A few weeks ago I was part of a panel discussion that was responding to questions in which older generations asked the younger and visa versa anything they wanted to know but had been afraid to ask. Sounds complicated, I know. One of the questions asked by the Older to the Younger revolved around the notion and seeming failure of the Younger to follow, live under a sense of Authority. It was based in matters of faith and truth, in essence wondering why it seems the Younger generation doesn’t give much credence to Authority.
In the discussion, there was a sense that “Authority” automatically had “power” associated with it and thus power poorly wielded. I mentioned a quote by Henri Nouwen, in which he says,“The temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat,” and that it seems that most people's experience with Authority lacks anything to do with intimacy, but merely exercises in power. (Though I did not say it so eloquently, as I hardly ever speak with eloquence on the fly). I would wager that in our cultural mind, that Authority and Intimacy are incompatible, even if it is falsely perceived to be so. There are far too many experiences of Authority – be it a person or a concept – acting as a force or power, a dehumanizing power at that.
So when I read these words by Fr. Richard Rohr, I was challenged once again to reconsider the question: “The human ego feels more comfortable with Kings than with wise men. It prefers answer givers over spiritual guides. Kings give rulings that must bring clarity and order, [wise men] invite us into the messiness of our interior lives and most social issues. Wise men must reveal the shadow sides of their kingdoms, which CEOs, heads of state, and bishops usually cannot or will not do.”
In order to excavate “the messiness of our interior lives and most social issues,” there must exist in the atmosphere a sense of intimacy, one that is not easily threatened. This kind of atmosphere is not hard to find in Wise men and women while it is nearly oxygen deprived among the “Kings” of our time.
As social issues rise - from chickens and homosexuality to taxes and poverty - I wonder how much we look to “Kings” to exercise Authority because we are far too threatened with the Intimacy of the Wise? And to step it down into our own lives, where our messiness bumps into the messiness of others, are we prone to seek the clarity of Authority because we fear to walk where the Wise might lead?