Openers: Keeping Catholic minds 'fearless, thirsty and supple'

Recently I read a Lenten reflection — though it wasn’t advertised as such — that goes to the heart of how we should be going about our religion: as if it were a trampoline rather than a fortress. 

Really, it was a bit of a rant. It was by Father Dwight Longenecker, a former Anglican priest who is now the (married) pastor of a parish in North Carolina, on his popular blog. (I wonder if it was inspired by his experience as pastor, which these days in too many parishes means having to mediate some pretty deep divisions.) 

He opened with a line from a poem by e.e. cummings: 

“even if it’s sunday may I be wrong, for whenever men are right they are not young.” 

Intrigued, I hunted the poem down. It is titled “may my heart always be open,” and the line immediately preceding that one is: 

“may my mind stroll about hungry 

and fearless and thirsty and supple.” 

Father Longenecker’s point obviously is not that there is no truth, or that it isn’t important to believe the right thing or act the right way. 

It is more in one’s approach to what is right. Here’s a taste of the column

“How many righteous religious people do you know who are so grim and glum in their being right? Too many I fear. Why is that? Because all the best humor is based on a misunderstanding, a fault, a problem and a failure. ... 

“I often wonder how I ever got to be a priest since I so often feel I am not very religious — at least in that ‘I’m religious and have got all the answers kind of way.’ I become irritated at the religious people therefore who use their religion as a way to reinforce their prejudices and support their comfort zone. Too many use religion to close down enquiry and close down the adventure of faith and take refuge in ‘being right,’ and the next step from that closing down of the human heart and mind is to blame others who have opened up. 

“The sick kind of religious mentality must construct not only a comfort zone, but eventually a fortress, for the comfort zone is never comfortable and safe enough, and once they construct the fortress they are still not safe enough inside, so they must soon find an enemy on the outside, and if there is no clear enemy they soon create one. 

“This is the aspect of religion which drives me wild with anger and fear. Their obsession with ‘being right’ has made them use religion for exactly the opposite purpose of God’s intention. Religion was meant to be a trampoline. They’ve turned it into an easy chair. It was supposed to launch them into life and they’ve used it to lock themselves into a cage. It was supposed to propel them into the adventure of the abundant life and they’ve used it to narrow everything down into a life that is an ever decreasing downward spiral.” 

Pretty tough indictment. Your thoughts? Email feedback@osv.com.