A Theologian in Town Hall Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 30 May 2008 09:44
Intriguing article, "A Theologian in Town Hall", in the new issue of America. It is written by a tenured professor of theology, Georgia Masters Keightley, who quit her job and become major of her small Nebraska home town.

Keightley's interest is very much in the theology and mission of the laity:

Throughout my career, I had regularly taught courses in Catholic social ethics and was gratified to find students altruistic and enthusiastic about the idea that society could be transformed by their decisions and actions. Yet the more I taught these courses, the more I wanted to know how to translate this body of teaching into practical, everyday decisions and actions. What could educated Catholic professionals do to make the social, economic and political networks of their communities more fair and just, more supportive of the common good? How does one live out a preferential option for the poor in one’s professional life? How does the principle of solidarity apply to one’s daily use of money?

While I could remind students of the Gospel charge to do hands-on charity and service, such actions do not really address the structural causes of injustice, which, as Paul VI taught, must be a primary focus of the Catholic witness in our time. The pope described the need for Catholics to bring to conversion “the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs.” The question was how.


Snip.

First, I learned that service as an elected official or as an appointee to a board or committee is a rich opportunity for Christian witness. Here one can directly affect the way taxes are raised and spent and create opportunities for employment, education and job training; one can work to ensure that affordable housing is provided and that building codes, safety and health standards are enforced. Above all I came to see such service as a vital way the baptized can heed the call of the Second Vatican Council to seek “the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will.” In this way, too, U.S. Catholics can practice what our bishops have come to call “faithful citizenship.”

But my time as mayor also gave me insight into some of the individual things that must be attended to if our collective institutions are to be humanized. And while most of what I learned was hardly revolutionary, my experience proved that St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, had it absolutely right: it is in the practice of love in the small details that we really begin to redirect the world to God’s purposes.


Snip.

To be honest, I was relieved when my mayoral duties came to an end. To do such work takes vast amounts of time, humility, patience, a thick skin and a good sense of humor. Despite the challenges, I came away with a clearer grasp of what lay Catholics can do to renew society and its institutions. But the dearth of attention parishes give to promoting and then preparing laypeople for such indispensable work has been a continuing disappointment. How often does one hear homilies treating the great themes of Catholic social ethics: the dignity of work, the obligation to care for creation, the rights and duties associated with life in community? When and where are laypeople educated in the practical ways of using their learning, professional expertise and gifts of the Spirit to root out the conditions that give rise to hunger, homelessness and discrimination? (Sherry's emphasis)

Great observations.

It has been my experience across the board that one area where Catholic formation almost always is weakest is in helping people learn how to apply the principles of the Church's teaching in specific, concrete real live situations. Every time we've managed to come up with a theologically solid and practical process that addresses one specific area of lay formation, the demand for it is huge. Because the need to bridge the gap between the universal and its application in Colorado Springs or Dodge City or Houston in 2008 in this unique set of circumstances is never ending.

This really is the terrain, the jurisdiction, the responsibility and expertise of the laity.