Xi Summit made suggestion in a comment to my post below that I quit trying to analyze my marriage, my relationship with the church, my work life and generally adopt some of the Zen principles XH talked about in a comment to FTN in response to this post. I’m actually running both ahead and behind him in some respects. It’s not a bad suggestion, except this is the stuff that I usually blog about. I suppose I could start a bunch of memes and pass those around and I might just do that at some point.
My noodling about my discontentment does serve a purpose, tho. God is driving me towards questions and answers even amongst my attempts at finding diversion.
I went to our public library the other day to drop off some books and DVDs I had checked out for my boys. I decided I would look for some movies for me to watch, which certainly beats even the prices at Blockbuster, which would have been my next stop. Our library has a growing DVD collection both those are forever picked over by late afternoon. However their VHS collection is quite expansive and mature. So I got Up The Down Staircase which is a lovely teacher movie from the late 60’s and another movie I had never seen before called The Matrix. That one was also a good movie which has some interesting parallels to the institutional church system which wasn’t lost on David Frederickson in the first installment of his documentary, The Dropouts. I got one more movie which looked interest called The King’s Guard which was a low budget swashbuckling dud that resembles The Princess Bride except with a lousy script and some stilted acting. Your kids might like it, though. Eric Roberts and Ron Perlman make decent villains, and Ashley Jones makes a lovely princess, but that’s about it.
While in the library the thought occurred to me that I should check out a book. Radical thought, huh? Imagine; checking out a book from the library! But I had absolutely no idea what I was in the mood to read. Definitely not a relationship book. Maybe something nonfiction by C.S. Lewis. There’s still a lot of his books I haven’t read. So I looked in the electronic searcher and found the section where his books might be. But I did not end up checking out a book by C.S. Lewis.
I was perusing the stacks and I just had that feeling that I should be looking for something more. I should look for something more along the lines of where I am in my thinking as far as my relationship with the institutional church. Which is a perfectly odd feeling because I knew that our library had slim enough pickings with Lewis. How does one go about finding a book dealing with being a Christian and not going to church? I knew of no titles or authors off the top of my head and this is not a large library.
So I just browsed, and was getting a bit frustrated.
Ever had a book just sort of leap out at you? Perhaps the book jacket stands out, or the title just grabs you or you may have heard something about the author or perhaps you saw something about it on Oprah. None of those things happened here.
I just reached down to the very bottom shelf and picked up the least descript book on the shelf. Not too big. Not too small. No book jacket, just a plain dark cover with a copyright of 1967 by someone named Charles Davis entitled A Question of Conscience. And within I found exactly what I was looking for. Some answers by a real genuine theologian with some real genuine clout. Still, this is still an unlikely source for answers for me. Or maybe not.
Charles Davis was a lifelong Catholic who entered the priesthood at a very young age. He rose up in notoriety and was considered by many to be the greatest and most influential Catholic theologian of his day in Great Britain. He was teaching at a college there and was editor of a prominent Catholic publication at the time. Then in December of 1966 he announced he was leaving the church and intended to get married, which he did within a couple of months. He is not the first priest to leave and get married and most casual observers would not fault him for that. Hardly worthy fodder for a book. What caused the real firestorm was his stated reason for leaving. In part:
For me, Christian commitment is inseparable from the concern for truth and concern for people. I do not find either of these represented by the official Church. There is concern for authority at the expense of truth, and I am constantly saddened by instances of the damage done to persons by workings of an impersonal and unfree system. Further, I do not think that the claim the Church makes as an institution rests upon any adequate Biblical and historical basis. The Church in its existing forms seem to me to be a pseudo-political structure from the past. It is now breaking up, and some other form of Christian presence in the world is under formation.
There’s more to it, but perhaps you can see why I got a bit excited over it while sitting on the floor in the library. I wonder when the last time this book was checked out?
Davis was perfectly articulating some things running through my head. Here was a guy who was unplugging himself from the institutional religious matrix 40 years ago. But not just any Christian institution but the Mother of them all. It’s understandable why many Catholics got their blood up about this because he was striking at the very heart of something very personal and meaningful to many people around the world. And so his book is an explanation of where he was coming from, at that time. And remember, this is the sixties, when all institutions were being questioned.
I have barely started this book, and it is not light reading. It’s actually more challenging than C.S. Lewis. Davis is writing as a former Catholic theologian and his main audience is presumably Catholic, although he was of no particular denomination at the time of his writing, less than a year out. Plus there is a 40 year gap between then and now, back when I was only 3 or 4 years old. But it’s still a good read for me, and one of the reasons I like to blog is to read real accounts written by real people of their lives. So Davis gives a good backstory on an event that still might have implications for today. I did google up the original article write up from 1966 from Time Magazine as well as a more recent interview and his thoughts on the selection of the new Pope.
He makes the case that I think I should make (again) that it is not a dislike of any particular people or group of people. It is the institution and the hierarchal structure that becomes such a stumbling block. His assertion about authority coming at the expense of truth particularly resonates in light of some of the past discussions we have had around these parts.