Saturday, December 31, 2005

Guides and Leaders

The only followers the Gnostic Church needs are the ones that go on the tops of the candles. Though a friend of mine found it extremely amusing that you could go to a church supply store and buy followers: those kind are handy, they save the candles and keep wax from getting everywhere. The human kind are more problematic, the best you can hope for is that it's a phase that ends relatively well—and soon.

People can benefit greatly from guides, organizations can benefit greatly from leaders. This distinction is of primary importance, though rarely noted. The Gnostic focus is upon the individual: Gnosis and the transformation it brings can only be found there. There is nothing more important, nothing more precious, and nothing more real. One cannot be given Gnosis by another, nor have another walk one step for you. But there are those who have been down the path a bit further than you have, and they may act as guides to some degree.

An organization, in addition to working towards its goals/purpose, must also remain an organization if it is to continue to do so. This adds another layer, an organizational layer, to everything any organization does. The very name says it, an organization is organized somehow: it is a micro-cosmos, an ordering on the small scale. It has its rules, its way of doing things, its past, and the stamp that previous leaders have left on it. It also has at least one serving leader, or it doesn't have any vitality, or anything to hold it together—it's just an idea, a habit, or something on paper.

Note that it must be a serving leader. “Minister” is Latin for servant. We must keep in mind Paul's warning that there are those that position “puffeth up,” that Ego Inflation is a constant danger. Many seek leadership as a means of mitigating an inferiority complex, and I'll let you in on a little secret—we all have one. Who doesn't want to feel good about themselves? And it's so much easier to let someone else do it for you, instead of having to actually accomplish something: such as becoming conscious of your inferiority complex.

Anyone who's ever held a job has probably seen this at work (literally). The boss's toady, who's only job is to make the boss feel good about him or herself: at company expense, of course. This has become the norm in our ever more inefficient corporate society. Think of how much corporations would save if they paid for, and encouraged/rewarded mental health? Not including the lawsuits avoided over the inappropriate use of power.

Another danger is power itself. In the workplace the power is over your livelihood. It may really be the power of life and death for yourself and any dependents, or it may just be the power to set you back. Regardless of how many of a certified panel would agree with your diagnosis of your previous boss, you will never be able to mention it when looking for work. Every boss has an inferiority complex and is afraid of anyone who mentions psychopathology, no matter how indirectly. In “one true” religions, the power is over your eternal disposition. In these cases, you may or may not have options in the human face through which you interact with the church, but they will still hold power as being part of the necessary church. The protestant reformation may have broken the monopoly of church, but it replaced it with a monopoly of the Bible which can easily be misused in the very same way.

In the Gnostic understanding of church, not only is no particular institution necessary, but none are—they can aid, and pass on aid. The same goes for scripture, and anything else of the world. Gnosis is the path, liberation is the goal—what helps, helps. No church or cleric can either deny you, or grant you, Gnosis. There is only aid offered, and so, no actual power over anyone. It is such a radical difference that it can take time to understand, and unfortunately, not everyone does.

Being a minister is a difficult position, if not an outright impossible one. To be a servant of the Divine, both transcendent and present within every single person, means that you will always fail to some extent. Ego Inflation is a constant danger, the temptation to identify with the role, to take credit for what happens both because of, and in spite of, yourself. Yes, you are a part of it—but there is so much more. The ego wants to believe that “there are no other powers beside me,” yet a servant knows that they serve a greater power. A life of service is not often rewarding in a self-gratifying sense. If it was, it wouldn't be service.

A true servant is certainly not someone who will “lord it over you,” treat you as a lesser being, hold you down to keep themselves up, bring you the rope to hang yourself with, or use your best impulses to your detriment and their benefit. Someone in minor orders (junior clergy who serve at the altar) has jealously ranted about someone who isn't in orders performing a valuable service—because, they weren't clergy. The opposite of the spirit of service that is the heart of a real ministry.

I have also seen others who are clergy-on-paper, that occasionally dress the part when there is occasion to be admired, and disappear when the potential admirers do. And there are those whose ministries are sincere, profound, and life-long, who will never take orders, or even think of what they do as ministry. Service is the point of being a servant/minister, if it is not merely being puffed up.

Problems with would-be-leaders, though worth covering, are nothing new. I started out by talking about followers, and they are an intrinsic part of the equation. The way in which most churches operate in the world provides unhealthy patterns and expectations for those who arrive on our doorstep. A certain persona is expected, and it is rare to meet someone who bothers to see past the title and the collar; or, if they do, who don't think so much less of you for being a real person. People usually see someone who can act as a guide entirely from outside, not taking into account their perspective, or wanting to. Often people seem to seek an idealized guide, as if unconsciously trying to replay a previous abusive relationship. The only ideal people are make-believe: either they know it, and are somewhat dangerous; or don't, and are very dangerous.

Leaders are also usually seen entirely from outside. They personify the organization to us, particularly any issues we have with it, and we tend not to empathize with them because of that. I remember the first time I truly realized what hard work and dedication is required to provide regularly occuring Gnostic church services. It wasn't when I was first attending them here, nor even after I had been helping with the physical setup and serving at the altar for years. It was when I moved, and was faced with the daunting task of trying to do so myself. Only then did it really sink in.

When the guide and the leader are the same person, as is often the case in the Gnostic Ecclesia, there can be twice the reluctance to empathize, to see beyond and accept the real person. Part of this is individual need. There is a process that Jung called the transference where a therapist carries a part of the client's soul as a projection as part of the transformational process. This is delicate work, and requires a very grounded and ethical person to perform this dangerous work without causing harm. The counterpoint of this Jung called counter-transference, where the therapist projects back onto the client. One can see this in one aspect of the role of the Bishop as Hierophant to clergy. One projects the completion of the journey onto the bishop, who then returns the projection, over time as you are ready, through the ordination process. That is not all that is going on, but it is an essential part. To a lesser extent the same dynamic occurs in the Eucharist. We project and receive back in communion; again not all that is occurring, but an essential aspect.

Yet, everyone who can really serve anyone on their path has been born and grown up in this world, and is therefore a flawed and wounded human being. You don't get through life without your tender and sore spots, without having over-reacting defenses, and without being vulnerable. We cannot become perfect in the sense of never having been wounded or flawed, but we can become conscious and use consciousness as a counter-force to the other forces within us. Hopefully, we can become conscious of unhealthy patterns before they play out in our lives, but at the least we can admit them and make amends afterwards. For in true ministry, service is the process through which we can become free of the false ideas of ourselves.

Whatever our role, or lack thereof, we are all in this together. Fellow seekers of the Light who can be of service to one another. You don't get exempted because you don't have an official role, or because you do. Everyone has their own burdens, some will weigh you down with theirs, others will help you pack yours and show you what they know of the way—and they don't want followers or servants, but to serve the Divine, and to have companions on the journey.

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