Valuing Pastoral Care: Impressive and Important Aren’t the Same

Steve Horwitz and Sarah Skwire have an essay at Bleeding Heart Libertarians that addresses what he characterizes as a classical mistake made by feminists in understanding the value of housework. He writes that like many others, feminists confuse “impressive work with important work.” He goes on to say that

Garbage collection may well not be impressive. Neither are diaper changing, gutter cleaning, grocery shopping, or any number of other icky, sticky, stinky, slimy and otherwise unpleasant jobs that keep humans healthy, safe, clean, and dry. But if no one is doing those tasks, humans don’t stay healthy, safe, clean, and dry enough to do impressive work–like designing skyscrapers, doing brain surgery, writing novels, and so on.

This however doesn’t mean that we are free to dismiss unimpressive work “as unimportant.” Rather Continue reading

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Piety, Prudence, and Pastoral Care

We all have an unscientific weakness for being always in the right, and this weakness seems to be particularly common among professional and amateur politicians. But the only way to apply something like scientific method in politics is to proceed on the assumption that there can be no political move which has no drawbacks, no undesirable consequences. To look out for these mistakes, to find them, to bring them into the open, to analyze them, to learn from them, that is what a scientific politician as well as a political scientist must do. Scientific method in politics means the the great art of convincing ourselves that we have not made any mistakes, of ignoring them, of hiding them, of blaming others for them, is replaced by the greater art of accepting responsibility for them, of trying to learn from them, and of applying this knowledge so that we may avoid them in the future.

Karl Popper (1957), The Poverty of Historicism, p.88.

Reading Popper’s observation, I wonder if it might not be beneficial to adopt his view of science to the pastoral life of the Church. While there are limits to the empirical methodologies of the natural and social sciences, I think clergy are as prone as politicians to image there are ” no undesirable consequences” to our decisions.  This is especially so when we  judge are actions to be consonant with theological orthodoxy.

But the most theological orthodoxy can provide us is the limits beyond which we can’t go if we wish to stay in communion with the Church. What dogma can’t do is tell us which of several competing plans is best. The answer to this question requires that we cultivate the practical virtue of prudence.

While piety and prudence aren’t opposed, they can’t be reduced one to other. When piety is reduced to prudence, although is to say when we act without faith, pastoral care becomes mechanical, a means of exerting and maintaining power and control. And when prudence is reduced to piety? Then what we are left with is mere ideology.

In both cases there is a failure to preach the Gospel. We can debate if one failure is worse than the other but this too is simply another failure to preach the Gospel. Piety and prudence are both needed and one without the other is incapable of communicating the life of Christ.

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Human Capitalism and the Church

Brink Lindsey is the father of “liberaltarianism.” Currently is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. He is also the author of a new Human Capitalism from Princeton University Press:

What explains the growing class divide between the well educated and everybody else? Noted author Brink Lindsey, a senior scholar at the Kauffman Foundation, argues that it’s because economic expansion is creating an increasingly complex world in which only a minority with the right knowledge and skills–the right “human capital”–reap the majority of the economic rewards. The complexity of today’s economy is not only making these lucky elites richer–it is also making them smarter. As the economy makes ever-greater demands on their minds, the successful are making ever-greater investments in education and other ways of increasing their human capital, expanding their cognitive skills and leading them to still higher levels of success. But unfortunately, even as the rich are securely riding this virtuous cycle, the poor are trapped in a vicious one, as a lack of human capital leads to family breakdown, unemployment, dysfunction, and further erosion of knowledge and skills. In this brief, clear, and forthright ebook original, Lindsey shows how economic growth is creating unprecedented levels of human capital–and suggests how the huge benefits of this development can be spread beyond those who are already enjoying its rewards.

Here’s a short video of Brink discussing the book:


h/t: Bleeding Heart Libertarians

Listening to Brink, I wonder what his argument means not only for Christian philanthropic work but also evangelism and parish ministry. Do we have an entrepreneurial mindset or are we more concerned with security and equality of outcome?

In other words, are we concerned with creating disciples and saints or keeping the church’s door open. While we can do the latter if we do the former, I don’t think we can do the former if we focus on the latter. Church growth is key to renewing parish life. But real, substantive and lasting growth is the fruit not of clever arguments or well run programs but holiness.

Your thoughts are welcome.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

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Priestly Formation: A Suite in Four Parts

Being a pastor is more like being a jazz musician than it is being say an engineer. All three of these occupations require a great deal of technical skill to be sure. But the pastor, like the jazz musician, is often called upon to improvise on a theme more than, like the engineer, apply a theory to a problem. This is all to say that pastoral ministry is more art than science.

Over the last 10 years or so I’ve worked with communities in transition. What I’ve notice is that typically problems arise in the parish when someone—it needn’t be the pastor—takes what we might call an engineering approach to the life of the congregation. They have a theory and they are going to fit the community into its framework.

This is also something I see frequently as a spiritual director and confessor. When I talk with people about the different ways they go off track in their prayer lives, at work or with their family and friends the source of their suffering is that life just isn’t working out according to [their] plan. Problems in living arise when life becomes a project to be completed or a problem to be solved and not the other way around. When I lose a living sense of awe in the face of reality, or when I don’t see my life as a mystery to be lived, this is when life becomes a problem. Continue reading

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Affective Intuition & Human Formation

Mostly what priests encounter in our flocks is what existential or humanistic psychologists call problems in living. Life just becomes flat. Relationships that once were easy and life giving just aren’t anymore. Saddest of all, what was once a source of joy in life is now merely “blah” if not something much worse.

The first step in responding to those moments when life becomes a problem is the accurate apprehension that this is the case. This is the step of affective intuition—I need to have at least a sense of the contours and content of what is wrong. In the human sciences we use a technical term—verstehen—or the “interpretive or participatory examination” of the situation. Continue reading

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Young Adult Spiritual Formation and the Family

My earlier post on campus ministry (here) brought some very good responses and questions both on this blog and on Facebook.

One of the questions I was asked is a question I frequently hear. How do we keep our children in the Church? Continue reading

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The Parish in Transition

For most of the last 10 years, I’ve served Orthodox parishes in transition. Having done this 7 or 8 times, I thought it might be helpful to offer for consideration some of what I’ve learned.

The most important thing I learned is that, somewhat counter to what had been my initial expectations, the particular reason while a given community is in transition is always secondary. What matters most is the fact that they find themselves betwixt and between what they were and what they are becoming. In fact, and again this is counter intuitive, focusing on the particulars will more often than not result in the community failing to make the transition successfully.

Cultural anthropology has a technical term (liminality) that has helped me understand the needs of the parish in transitions and while tempting to do so, focusing on the reasons for the transition is not the best way to help the community in transition. Continue reading

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