Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Need for Greatness That Many of Us Harbor

When I look on the heroes in my life, what I see is their greatness. We fumble for words to say what it is that lifts them above us: talent, integrity, courage, decency, holiness, a whole bunch of synonyms for being a saint. I think Chip Brown stumbled on it in his article on Tiger Woods in today's New York Times. One word: Greatness.

Check out this week's Play Newsletter:  It says:

When Chip Brown went to Florida for two weeks in March for an up-close look at the Tiger Woods phenomenon, he left knowing that Woods, still just 32, was one of the most written-about athletes of all time, the subject of many millions of words, including some 85 books. He also knew Woods tended to avoid saying anything very revealing.

But Brown had been studying Egyptian gods for an article for "National Geographic," and he saw in Woods the same kind of alloy that, in ancient Egypt, reflected greatness back onto an entire civilization. In his cover story for the current issue of PLAY, "It's Good To Be Immortal," Brown chose to focus on the relationship between Tiger Woods and us, and how his greatness as an athletic performer fulfills a need for greatness that many of us harbor.

Scott McClellan may not have greatness, but he is speaking truth to power, about what he did and hated doing, as Press Secretary for The White House. He went along with it, anyway, and now speaks, only to be doomed. I may not follow, but listen to what he has to say.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has greatness. He is on a speaking tour in the United States for his book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. He, too, speaks truth to power, and is damned. When Catholics hate Catholics, there is no decency, only damnation to hell's fire for eternity.  I listen to the Bishop and I follow him, for he is a Christ before the high priests of his own times. That is the "greatness that many of us harbor."

We can measure the impact of these two spokespersons by the quality of those who pounce, too late to silence them, but in time to  doom – State; or damn -- Church. Quickly, even immediately, they surge forth to pounce, on anyone who dares besmirch their institution. The State. The Church. They are not nice people.  They have no greatness.  They do not even harbor it.  Actually, they are little people, without greatness: the Libbys, the Cheneys, the Wolfowitzes, the Rumsfelds, the Bushes. No such litany is needed for churchmen. "High priests" will do.

Pouncers have few inklings to acknowledge heroes. They may long for greatness – as in a legacy -- but can never see it in others or in themselves, enwrapped as they are in brillo, rather than awe. Which brings the puzzlement: Why disgust? Rather than awe? Lots of disgust lately, but little awe. Scott McClellan and the bush Bush reaction to his disclosure and exposure. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and the burning bush reaction from hierarchs who hate each other.

There is a common fugue in the daily flow and earthquakes of news: be it in print or on cable; from quakelake books flooding the market; instant condemnation uttered by puzzled pundits; spokespersons unmuzzled, lunging off leashes; and those knee-jerk rushers to judgment: Whom shall we doom or damn today?"

Makes little difference whether one claims allegiance to State rather than Church, as one well might, for those who pounce out of Church are the most practiced and best skilled at obliteration by destruction. Theirs leaves no spoor. At least the assassins from Church are consistent by condemning their prey to an eternity of hellfire and damnation with "He's a heretic." We don't hear, "He's not the Bishop Geoffrey we thought we knew."

In State's pursuit of those who done it wrong, the justification is the expansion of power, pretty much the same driving force for Church, but not clothed in vestments of religiosity. And so, the news of the moment is that McClellan is leaving the muzzlement of political spokesman, even as his former colleagues enter puzzlement at his behavior, "He's not the Scott we used to know."

Bishop Robinson, on the other hand, is not as slyly dismissed, you see, and must be destroyed, without trace. After all, he is simply asking questions, as he told ABC News, but he must be damned, with no understanding, no forgiveness, no salvation outside the Church, no puzzlement. Not even puzzlement, that snide reaction of Bush people to criticism of their president.

I often think of the truism: What Peter says about Paul  says far more about Peter than it does about Paul. 

I also often think of Plato and his Republic: Who shall guard the Guardians?  

And yesterday, I thought of two men whose birthday it is. My father, whose greatness was born in 1896. And Walker Percy, the novelist who was born in 1916. Percy wrote,

[We] live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.

Listen then, to Scott McClellan's answers and those who are puzzled by him.

Listen to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's questions and those who forbid him to ask.

Harbor greatness.

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