional beasts. Nazi Germany was full of lovely people who were 'just doing their job,' caught in an institution that had run amuck.

No wonder so many people protect the depths of their hearts against institutional infiltration. Yet we must come together, for it is there that that the work can be done, the great joys shared. Like the gold and jewels in the dragon's lair, the beast often guards sparkling treasures in his cave. How then do we get hold of the treasure without being eaten by the beast?

It is the miracle of self-sacrifice that alters the course of institutional entropy. Salvation that is found again and again, not in the glorious richness of an institution, nor in the latest clever law, but in an individual; a lowly person, born in obscurity and raised up by God; a person, who is willing to be sacrificed on the altar of love, willing to give up his life, for his friends.

I read CHINA COURT by Rummer Godden. She's best known for IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE--another nun's story. Post WWII English domestic stories exude a marvelous hope in individual goodness; in the virtue and strength of building a house, a family, a simple life. Ten years ago, for our 25th anniversary, we went to Cabo San Lucas and I checked out a half dozen Rummer Godden books from the library. I read them poolside in the Mexican sun--one a day like multiple vitamins. My favorite is AN EPISODE OF SPARROWS; two children who make a garden in a cathedral's corner. The very last chapter of CHINA COURT is slightly irritating, but otherwise it's also a fine read. The only other copy on the web is a $42 hardback, so even this slightly shabby mass paperback is undoubtedly a rare treasure. I'll pass it along for a couple of dollars.

Now my son and his new wife honeymoon in Cabo. In the post wedding glow, I am so grateful for the gifts of love given by friends and family; the many unique treasures stored up in individuals, poured out for this event; seed planted years ago, blossoming in this time. The beast can stomp and snort, can singe with fiery breath and wound with claw and tail, but in the end the love stored in each individual heart is beyond the reach of the beast. It can be poured out anywhere, anytime; and that love is what will prevail, forever.

Sermon Bit: "God uses people; it's his favorite medium. And the medium is the message." --Fr. Patrick

MAKING A MARK begins next Tuesday, October 5 at 12:30. Writing and/or visual arts will be used as a means of spiritual exploration and a way to communicate with ourselves, God and others. People will be free to write fiction, poetry, prose, journal, nonfiction and/or use any visual medium that they choose to bring to class. The Gospel of Mark will be our kick off point, letting the Biblical imagery, message, and power infiltrate our work. The cost is $30 for the nine week course, but no one will be turned away due to lack of funds. Teresa will grace our first class with her wonderful Mexican cooking. Let me know if you're planning to attend or want to join the experimental online version (no free lunch online!).

END QUOTE: "After two years in Washington, I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood." -Fred Thompson, US senator, lawyer, writer, and actor (1942-)

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