Friday, February 04, 2011


We operate with the assumption that giving people new ideas changes people. It doesn’t. Believing ideas is, in fact, a way of not having to change in any significant way, especially if you can argue about them. Ideas become defences.

If you have the right words, you are considered an orthodox and law-abiding Christian. We burned people at the stake for not having the right words, but never to my knowledge for failing to love or forgive, or to care for the poor. Religion has had a love affair with words and correct ideas, whereas Jesus loved people, who are always imperfect.

You do not have to substantially change to think some new ideas. You always have to change to love and forgive ordinary people. We love any religion that asks us to change other people. We avoid any religion that keeps telling us to change.

Richard Rohr, adapted from How Men Change: A Thin Time (CD, DVD, MP3)

At our Third Order local group meeting last night, we were discussing, as part of our current study of the Principles, how a certain untidiness is a necessary and inevitable part of the Franciscan charism. We do not, cannot as followers of Francis following Christ, have everything cut and dried, all our words precisely right, and all our actions in line with them. To do so would be the way of the fanatic or the fundamentalist, not the Franciscan.

As Rohr says, Jesus loved people, in all their imperfection and all their untidiness. Look at the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman by the well at Sychar (John 4:1-30). Hers was a life with all kinds of loose ends—a life that didn’t conform to expectations, especially not orthodox Jewish expectations, and yet here was Jesus sharing with her the living water, and trusting her to share it with her fellow citizens.

We cannot allow ourselves to grow unless we are prepared to allow ourselves a little untidiness, What matters is love, rigorous, sacrificial love, not having all our ducks in a row.

And yet we are members of a religious order; we live by a rule. How does that square with this necessary untidiness? One of our group, a Tertiary of many years’ experience, told us of a wonderful expression of her late (Tertiary) husband’s: our rule is like a set of pea-sticks—a framework up which we can grow. But, just as in a vegetable garden, it is the peas that matter, not the pea-sticks!

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