Blog Post

Monks, Rockstars , Power and St Francis. Greenbelt 2012.

Gathering for the Eucharist

A short walk from the Jesus Arms and a few cool pints of Dark Christian is a Bigtop tent in which a mass is taking place. Kneeling in the soft earth a robed priest raises the host amid swirls of incense while singing a Latin liturgy and readings that include quotes from Erasmus and St Francis. This is new to me, but I adjust by tapping into old Catholic roots. The real jolt comes when a man in a leather top hat strides onto stage and rips into a guitar solo. Yes, this can only be Greenbelt. Yet tears of laughter soon turn to tears of joy as I take communion with a punk, a blind lady and a hunchback. From morning prayer with the Franciscans and Poor Clare’s to a Eucharist service with twenty thousand other people, from the Proclaimers to weathering a storm in a Mongolian tea tent, this short window offers a feast of rich experience.

St Francis kept making appearances – in the form of our Caputchan robed monk neighbours, but also throughout the talks from a wealth of authors.

Ian Morgan Cron, author of Chasing Francis, a self-confessed recovering cynical Christian, spoke of the need to learn from this twelfth century friar. St Francis was Pentecostal in experience and joy, Catholic in the sacramental, and evangelical in mission. He rose when the power of the Church had begun to wane, beleaguered as it was by sexual scandal and inseparable from the power struggles of the day. I’m sure you're beginning to see his appeal.

Francis refused to lapse into cynicism. He would not allow critique of the church: his remedy was to do it better. Even near the end of his life, having accomplished the reinvigoration of the Church, he was known to say, “Let us begin again, for till now we have done nothing”. This is the gospel of 'and yet', the gospel in spite of our failure or tragedy. That moves from longing for how it was to turning to what does this make possible? A gospel of resurrection. Morgan put forcefully and simply that to love Jesus is to love what he loves, and Jesus loves the Church.

Tony Campolo challenged our apathy with this gospel and invited us to respond with an intensity hitherto unseen in human history. Along with Shane Claiborne, he made much of the difference between power and love. Jesus' Lordship is built on sacrificial love and taught an inverse relationship between power and love. Tom Wright demonstrated that power looks like Christ on a cross. That Israel’s' God became king through the meek, the merciful and the poor of spirit – and He still does today.

John Dear, a non-violent peacemaker, took up the baton and spoke of the beatitudes as being the practice that brings the kingdom into being. He quoted Dr. King: “So in many instances, we have been able to stand before the most violent opponents and say in substance, we will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is just as much moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

Heady, directional and transformational are the sorts of words that spring to mind as I remember. Yet I haven’t even written of L'arche, my first Orthodox service, or the host of amazing people who challenged my paradigms of who God can, will and does use. Perhaps you will join me next year?