I’ve been told by a well-wisher that s/he looks forward every month to my writings in the Diocesan magazine. Not only that, they get better each month. This is a comforting message. It builds me up: it is anabolic, and I need that. It comes at a time when I hear that some parishioners scan my every word in the magazine and on this blog for something they can use to have me drummed out. It comes the day after one complaint that parish accounts were not available (a pile of them were in the church porch for over a month), and another, surprisingly vicious, that the pewsheet had the wrong readings in it (year B, not year C). It would have been helpful had the complainant offered to be responsible for pewsheet production.
The well-wisher said that s/he did not know of a Church of Ireland parish in which all was sweetness and light, and knew of several that were riven with discord. S/he wondered how anyone these days could stick the hassle of being a Rector. I knew the Church of Ireland between 1988 and 2003 and then again from 2011. Someone in early 2012 asked me what it was like coming back, to which I replied ‘I forgot just how unpleasant some members of the C of I can be to each other.’ Fortunately, for all the vexatious members there are more delightful ones. Ministering to all is a privilege, and ministering to the delightful is a pleasure.
You would think that the church would be less prone to fault-finding than other organizations. Sadly, the opposite seems to be the case—spectacularly so in the C of I. I recall complaints brought against the Revd Michael Bland, the Rector of Buckland with Snowshill (Gloucestershire), in the 1960s. When asked about the angry emotions felt by some of his congregation, he said: ‘Quite right. Get the violence off the street and into the Church where it belongs.’ Why the aggro? Is it because church is the place for power-games? Is it because church is the tribal totem? I can’t see what the discord has to do with the man in sandals. Perhaps the church has a death wish: they forget nothing, they learn nothing, as it was reputedly said of the Bourbons.
Grumbling and gossip are diabolical. They splinter—that’s what diabolical means. The shards of glass from the devil’s mirror at the beginning of Andersen’s The Snow Queen turn the heart to ice and corrupt the vision. Guilt and shame harden the heart. As for corrupting the vision, look into the eyes. The retina is the only bit of the central nervous system that is visible to an observer. The eye is the window of the soul: eye structure and personality are linked, researchers suggest, because genes responsible for the development of the iris also influence how the ‘personality part’ of the brain is wired up. And notice how shame and guilt affect the way that people hold their heads and move their eyes.
Hardness of heart is what the psalmist warns us about. It makes us insensitive to the woes of others. It makes us obsess about self. And the harder it gets, the greater will be the mess when it eventually shatters–as certainly it will.
Speed these lagging footsteps; melt this heart of ice.