Friday, March 8, 2013

On Charisma, charism, popes and Quakers

Charism: "An extraordinary power (as of healing) given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church."

Charisma: "Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others."

I read in the newspaper that the Cardinals electing the new pope hope to find someone strong enough to clean up the corruption in the Vatican and charismatic enough to appeal to the masses.

I have a charming vision of these Cardinals in their red robes and caps gathering amid the splendors of the Sistine Chapel to engage in an ancient process. I hold them in the light and hope they are Spirit led.

I feel fearful when I read that the Cardinals seek someone with charisma, because I worry that what they want is a leader with "compelling attractiveness and charm," when what they really need is a person with charism, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, when I read their desire to elect a man with the strength to clean up the corruption, I worry they mean strong  in a worldly sense:  A man with a domineering personality who will not be afraid to bring his fist down on the table and smash the parasites.

At its worst, this worldly, charismatic strongman sounds like Adolph Hitler.

I know that's not what the Catholic Church really wants. The body longs for spiritual renewal, for the healing of a wounded institution. That won't happen as long as the Cardinals  choose the next pope according to a laundry list that  adheres to worldly standards. The new pope needs to speak Italian? Really? Is that what God requires in a great spiritual leader: Italian? He needs to be in his early 60s? Really? Joan of Arc was purportedly 14, Jesus purportedly 30. He needs to be a he? Really?

The church needs a person with charism, not charisma, and a person with the strength of a Jesus or St. Francis: someone who in his, or dare I say her, seeming weakness can discern God’s love and  speak truth to power. I think of a movie I saw about the new Dalai Lama being a child; I think as well of Isaiah's "and a child shall lead them;" I think of Jesus' disciples, a lot a careful corporate manager would never pick to grow the brand.

I wish something like a Pentecostal fire would descend on those Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, and that they would feel moved to throw out the check list and let the Spirit lead in their choice of a new pope. 

I think too about the Quakers. In the absence of hierarchy, I believe we often become too reliant on personality, on charisma-"attractiveness and charm"-- and not charism. I met a Quaker years ago who said she could only determine what she thought about Thomas Kelly's Testament of Devotion if she could meet Thomas Kelly, who, unfortunately, was long dead.  Really? He'd have to be personable before she'd accept his wisdom? Where would that put people like Van Gogh, Beethoven, and even, I suspect, the Apostle Paul? 

I hope when it comes to choosing a pope or the next leader of a Quaker organization, Spirit's wisdom leads and that those tasked with making decisions can discern substance from shadow. I wonder how we develop the trust that makes that possible.

1 comment:

Roger Reynolds said...

A wonderful post. I love you, dear.