Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pope Francis -- Person of the Year

Every year Time Magazine selects a person of the year.  The choice is often controversial -- but then this is not a popularity contest.  The rules are simple -- the person who most affects the world during the year for good or ill is chosen.

This year's options included several for whom I would suggest represented the "for ill" category.  Depending on how you view Edward Snowden, he could represent both categories.  Many view him as a hero for unearthing the skulduggery of our nation.  I'm not excited about our nation engaging in spying on its people, but since I'm a regular viewer of NCSLA, I'm really not surprised.  So, rather than helping, I've seen him as doing little more than embarrassing the country (but that's my perspective). Snowden would have been a popular choice with the group who hail him as a hero, and one could make the case that he did have a major impact on global politics.

Fortunately (in my mind), Time chose to go with Pope Francis.  In a matter of months this new Bishop of Rome has changed the tone of our religious conversation.  In his humility, his humor, his focus on the poor and marginalized, he has reminded us what the core principles of the Gospel are.  What makes him different from his predecessors is that people from across the religious spectrum are drawn to him.  As head of a church, whose trappings are unwieldy and at times unsightly, he has changed the focus.  He has also called for a changing of the conversation.  He's not changed his mind on abortion, contraception, or women priests -- but rather than making abortion, contraception, and gay marriage the calling card of the church, he is calling for the church and the world to care for those most in need.  And even on gay marriage he has sought to change the tone.   Hey's not a liberal -- even though many conservatives have decided that he's a socialist (and if he is a socialist, then what about Jesus?).

Pope Francis is a man of action.  He hasn't spent his career in the study, but rather in the streets of Argentina.  Rather than police doctrinal conformity, like his predecessor, he recognizes that the future of the church depends on helping people make sense of their world.  Even as he upholds Catholic doctrine and practices, he understands that it is more important to live the gospel than fight culture wars.  

I believe that this paragraph from the story announcing the choice makes the case:  

If that prayer should be answered, if somehow by his own vivid example Francis could bring the church into a new relationship with its critics and dissidents—agreeing to disagree about issues that divide them while cooperating in the urgent mission of spreading mercy—he might unleash untold good. “Argue less, accomplish more” could be a healing motto for our times. We have a glut of problems to tackle. Francis says by example, Stop bickering and roll up your sleeves. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good—an important thing for the world to hear, especially from a man who holds an office deemed infallible.  (Time Magazine).  

Now, if only the American Bishops would get with it!!  But then I'm a Protestant Pastor and so I don't have much influence with them.  But, I will confess that Pope Francis has inspired me, as a Protestant pastor, to follow the gospel and serve the world, even as Christ served the world.  As you will hear in the video below, what Pope Francis has done is inspire hope in the world's people.  Now he may disappoint.  He is, after all, only human.  He faces an entrenched bureaucracy.  He faces a world that is skeptical about institutionalized religion.  But, in his very humanity, he has represented Christ to us in a way not seen in recent years.  

So, in the end, I want to commend Time for making this choice.  Sometimes it is important to lift up a person who invites the world to rise to a new level of humanity.  And, as a person of faith, and fellow Christian, I am happy to have him representing us to the world!

The video below, explaining the choice is well worth watching.

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