If Giving To Charity Is Today’s Indulgence, Is It Time For Another Great Reformation?

April 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

“If we have no peace, it is because we forget we belong to each other.” Mother Theresa

While listening to this interview with Greg Boyle about his work with gang members in LA, an audience member asked a question which made me say ‘oooah!’ out loud while cycling through downtown Boston.

She starts by asking the simple question which so many of us carry – “So what can I do? I mean, what can I do beyond writing a cheque?” But then she says – “once I have bought the indulgence – what next?”

I love that comparison. The sale of indulgences was one of the most prominent aspects of early modern religion that Martin Luther so decried, and that ultimately led to the Reformation. The idea that you could buy salvation revealed the empty, bankrupt soul of the Church. It was no longer purpose-driven.

So many of us want to help – truly, we want to make it better. Donating money is mostly is what we’re asked to do. Largely, because it is easy.

If justice is living alongside one another and being joined together in mutual liberation and transformation –  this is so uncomfortable! It goes against everything else in our lives – our jobs, our social circles, our ambitions. We have to let go of the easy, planned lives we lead to do this. And that is precisely what religious institutions are supposed to help us with. A place, a time, a process – led by people who know what they are doing, to re-enter our human family. Doing this is what religion is – a practice.

So if we aren’t living alongside one another and buying indulgences to assuage the guilt – why has it happened, and what can we do? From what I can see, the church as an institution is failing to meet these needs of most human beings today. It has failed to provide the necessary counter-balance to modern life’s demands and pressures. An unrestrained capitalist system, exploitational advertising, time poverty etc etc needs a strong, rigorous institution which keeps those impulses in balance with our intrinsic values.

Does that mean it is time for another Reformation? And are we already seeing it happen?

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