Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Are you qualified?

A long time ago, when I was a young curate in Southern Ohio I attended a Diocesan Convention at which a resolution was proposed that bascially called on the Diocese to condemn the licensing and buildling of a pulp mill on the northen banks of the Ohio River. In terms of being a radical action based in a gospel-centered interpretation that we are called as the Body of Christ to strive for environmental as well as social justice, to me it made sense.

Imagine my shock when a senior priest of the Diocese who was by the way a former chemical engineer who fully understood the impact a pulp mill would have on the flora and fauna in an already challenged riverway stood up and moved that the resolution be tabled, "because the Church has no business talking about matters like this that pertain to business and the environment. It is a matter for politicians and scientists." The motion was seconded, and the issue was lost somewhere between that year's convention and the next year's distpatch of business. The pulp mill stands, and yes it employs people and makes pulp for manfactured wood and paper products...it also has raised the ambient temperature of the water below the plant an intolerable 5-8 degrees as well as increasing dioxins in the environment.

I can't say whether or not the Church's action that day, communicated to the State House legislatures, would have meant a change to the plans for the installation of that plant. What I can speak to was my outrage that the Church be considered something apart from the world to the point where we are supposed to keep silent on issues that will directly impact our lives, and the lives we have sworn a Covenant to cherish as living icons of God's love for creation.

Are you qualified?

It's a loaded question. I have seen it lasered at any number of issues and people. The assumption by the asker, without hearing any response, is usually that the targeted person or population is not, in fact, qualified. Personally, I have fallen into that trap too many times; and too many times have I wound up the poorer for it.

I am seeing that question work itself out right now in a couple of ways. One is centered around a person I am watching go up for a job. Is she smart? Yes. Is she capable? I think so, but that is my opinion. Is she ready for the work? Are any of us really ready for a new job? Usually not...part of starting a new job is to be willing to step up and out of what we are good at, what we are used to and what we have learned to expect from work and life in order to embrace new challenges and to grow as people called to evolve. By wondering if that person is qualified, by calling on her to equivocate, are they doing that person...or the future of the institution she wants to work for justice?

The problem is the fear we all have of the responsibility of putting the proverbial keys for the carriage of a new life into someone's hands who may or may not have passed their "drivers' test."

At the institutional level, I know what it is like to lead parishes that are always struggling to figure out how to hold on to knowledge, skill and experience even as the challenges mount around us, with the Church overall in decline and with a major generational shift in leadership looming on the horizon.

I think the key to answering the question, "Are you qualified?" is not "yes;" rather it is "I am willing to learn and to submit to formation for as long as it takes."

I would, with hindsight and experience, now hold that the best response to that resolution against the buildling of that pulp mill would have been a recognition that though we still don't know enough to be experts, we do know enough to see a bad thing looming. We also know that we need to know more and to be part of the solution to finding a way to get the work done and the product obtained in cleaner and safer ways.

I think, with regard to my friend, that her opportunity-and the chance the institution has to work with her in it-is to be willing to say, again, that it is time to go back to the foundation and look at the whole formation process. It's not easy, and represents the harder and more difficult path...but it is the one I believe God is calling us to in this life.

I know for myself, again and again, when I get out ahead of my "qualifications" is when I make the greatest mistakes, and where I grow the most profoundly as a servant of the Most High.

Not easy, but it is the truth.

Am I qualified? Today, not so much, if I can just stay faithfully on the outside edge of my own learning curve....and tomorrow I will with God's grace push the envelope of evolution again.....

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