We see the same phenomenon in church elections: select vestries, diocesan synods, diocesan councils. Same old names, same old faces. How do we get new blood and new thinking on to tired and listless committees?
It’s said that the emigration of young people from Ireland will be reduced by providing more jobs. Will it? Maybe they emigrate because they’re tired of the same old faces perpetuating the battles of the past without, it seems, the ability to look ahead with imagination and vigour.
I’m just a humble clerk in holy orders, but I really do think that a bit of ‘inexperience’ might serve us better than the narcoleptic complacency of ‘experience’.
A local National School visited St Peter’s yesterday. They asked intelligent questions about the church and items in it. An observant young man wondered why there was a decorative Star of David on some of the chairs. ‘Because Jesus was a Jew’ was my immediate answer, followed by consideration of all the symbolism in church and liturgy that comes from the Jerusalem Temple.
Before long, a black boy asked: ‘are you English?’
‘Yes,’ said I, ‘why do you ask?’
‘Your accent,’ he replied.
What would have happened had I asked him if he were African because of his pigmentation?
The straightforwardness of young people has much to commend it. For myself, increasing the size of the oral aperture in readiness for the articulation of phonation is often merely an opportunity to change feet, and then to wonder to whom the letter of complaint will be sent.
Be ye not like to horse and mule, which have no understanding: whose mouths must be held with bit and bridle, lest they fall upon thee.
Emmaus road in Assembly this morning. The seniors stay back afterwards and we explore some ramifications. Then we consider the umbilicus. Is there a connexion? I’ll get to that in a minute. The thing is, you see, that I’d had occasion to draw attention to a young man’s visible belly button to get him to sit upright. So, the umbilicus.
Anybody know what it’s for?
For a cord.
Connecting to what?
OK, says I. Really, it goes to the placenta, which then plugs into mammy. Has any of you seen horses or calves or pups being born? And some of them had. (No cats: cats should never be born).
I find the belly button very useful. When you’re eating in bed, you can put the salt in it to dip your food into.
They recognized this as a joke.
And, says I, if you get a screwdriver you can unscrew the umbilicus so that your bottom drops off. Yes, cynical reader, I did indeed use the word bottom, though it wasn’t the word that first came to mind.
They did not recognize this as a joke. I had to confess. Then they thought it uproariously funny. Strange isn’t it? eating salt they did, unscrewing they did not.
Emmaus and umbilicus—is there a connexion?
New life, nurturing, feeding, serving. The two-way traffic of nutrients going one way and waste products the other. One universe contracting down enabling another to open up. Cosmic renewal, the means of refreshment, exchange, vivification.
Most are sad to see us go. ‘You’re the best rector we’ve ever had.’ Beware Irish charm. The most common comments have been ‘a breath of fresh air’, ‘don’t know how you stuck it so long’, ‘good sermons’ and ‘we’ll really miss you both’ (I’ve long held that SWMBO is a better rector’s wife than I’m a rector). There have been tears. Such responses, the majority, have been affirming. Of course there have been a few negative comments. There’s a sense of satisfaction in some quarters, for ‘you can be controversial, but we’ve tolerated you.’
Some comments relate to the nasty mess that I inherited, that escalated between my appointment and arrival, and that goes on and on. Remarks on how I handled it range from my having been too bullish to my not having been firm enough. I must have got it right, so. Anyway, my shoes contain my feet, and nobody else ever stood in them.
It’s easy to let negative comments weigh more than the positives, but I want to tease out some of them. They’ve included: ‘you’re not one of us’, ‘you don’t understand’ and ‘this is not your culture, so you don’t realize what happens.’
- First, it’s quite likely that someone looking from outside sees exactly what happens better than people in the midst of it all.
- Second, these comments implicitly assert that clergy should be emasculated lapdogs who never challenge those in the circled wagons. Just like Jesus I don’t think (though perhaps he’s been emasculated too).
- Third, they imply that the clergy of the future will be ‘one of us’. The trouble is that ‘one of us’ is not in the clergy-training pipeline. AFAIK there are no ordinands from this group of dioceses, and certainly none from these parishes. My successor is unlikely, therefore, to be ‘one of us’. Yes, more could be done to encourage ordained local ministry by ‘one of us’, though you’d have to beat sense into the Bishops’ ideas for training to be a real possibility for real people with real jobs. Good luck with that.
Members of the Church of Ireland will have to get used to clergy not being ‘one of us’. They may even have to tolerate yet another immigrant from—God forbid—England. Or Africa or America. If incoming clergy need sensitivity and flexibility, then so do the flocks they tend. Any expectation that ‘our ways’ rule the roost has to go—particularly if ‘our ways’ are no longer acceptable. People will have to grow beyond the culture of entitlement, profound in these parts. And there needs to be a rethink of the concept of ‘confidentiality’ that means passing things on by behind-the-hand and corner-of-the-mouth mutterings. Or telling only one person at a time.
I have learnt a huge amount in the last 32 months. Cross fertilization is essential for a healthy organism.
Easter Sermon 2014
Picture the last supper. You are Jesus. Around the table are the motley crew of people who have attached themselves to you. Maybe you don’t like some of them. Maybe they’re not all that keen on you, but something makes them stick. You know that some of them plot behind your back. You know that some of them jostle for the place of deputy. Some of them have mammies and possibly daddies who are not above trying to get favours for their little darlings. They say one thing to your face, and something else behind your back. Some of them do the dirty on you. And all of them dissolve into thin air when the going gets tough. There is something of Satan in them all.
This, girls and boys, is us. In a few minutes time we will kneel at the altar and share in the holy mysteries. Next to you will be someone in one or more of those categories—and so are you.
Get over it. Getting over it is resurrection.
Forgiveness is resurrection. Put the past behind you. Don’t forget, but rather learn from whatever happened. If we do not forgive, we hurt ourselves more than we hurt the person we think has offended us.
Imagination is resurrection. Think how things could be better. Think what might increase the amount of delight in the world and work for it. Work, that is, from where we are, not from where we would like to be, or where we used to be. This means beginning by taking stock of reality.
Breaking down barriers is resurrection. We spend our lives building our own tombs, constructing them from the inside.
- We’re careful about how we seem to our friends – Facebook is designed for life in the tombs.
- We’re careful not to think too much or too deeply about anything, especially about ourselves and who we are.
- We’re careful not to say too much or to show our thoughts.
- We kid ourselves that we’re making ourselves safe as we build our tomb stone by stone. Stones of possessions, attitudes, notions, postures, bank balances, club memberships, prejudices. Then when we put the last stone in place, we reach that moment when we feel completely safe. Smug. We cut out the last ray of light from the outside, and we sit in the artificial light of the windowless room. There we stay, physically alive and spiritually dead.
- We shut ourselves off from life and from the Divine. We inclose ourselves in our own fat. We are so careful about controlling our lives that we exclude everything and everybody.
Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Two different sorts of life: one risk free but spiritually dead, the other vulnerable and risky but alive. Like standing on the top of Everest and shouting ‘I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive!’ This is the real me living life to the full.
Resurrection is about breaking down barriers. The chick smashes its way through the shell. Nobody can see the light if you hide it. Nobody can see it unless you smash the pot it’s in. As we demolish barriers, we will feel vulnerable. When we are most vulnerable we are most in touch with, and completely safe in, the Divine. Some of you think I talk too much about death. That pleases me, for the main job of the priest is to prepare people for death. It’s good to get to the end of life feeling that it’s been one hell of a ride.
And that’s perhaps the best way of looking at resurrection: making life one hell of a ride. A very happy Easter to you all.
In the last 15 years we’ve moved six times, chucking out each time. But then we accumulate more, and it’s not from parents for they were dead 20 years ago. Before we die we’ll likely as not be in a two up, two down, and we’re chucking out now.
I can’t speak for her indoors—wouldn’t dare, though I know she finds it painful (‘books are my friends’), but I think it liberating to see the back of stuff I don’t need any more. There’s nothing like a bonfire.
Take my books. Over the years I’ve collected a vast number. Lots of them signified a club I thought I wanted to belong to: organ building, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit (how stupid is that?), a bit of philosophy, theology, medicine of course, embryology. Organ and piano music too. When I was a teenager and wanted to be a cathedral organist I stocked up on all sorts of music. I look through the library and think ‘I’ve never touched that in the last 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years; I’m not likely to in the next 20 if I live that long (family history not encouraging there), so out it goes.
And it has. I’m very grateful for the ‘ministry’ of Sue Ryder, theological colleges and musical friends. I’ve kept stuff that interested me when I was a child (zoology), music that I could well get round to playing, and books that speak of beauty and that I might find useful (some theology). But that’s all.
The question is: why did I want to belong to those clubs? Why do we want to join sports clubs or golf clubs (I’m not old enough to play golf) or drinking clubs or backslapping clubs where we stitch up local business to our own advantage? Is it because we feel we have no identity unless we are part of a mob? The story we read on Palm Sunday says a good deal about the mob.
Maybe it’s because we become infected by a demon. Back in the fourth century AD Evagrios the Solitary wrote that the demons that fight us in the front line are those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those that suggest avaricious thoughts, and those (worst of all) that incite us to seek the esteem of men. I think it’s the last one that makes us want to join clubs: the craving for recognition by those whose recognition is not worth having. He knew a thing or two did Evagrios the Solitary.
Out goes the rubbish. Maybe I’ll end up sanyassi.
The project is administered by the Vincentian Fathers and hosts a variety of youth groups and activities for children and teens. I’ll be working alongside staff of the school teaching English in the morning then running, jumping and playing with the children in the afternoons. Funds raised will be used to cover costs of room and board with any extra used to provide materials for the community centre.
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