Morning by Morning

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward." Isaiah 50:4-5

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Secret Keepers

The Church is a family with some basic similarities with any family, and an essential difference.  The parish church, gathered from many places and many backgrounds is generally a broader community than a single family.  Secret keeping can ruin families, and it can ruin churches, for secret keeping leads to loss of trust in the secret keepers.  Instinctively one knows that something is going on, and we have the therapeutic words of Jesus that what you do in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. Secret keeping in families and churches is a sign of dysfunction, and only a growth in transparency will move families and parishes towards health.

There is only one kind of secret in parish churches that should not be told, and that is the secrecy of the Confessional.  That leads to a potential priestly misunderstanding; you can’t extend the secrecy of the Confessional over the rest of the stuff in a parish, it simply doesn’t work.  Part of the reason is that people, without priestly training, sometimes are unable to handle the private exposure of the secrets of another; they simply have to pass the hot potato.  The more loaded the hot potato the more apt they are to pass it on.  But let me tell you a secret, not all priests handle this very well which is why the Book of Common Prayer advises that you find “a discreet and understanding priest”.
Secret keeping in Churches doesn’t work very well, and for several reasons, the first reason being the nature of the secrets one is trying to protect.  Secret keeping in parishes most often has to do with gaining and exercising power over others.  It automatically creates an ‘in group’ and an ‘out group’.  Withholding information from others removes the power of response, either of approval, disapproval, or action.  Incorporating unwilling people in the circle of secret keeping is an attempt to neutralize them under the bonds of secrecy, in effect saying, “Now that you know the secret, don’t talk about it.”
Because the church is a broader than an individual family, secret keeping doesn’t work very well.  If the secrets being kept hide actions that would not be taken if they were public, they contain an element of shame.  In that sense, shame is the fear of exposure.  If an unwilling person is placed in the position of keeping secrets in a parish setting they may have several responses.  Some people boxed into that situation will simply, as a matter of principle, just ignore the demand for secrecy.  Some can’t wait to unload the hot potato sometimes sharing the secrecy under the guise of sharing a prayer concern.  Some relish the power that secrecy sets up and the result is divisiveness, and yet others gloating over their power can’t resist telling someone.
Again we come to the old adage, when power comes in the door, love goes out the window; and love is the central business of Christians, especially with each other.  A wise friend of mine says that anything worth doing should be done in the open.  If you can’t do something in the open, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. 

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