Is the Pope Better Than You and Me?

At a disco party in the early ’80s, I snorted something and my heart raced, pounding like it was going to beat right out of my chest. I prayed to God, “Please God, let me live. I will never do that again! Let me get beyond this moment and if I do, I will be good. For the rest of my life, I will be good, God.”

I don’t know if it was at that exact moment but at some point in my life, I decided to be good. I prayed to God to be good. It was my trajectory. After all, as a girl growing up in a big Catholic family, I put stock in goodness.

Yesterday, I saw the movie, Oz the Great and Powerful. There is a theme in that movie about being good and doing good. About how pursuing the good is better than being a great man. And, of course, there is the theme that people need a leader to whom they can project their hopes onto.

And I think about these things as the world wonders about the next pope. Does he pursue good? Or simply greatness?

Is he better than average? Is he holier than you and me?

I wonder why good people don’t get ahead or to the top of institutions. Having worked for a church bureaucracy for years, I’ve noticed that church leadership values intelligence. Perhaps only colleges or universities value intelligence more than religious organizations. But just because you’re smart, does that mean you are holy? Or kind? Or Christ-like? Or have an attitude of servant leadership towards the world?

I bet the new pope is smart, probably smarter than me, and probably more diplomatic too. But does that make him good? He probably knows the bible better than me. But has he held hands with the sick or dying? Has he helped people who feel alone to become a part of a community? Has he loved the poor? I am good, but I am not always that good.

This I know: the greatest saints were the worst sinners. I hope this pope smoked or snorted something he shouldn’t have. I hope he had a revelation when he thought he was dying, like I did; and I hope he then dedicated his life to being and doing good. And I hope he is like Oz, not all that great and powerful after all, but simply a good man. He is, like me and like you, someone who is human, has made mistakes and now has stories to tell.

I want to be inspired by someone who is more than an intellectual, a bible expert, a magician or a diplomat. I want to be inspired by someone who is and who values the good in all of us.

a window at Duke University Divinity School
a stained glass window at Duke University seminary.