Live and Let Live is Not Good Enough

“We are all called not to reduce the Kingdom of God to the confines of our ‘little churches,’ but to dilate the Church to the dimensions of the Kingdom of God.”

–Pope Francis, 10/12/2014 Weekly Angelus Address

Call me a heretic, but I would pick a slight battle with Pope Francis here.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the Church expanding itself and getting outside of itself and turning to the needs of the periphery as he describes.  And it’s his job to help us keep that in mind.  But first we need to get our own house in order, as it were, before we can effectively “dilate to the dimensions.”  What Pope Francis is calling “little churches,” I think, is remaining complacent in our small groups, essentially patting each other on our backs and saying how holy we all are.  I agree with the Pope in emphasizing more outreach and focus on the marginalized.  But I do think we need to get our house in order, in a different way.

Another connotation for “little church” is the family.  The family is the little church, the amazing cenacle where grace meets grace, and begets new life.  To borrow another metaphor, the family is a place where the ground for growth is tilled, weeded, and cured–where growth is cautiously guarded, and masterfully, indifferently, and meticulously tended.  I want to spend a moment with that metaphor.

As a father, I have learned a lot about myself and my personality through this process of tending and guarding.  I(1) have a vision for my(1) family and it is my responsibility to do everything I can to grow towards that vision.

God is the master gardener–he gives the seed and makes the seed grow.  His goodness and grace are the sunlight, water, and nutrients.  Comparatively, the good things that help us grow are good and glorious gifts from Him.  God entrusted this local garden to me.  Now, there are many ways to go about gardening.  One extreme is to have careful control of every part of the gardening enterprise, such as the temperature, air pressure, humidity, pH content of the soil, etc.  The other extreme would be to let the garden grow as it will without much or any interference.

There are two extremes–complete control and complete autonomy.  If my vision for my garden–say, of vegetables–was to harvest the vegetables when ripe, it would probably make sense to have some control over the environment.  Is it necessary to have complete control?  What if that tomato sags too much into the broccoli, which is getting in the way of the spinach’s sunlight, which is crowding out the basil.  Complete control is a myth–it’s a fantasy.  I can never completely control what is going on, my garden, my environment, etc.

But the other extreme of letting the garden grow naturally without any cultivation is equally inadequate, and is an affront to justice.  I have been given this great and amazing responsibility, along with my knowledge, skills, and ability (been reading too many clinical psychology competency-based supervision articles…).  I have this vision of the garden.  And I daresay that I have discerned this vision to in line with the will of God.  God ordains this vision of our garden, I have the ability and knowledge to tend the garden like this.

So it is with my family.  What does this have to do with anything, much less Pope Francis’s comments?  While Pope Francis was talking about a different concept of the “little church,” I think there is too little emphasis on taking care of in-house matters, and there is too much emphasis on being mindful of outside factors.  One perspective on parenting suggests for parents to let their children live and let live.  This hands-off approach is very important when the garden is grown a bit, is hardy, and can withstand the heat of the environment.  But I would never want my little chick-pea to be exposed to the harshness of the frost or the desert–after she has developed enough to stand firm while withstanding the heat.  But as the chick-pea is still developing its characteristic heartiness, the gardener needs to guard, protect, and nurture it, so that it can, when it is mature, fully withstand the glorious yet harshly tumultuous and whimsical environment.

Our little church, our family will grow, expanding the dimensions of the Kingdom of God, in due time.  Our little chick-peas and florets will know the sting of the first frost before they know it.  It’s my job to make sure they have enough warmth in them to withstand it.

(1) I use the pronouns “I” and “me” here and throughout this post, which imperfectly reflects reality.  It’s a glorious job to be a parent–even more glorious when the job is done together, with the spouse who helped beget the child(ren).  That is, a lot of what I am talking about, the responsibility, the gardening, etc., happens together with my wife.  But I am thinking a little existential here, acknowledging my ultimate aloneness.  Fully united with my spouse makes me fully alive; and yet, I am here, ultimately alone.  It’s a paradox/mystery I’d like to explore, preferably over a glass of wine or two!

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