Polarization

Michael Peppard writes here on an upcoming conference on polarization. From his conclusion:

(We) cannot fully escape these cultural forces (at least not without becoming sectarian, the so-called “Benedict Option”) …

At its root, polarization is not necessarily bad. People have different opinions and approaches to life. This works well in when two or more diverse people are gathered because it means that serious challenges can be tackled in different ways.

What is a problem, and even a sin, is when people celebrate their personal difference rather more than they celebrate the overall difference between brothers and sisters in belief.

What do I mean by that? Simple narcissism when people stake a claim that “I am faithful, I am conservative. I am orthodox. I am right.” As a distinct claim from either “I am a sinner” or “We are in this together.”

Noting cultural forces that tear apart our world, nation, and neighborhoods is pulling one’s head out of the sand. But people can make a choice, “I’m not going to be that way. Christ is who I follow; not Rove, Fox, MSNBC, or the 70’s liberals.”

Many Catholics struggle and fail on this front. They have been coopted by the culture. They might think they can make like a Benedict and head to the desert. But the echo of the culture they left behind will likely ring in their heads. Without conversion, the desert pretender will be fighting the demons inside and projecting horns and tails on whatever companions one finds in one’s way.

(I)n all facets of church life, creating spaces for graced encounters across lines of class and color …

Pope Francis calls it accompaniment. Jesus modelled it. More people could do it. It may involve doing things that one doesn’t do while watching tv or surfing to one’s favorite news or church sites. To create space for an encounter, one needs to be opportunistic when the moment presents itself, silent while the companion is talking, prudent when urged to advise, correct, or preach, and willing to learn something. One has to desire the encounter more than the groupie.

Now even as I write this, I’m skeptical of my own proposals. Are calls for transcending polarization hopelessly naïve, as some church historians have claimed? Maybe so, since we’ve been divided on key issues from the beginning, like when Paul got in Peter’s face at Antioch (Gal 2:11). Paul had the naïve, even insane notion that God had opened the covenant to Gentiles. Then again, our tradition holds that these two culture warriors met again in Rome, where they found their unity-in-diversity.

Church history proves that the line between naïveté and hope is not always clear. Or rather, that line doesn’t hold still.

Conferences are fine, I guess. I just prefer ministry.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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