i would like to write some musings on the topic of authority in two posts. in this post, i set the context of authority and look at some areas of our catholic faith and authority. i reserve the topic of authority in the political realm for part two. i want to let yesterday’s historic occupation of the capitol building in washington, dc simmer a bit more in my mind…
on a personal level, who has authority in my life? why do i give power to them? as a society, it becomes who do we recognize as authorities in our lives and why?
we are born into this world being shaped by others. those who raise us– mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts uncles– are the first authorities in our lives. they can teach us (or not) how to live well in society. part of inner and communal conflict can be the question of authority. authority always has the question of power attached to it. when we are kids, the heads of the households hold this power.
of course, we all have distinct personalities. some of us can easily give authority away to others. their lives and personal responsibility for decision making can suffer. others can be ultra rebellious and the only authority in their lives are themselves. they can be “wild cards.” but this post is about authority in our usa culture and the factors that affect our personal responses to authority.
the high individualistic and personalistic strains in usa culture can often be at odds with the concept of authority. this country started as a rebellion to england’s authority over us. the ideal of democracy affirms that we are all equals. hierarchy of authority/power is lived out differently in the usa than anywhere else. for many, we place our rights as individuals before the common good and our responsibilities to others.
in the usa, regional differences play into differences in how we see authority. the feel in the cultural air here in seattle is very different to where i lived in arizona and texas. the culture in rural areas as opposed to urban areas like LA and chicago approaches authority very differently too. to see these differences, relationship with police is a litmus test anywhere.
as has come to light from the “black lives matter” movement, authority issues are lived out and seen very differently by people of color than with the white majority. racial differences are real and people can die unjustly if these differences are not understood and respected.
economically, we give authority to a federal reserve system. they try to understand the complex dance among interest rates, (un)employment, taxation, banking, debt, borrowing, trade, budgets, money supply. numbers drive their decisions. we live under this umbrella. who has influence over the people in economic authority? i can tell you now, that it is not homeless people and janitors. when we follow the money, then we will have insight as to who has power and influence in the financial realm.
how about authority in communications and/or the press? authority and freedom can play tug of war when it comes to the press. someone owns the sources of news that we watch; those individuals have various personal interests and biases. money affects the flow of information too. with the proliferation of internet news, the communications game has changed over these past years. whereas we only had three stations on tv when i was a kid, there were limited but common news sources. since we watched the same shows, society had a common understanding culturally. that is hardly the case now. we can watch tv in the language of the home country in countless languages because of cable tv. now, we can gravitate to news that suits us and our already formed worldviews. we do not have to listen to opposing perspectives or news that unsettles us and our values. confirmation bias has never been this available to us.
in education, we give our children and other learners to the authority to schooling systems that have administrators and educators. the new authority of new information can enlighten us to the deficiencies of former ways of thought. new perspectives can challenge our fundamental beliefs. new information can challenge our heartfelt dedications.
religion cannot exist without authority. the concept of God/mystery/revelation/insight into the universe comes to us because it has been passed on through out the ages. to believe in anything, we have had to trust someone to teach us. as latin rite roman catholics we have multiple layers of authority. as a newly ordained priest, it took me a while integrate that when i spoke, people listened not because i was art– they listened because i was father art. my words took on an authority well beyond my personal ability. with religion comes a set of moral teachings. faith in God can teach us what actions are right and wrong; what is good and bad.
how religious teachings are lived out is culturally bound. because of the legalistic tendencies of the culture in the usa, people can have an expectation of themselves and others to keep the “letter of the law.” in the civil realm, it can lead to a lawsuit mentality– taking people to court. so judges and juries are the authority in civil disputes. in the religious realm, being narrowly fixated on keeping the letter of the law can lead to fundamentalism. in turn, fundamentalism can lead to being narrow minded which would greatly affect how we see and treat one another.
sometimes i hear people say, i used to be catholic but now i am spiritual. at the risk of misunderstanding, this can be interpreted as ” the catholic church no longer has authority in my (spiritual) life, only i do.” when i am my only authority, God can come to look a lot like me and what i like. being made in God’s image can become God being made into my image.
conflict within the catholic church and in relation to other christians and other faiths can have an undercurrent of the conflict of authority. among catholics, there is a continuum of perspectives on one end are ultra conservatives and the other end are ultra liberals. most catholics moderately in the middle. the temptation of the right is phaisicalism; the left is subjectivism. the extremes can be hardhearted or wishy washy. but there is a large umbrella in the catholic church because of the Spirit; we are certainly not a monolith. james joyce’s description is accurate: “here comes everybody.”
in faith, who has authority in my life? why do i give power to them? as a catholic church, who do we recognize as authorities in our lives and why?
who enlightens and teaches us about the depths of creation, justice, hope, peace, life, death, suffering, good evil, and love?
ultimately, the Holy Spirit is our teacher and guide. how do i and we (as a catholic church) listen and follow the Spirit as our ultimately authority? how is jesus as the christ our ultimate authority? as i pray the Lord’s prayer, how does God the Father become primary in our lives?
to not answer these questions is to open ourselves to a type of idolatry. something or someone else will become more important in my life than God.
for many, the political realm can become more important God. (that will be part two)
let us pray:
Dear God, Thank you that you make all things new. Thank you for all that you’ve allowed into our lives this past year, the good along with the hard things, which have reminded us how much we need you and rely on your presence filling us every single day.
We pray for your Spirit to lead us each step of this New Year. We ask that you will guide our decisions and turn our hearts to deeply desire you above all else. We ask that you will open doors needing to be opened and close the ones needing to be shut tight. We ask that you would help us release our grip on the things to which you’ve said “no,” “not yet,” or “wait.” We ask for help to pursue you first, above every dream and desire you’ve put within our hearts.
We ask for your wisdom, for your strength and power to be constantly present within us. We pray you would make us strong and courageous for the road ahead. Give us ability beyond what we feel able, let your gifts flow freely through us, so that you would be honored by our lives, and others would be drawn to you. We pray that you’d keep us far from the snares and traps of temptations. That you would whisper in our ear when we need to run, and whisper in our heart when we need to stand our ground.
We pray for your protection over our families and friends. We ask for your hand to cover us and keep us distanced from the evil intent of the enemy; that you would be a barrier to surround us, that we’d be safe in your hands. We pray that you would give us discernment and insight beyond our years, to understand your will, hear your voice, and know your ways. We ask that you would keep our footsteps firm, on solid ground, helping us to be consistent and faithful. Give us supernatural endurance to stay the course, not swerving to the right or to the left, or being too easily distracted by other things that would seek to call us away from a close walk with you.
Forgive us for the times we have worked so hard to be self-sufficient, forgetting our need for you, living independent of your spirit. Forgive us for letting fear and worry control our minds, and for allowing pride and selfishness wreak havoc over our lives. Forgive us for not following your ways and for living distant from your presence. We confess our need for you…fresh…new…again. We ask that you make all things new, in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives, for this coming year. We pray for your refreshing over us.
Keep your words of truth planted firm within us, help us to keep focused on what is pure and right, give us the power to be obedient to your word. And when the enemy reminds us where we have been, hissing his lies and attacks our way, we trust that your voice speaks louder and stronger, as you remind us we are safe with you and your purposes and plans will not fail. We ask that you will be our defense and rear guard, keeping our way clear, removing the obstacles, and covering the pitfalls. Lord, lead us on your level ground.
We ask that you would provide for our needs, we ask for your grace and favor. We pray for your blessings to cover us, we pray that you would help us to prosper and make every plan that you have birthed in our heart to succeed. We pray that others would take notice of your goodness and could not help but to say, “These are the ones that the Lord has blessed.”
Help us to be known as great givers, help us to be generous and kind, help us to look to the needs of others and not be consumed by only our own. May we be lovers of truth, may the fruits of your spirit be evident in our lives – your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Shine your light in us, through us, over us. May we make a difference in this world, for your glory and purposes. Set you way before us. May all your plans succeed. We may reflect your peace and hope to a world that so desperately needs your presence and healing. To you be glory and honor, in this New Year, and forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
( from: https://prayer.catholicshare.com/a-prayer-to-keep-god-first-this-new-year-pray-now/ )
Thank you for sharing, Father!
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Thanks Nora! See if you feel thankful after my political musings on authority in part two