I am a Pope Christian

by Donna Schaper

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I used to say that I was a post-Christian kind of Christian, because it helped me explain some perennial confusions to myself.

For example, I believe in more than one road to the almighty, am married to a Jew and just had the bris for my third grandchild. The Muslim Consultative Network is in the office next to mine at my church, Judson Memorial Church, in Greenwich Village. The ecumenical magazine Christian Century has often said my writing was too Jewish, and the Jewish interfaith magazine Tikkun complained that my writing is too Christian. 

As a cradle Christian, I can’t give up on Jesus and certainly don’t find myself comfortable in a Unitarian context. Nothing personal, it’s just too Universalist for me. I think of denominations as particular flavors, the more particular the better.

When people advise thinking local and acting global, or vice versa, I declare myself a glocalist. With me paradox is lost. I see myself living on their edges and at their borders, as a hybrid, like my Prius that drives on both gas and electricity. For a while, I was fairly comfortable calling myself a Post-Denominational Christian or Post-Christian Denominationalist. 

Then along comes Pope Francis, and I find that I am following him everywhere. Am I actually a recovering Catholic and didn’t know it?

For me, the pope’s spirituality is an alternative energy source, from deep within the bowels of the Roman Catholic church. I feel the holy grail in him. I can’t tell if he is more ancient than modern or more modern than ancient.

I remember somewhat scoffing at one of the slogans I saw during the People’s Climate March last September: “To change everything, we need everyone.” Or “Pardon the inconvenience: we are changing the world.”

Related: “The power of buzz and the People's Climate March

I don’t know what could be a bigger change for me -- transgendering or becoming more Catholic in my viewpoint. Each would be sizable. I was raised in the heyday of anti-Catholic prejudice. But like the ice melting in the Arctic, some is melting in me as I risk being more hopeful about what might yet change.

If you are like me, you long for an appropriately sized spiritual technology. You long to fit just right in some family, neighborhood, congregation, denomination. You want it to be simple in an elegant way, like the right vase for the right flowers. You want it to be elegant in a simple way, like the way a pair of scissors, reusably, presents itself on the right occasion.

If you are like me, you long for spiritual methods, practices, measurements -- ways to travel that long way to God.

You don’t want to lie about where you belong or about the God to whom you give allegiance. You don’t want to be spiritually hypocritical. You’d rather be spiritually minimalist. You don’t want anything fancy so much as you want something just right. You don’t want to waste time or energy so much as to use time and energy in a renewable and renewing way. 

Calling myself a Pope Christian seems to fit right now. But then I am a very strange soul.  I am always looking for the right tool for the right time, so perhaps a Pope Christian is a good label for me, for now.

My hope to find the right label, though, keeps me confused. I am also confused about why I want a label. I can resist labels as much as I covet them.

A label is too small a hope for most people and yet it is also a kind of home -- not a great home but a home. A label is a place that tells you who you are. It places you. A label is a place card, with your name on it, at a table where you are feeling a little shy and don’t know many people. A label brands you as someone who belongs some place.

The Nicene Creed -- forged by a people at Nicea -- says we believe in one holy catholic church. Maybe I can be the best Christian I can be if I become the best catholic I can be (note the small c). 

Like I said, too much universalism bothers me. Too much homelessness and placelessness bothers me, too. There, I think I am not alone.

The environmental movement depends in many ways on the resolution of our conflict and confusion about who we are. It remands us to be as local as possible while being as global as possible. That great word “glocal” comes to mind. It keeps us grounded and particular as well as universal and leaning towards a global unity.

There we are stranded and there we are also placed.

[Donna Schaper is senior minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City.]

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