aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Even a cat can look at a king (or a bishop)

How easily we slip into authoritarian language. My DS has just reminded all of us clergy that we need to schedule our "mandatory annual assessment interview." This is supposed to be a chat with our superintendent, and is in the nature of a supervisory meeting, but still, assessment? Are we being scored on these things? And why is the word "mandatory" even necessary? Does that word make the meeting sound more important? Does it add to or take away from the essence of the supervisor's inherent power to call you in and talk about your job performance?

We live in an age of soft tyrannies. Bishops, superintendents, and other honchos are uncomfortable with the personal power they possess. They clothe it in regulatory words that make it feel as if they are not commanding, but rather they and we are both commanded by the rule. But they have the same power they always did, and use it as freely as they ever did, so what's the point?

Conference staff pick up on this and start throwing around words like "mandatory," too. I get snotty communications from paper pushers up at HQ that make it sound as if I work for them. There is no hint in the way they speak and write that they and I are both members of the same Order, but fulfilling different functions at the moment. The language of the bureaucrat, of the little tyrant, is all-pervasive.

Years ago, in a training session on mentoring ministerial candidates, I asked a colleague if, in his opinion, all our complicated rules were really securing for us a better quality of candidate. He replied that we have all these rules because we can't bring ourselves to tell somebody No, as in, "We love you, but we will not ordain you." We create a system to try to make them fail, with the result that only those who can survive the system get ordained. But survivors do not necessarily make good clergy. In any case, we demand and command and make rules and order people about more and more.

Me, I like the good old days. If the bishop or DS calls, you make time to go see him. You do your work and you respect those who are placed over you, even when they make you mad. You conduct yourself the best you can in public and private, and those placed over you trust you to do so, unless they have good reason to believe you can't be trusted. People in charge don't have to back up their power with brass-knuckled words, and even the veriest newbie at Annual Conference has a right -- and a time -- to be heard. Alas, those days are gone.

I once had a bishop tell me I had a problem with authority. I replied that I appreciated authority and liked to see it used well. I have a problem with people who want power, but won't grant dignity and trust to others. (Let it be noted, that bishop self-destructed and resigned in disgrace, and I am still here.)

All this intersects with the current buzz over the Kentucky Annual Conference BOOM demanding that ministerial candidates disclose all their internet hangouts, usernames, etc., and submit to constant monitoring by "Barnabas teams." What have they all done to be subjected to this kind of monitoring? Some may occasionally post something indiscreet, but come on. Hassle them, not everybody. And why do the elites of the KAC think they have the right to do this? My guess is, years of bureaucratic language creep have made it easier for them to tell themselves they are just doing what's necessary; they're not tyrants, oh no, not them.

The Inquisition is back. And, as C.S. Lewis pointed out years ago, the people who will abuse you for your own good are the worst tyrants of all, for they will do it as a holy duty. They will cast off all weariness to abuse you, and so gain credit in their own eyes for doing the work of God.

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