12 September 2008

some good thoughts on obedience and authourity

The following are some thoughts on obedience and authourity, which resonate well with life in community. They are taken from Edith Stob's blog:

"Obedience and Authority - Final Observations

The panel presentation at the close of the 2008 Monastic Institute asked four of the speakers to reflect on what they had heard and seen in the various talks, to share those reflections, and to add any final idea or word that needed to be said.

Tim Otto, of the Church of the Sojourners began by observing that people from San Francisco like to think they are countercultural, but the real alternative communities have always been the monastics.

He then noted that "obedience does not mean refusing to face into the necessary conflicts. Pacifism is not passive. We need to be the best fighters, the best arguers. Because we don't have the option of killing anyone, we have to be able to see an argument through to the end." He told of a community member, someone who struggles with an addiction, who complained when Tim did not confront him about his behavior, saying "Why aren't you arguing with me? I feel like you've given up on me."

The relationships in community that are the most valuable are often those that have been hardest fought. At the Church of the Sojourners, a person exploring their community who argues and asks questions is the one who is seriously grappling with what is happening. True community is generated when we care enough to disagree.

Deaconess Louise Williams noted that, no matter which person was speaking, three words came up repeatedly: Love, Trust, and Hope. One speaker termed obedience "the most effective way of loving" and another said that "listening is loving." Trust was talked about as trusting God, trusting the process, and trusting the authorities to guard and be obedient to both God and process. Hope (believing that what you see is not what you get) is the fruit of healthy authority and healthy obedience. The call to obedience is a promise that things can be different. That we can be different.

Sister Christine Vladimiroff noted that we barely had time to deal with the many ways and types of obedience that St. Benedict presents. She called attention, in particular, to the authority of the community. Many speakers talked about the abuse of power by superiors, but no one spoke about the situation in which the community proves recalcitrant, or factions form. What are the remedies? How does leadership deal with it? Similarly, we did not speak of grumbling and individuals who refuse the practice of the community. Groups may collude to reduce the power of the leader. Obedience is not a matter of carrying out an order. It is a way of giving ourselves fervor.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger spoke last. When he first became abbot, he said, he was glad that these brothers "meant business" and "were serious" - and how surprised he was at the tremendous impact that obedience had on people. "I realized I better get serious," he said, adding "I can count the number of times I got my way in those years - it was in having authority that I learned obedience."


Abbot John Eudes concluded by describing two dangers regarding obedience and authority, dangers visible in our monasteries and grounded in our common culture.

* Political Correctness can invade religious life. When it does, it shuts off conversations. We need to avoid the trap where political correctness prevents us from discussing particular issues or listening to some opinions. We need those discussions rather than just avoiding the issues. Lack of clarity in ecumenical dialog can lead to a wishy-washy communion that suppresses real differences; true dialog maintains the differences.
* Subjectivism is the result of upholding only one of two norms taught by John Henry Newman (this one was quoted by a speaker). A morality of conscience is important - that in any conflict of rules and conscience, we must follow conscience. The other norm emphasized by Newman (which we followed at great cost to himself) is that of having a true and properly formed conscience. To do that, one must know the scriptures, know the tradition, study patristics.

As monastics, we need to deal with the human tendency to "settle in" and stop wrestling with tough questions and tough issues.

Questions and comments from a variety of participants elicited some futher comments. Sr. Christine noted that "some monastics had a burst of generosity, then spend their lives taking it back. The monastery is not a place to nest, but to soar out into the sky. If we're not doing that, we're not living our vocation."

Deaconess Louise, commenting on safeguards and structures of authority, said "Misuse of authority can happen. It's not the structure that bring blessing - any structure can be corrupted."

Abbot John Eudes, asked if his training in psychiatry was useful, said that it was, but prayer moreso. "The way any human person is differs from how they seem themselves or from how others seem them. There are unseen depths of potential or distress; people live on many levels." In prayer and with the insight of psychiatry, he began to see the mystery of people who are displace - "and we are all displaced persons. We all need other people. We have to deal with our desire to be loved by other people all the time. Once you can deal with that, you can begin to bear fruit."

"Everyone has to deal with two issues.Love. Anger. If you do it well," he said, "you will begin to grow in love and bear the fruit of Our Lord Jesus."

Posted by Edith OSB on Thursday, July 03, 2008"

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