Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No One Washes A Rental Car

This post may go all over the map, so have some patience because eventually I think it will deal with a fairly important human trait. It might be the reason for a lot of the frustration and estrangement with the Church.

A long time ago, when I taught management, one of the points I really stressed was that management was a lot easier when subordinates were emotionally and psychologically invested in the project. If a manager could accomplish this their job was not just easier, but they would be more successful. When projects became truly shared endeavors, with everyones energy working for the success of the project, those projects had a much higher success rate.

Since my students were in the mining and petroleum fields they would look at me like I was a bleeding heart liberal idiot. In view of the historical labor issues involved in mining this was a reasonable view on their part. It was a point of view which was not going to be easy to overcome unless I took them outside of their comfort zone.

I did this by taking these bright practical engineering students and had them engage in promoting rock concerts. At first they felt completely intimidated by the notion they could be successful at it. Rock concerts were something they all enjoyed, but the technical aspects of promotion and production seemed beyond them. They were meant to be the audience, not the promoters.

What they learned was that promoting rock concerts used the same kinds of skill sets that any organized human endeavor required. Once they were no longer intimidated by the contracts and technical terminology they emotionally invested in the projects and a great time was had by all. Instead of promoting just one concert, this group produced a half a dozen, some of them in unusual venues, where the technical aspects became very daunting--unless you were an engineer and then they were challenging and fun.

Somewhere in the last forty years, the Vatican has lost site of the importance of assuring that the People of God emotionally and psychologically invest in the mission of the Church. A lot of us took up that call of Vatican II and became emotionally invested as part owners of the new Church. It became a living breathing part of us, but that sense of ownership was not appreciated by certain of the Vatican's old guard and they haven risen up to take back the ownership.

It's a common mistake of fear filled managers of failing companies to focus on managing the subordinate managers and restricting access to the information flow. Centralizing authority seems the right tactic to take rather than focusing on the hard work of creating something people will invest in. The political, economic, and religious landscape is littered with the corpses and soon to be corpses of this strategy. It does not work.

As the saying goes, no one washes a rental car. For a lot of us, the current version of Catholicism is a rental car. It works to get you where you need to go, but it's real easy to walk away from in order to find something you can actually own.

This dynamic can be seen in the evolution of the LCWR congregations. The LCWR have been on a long journey to find and define a Catholicism they could actually own. They had the emotional freedom to do that because they were never involved in the decision making aspects of the Church. They were never involved in the constructing or promulgating if dogma, doctrine, and discipline. They had no vested personal interest in defending that which they hadn't defined. I don't imagine they were actually aware of this until the Vatican gave them the green light to go and define themselves. They sure vested in that concept. It really shouldn't come as any surprise that in that process, precisely because they were emotionally free of needing to defend every jot and tittle in the code of Canon Law, they didn't accept every jot and tittle. They were free to discard a lot stuff they were renting and not owning.

A lot of us have engaged in that exact same process. We are not emotionally vested in, nor do we feel a sense of ownership for a lot of what passes for Catholicism in 2009. It's strictly a rental and one that doesn't work very well to get us where we need to go. The soon to be shoved at us new English translation of the Mass will only serve to reinforce this feeling of personal estrangement. This time it will include a lot of clergy because unlike the archaic teachings on marriage, or the investigation of the LCWR, this one directly impacts a very sacred piece of their personal sense of ownership. If South Africa is any indication, very few priests are going to claim any desire to invest in this translation. (You would think the Vatican would have learned something from how poorly Vatican II was implemented- and in some cases received. I guess not.)

In the US this means the Vatican will have hit the trifecta of disenfranchising a majority of the laity, a majority of the religious, and a majority of the priesthood. That's right up there with EF Hutton's success rate, and as we all know, no one listens to them anymore.


  1. Wonderful analysis!

    I taught young children as my "first career" and I concluded early on that since I was, in effect, in charge of "penal servitude" my best bet was to enlist the cooperation of the children through forming relationships with each and all. I believed, and it turned out to be true, that "if I can form a relationship with this child, this child will learn."

    When I began learning psychotherapy, the same principle applied. It's the relationship - of trust on each side - that determines the outcome.

    This is nothing more than to say, in different terms, what you have already analyzed. But it provides further corroboration for your thesis. The failure to understand that any common endeavor necessitates a web of relationships, where all feel a sense of common trust and commitment to each other (and a common purpose), constitutes a serious professional hazard. It won't work in a monastery. It won't work in a classroom. It won't work in therapy. As you say, it won't work in business. And while the pope may enlist some dependent personalities or would-be bishops and cardinals in his cause, he will lose many who deeply care about the Church (and I mean that word in its widest sense).

    Jesus was first of all someone who related. It was his deep caring, in particular for those who felt left out or on the fringes of society, which seems to have led crowds to people to follow him almost anywhere. Only when he had them in crowds did he set about to teach them. And most often his teachings were sparked by individual needs or questions or personal attacks and problems. He seems never to have sequestered himself away from relationships with an authoritarian purpose, such as enacting legalistic laws. He seems always to have acted and spoken on behalf of individual needs and his father's mercy. He may have urged "perfection" at times - but always spoke of mercy and forgiveness. And over and over, he emphasized that one's standing in the kingdom would be based on service - not on nepotism or despotism.

    I am very disheartened, in one sense, by this pope's inability or unwillingness to connect with his flock. On the other hand, I am reminded that one (unintended) effect of a dictatorial regime is to unite those who are the "subjects" of imposed authority. Thus, I have renewed hope that somehow, via the "hidden wisdom of the people" (inspired by the Holy Spirit) there will be a flowering of "something" as people come together seeking the Vatican II Church that so many of us greeted with joy and were ultimately cheated of.

  2. Spot on Colleen. It should be basic to the priestly and episcopal calling to be a listening church as well as a teaching one. They should be serving, not commanding. Around the world, the religious women are the ones who are setting an example of the appropriate model. It is no wonder that they are finding themselves under attack by the autocrats in the Vatican.

    TheraP, I love your analysis too. Love should be what its all about - the greatest commandment - but it is difficult to see here is the love coming from a dictatorial church.

  3. Today in the Guardian, Hans Kung:


    "Discontent over the ongoing resistance to reform is spreading to even the most faithful members of the Catholic church."