Have fun with faith!
Did you see my keys? Where’s my glasses? What’s her name?
‘I don’t believe it.’ (I think this is the signature tune of one Victor Meldrew- ‘One Foot in the grave’). He depicts a cantankerous grumpy old man. (Are all of us over 70s, slipping into this version of ourselves?) This image led me vaguely into recalling from a distant past ‘The Clown’ (by Boll) and the young ‘clown’ of Hans Schnier (moaning like an angst ridden ould fellow) as he ranted against conformity and I remembered that at one time, the image of that ‘clown’ was seen to be a rather apt figure to describe a priest. And then another picture flashed into my mind from Edvard Munch- ‘The Scream’ and I felt this coalition is dangerously pertinent for this time.
What has surfaced such nonsense in my head?
Kim Jong-un and Trump. Two bully boys let loose in our fragile world with bombs and nuclear possibilities. And Trump was elected democratically. Isn’t it pathetic to see the bombast of military parades in the midst of so much need with young Kim? Erdogan then in Turkey, is in a pivotal role and his referendum passed. Marine Le Pen is close to a run-off in France. Bashar al-Assad sounds so urbane and would never use chemical warfare! And thousands die and migrants will endanger their lives to get away and reach Europe. And Putin reaches out to everyone with a clenched fist. He colonises. The Brits should understand that but they would react with indignation to be compared to Putin. Isis and allies give God such a bad name.
At home – the Northern politicians waste three months not talking to each other and avoiding the responsibility of running a little country. They seem to forget that they are unwanted orphans! Why are they being paid? And then we have our own ones who sound like teenagers let loose in a supermarket and told to take what they want and never mind who pays for it. The immaturity of our politicians is shocking. Some whine and whinge and most seem not to have a clue about basic economics. And these are educated people. Did they ever learn to think or ever grow up sufficiently to deal with reality? Water is a good example of utter stupidity. The job of politicians is very demanding but it isn’t a game for foolish children or unruly teenagers.
When I was thinking of the above, my mind drifted back into the past again and I somewhat saw flashes of Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. I sauntered into the present and a possible future with strange ideas. The amusing thing of it all, is that Religion has a fun side to it and is now badly needed. I know too often we joined in with ‘the misery literature’ (like Angela’s ashes material) or the ‘caoin’ of victimhood from our colonial past. We did. We were full of negativity. The Church was full of misery. The Confessional saga was horrendous. And our marvellous devotion to sin was perverse. Our embrace of celibacy and our delight in virginity was a form of puritanism gone mad. But the God of faith; the Jesus of history; the Christ of the Gospels is very different. The Good News is wonderful. Our God isn’t a God of the gaps. Our God is alive. Our hearts burn in his presence. The real priest now would be a clown. A clown in the proper sense – a clown who helps us laugh; a clown who helps us find perspective; a clown who points out the bizarre in life and smiles; a clown who lifts our spirits; a clown who suggests to us that the darkness/despair in our world today isn’t the full story. ‘Send in the clowns’. Propagate the world with clowns. The immediate- NOW::NOW folk and even the modern religion of Mindfulness, is not everything. We are bigger than NOW. There has been a past. There is a future. There is always more.
In a very strange way, we need more of Religion now rather than less. I read Jonathon Tulloch each week in The Tablet (I admit a bias and a lack of objectivity as I know him) with his ‘Glimpses of Eden’ or Simon Barnes (Sunday Times Magazine) ‘and still my wonder grew that one small head could carry all he knew’ (Goldsmith) . Well yes, they drag me into that bigger world; into the beauty and excitement of new discoveries every day. The bush at the end of the garden. The leaf. The birds. Life. God. They wake up my soul. We so much need poets who stir the juices of God within us – to see, hear, wonder.
What was I saying? Yes. Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. I know nothing about it. But how I wish some Religious writers/presenters and performers, could have the gumption, humour and the faith to produce on paper or TV a Weekly Programme which would do a ‘send up’ of our politicians and of our public life and our church . Where is the new Frank Hall?
I think it should be the task of the new leaders in Church life to produce such a character. To make fun of the goings on; to poke irony at Church people; to taunt the new infallible leaders of life (Media). To have a go but to sprinkle everywhere dollops of laughter. To help us smile at ourselves. The seriousness of our debates (in Church and State) is often laughable. It is really, because we make so much of the present moment and now and forget the bigger picture. Church people need to wake up. They are too solemn and presently too afraid of ridicule. Never mind if we are caricatured. The God inside us, will break out. I don’t want to sound trivial – but our life has to be Good News. There is nothing else. This is why Francis has made such an impression. He gets to the heart of Christ and his message. It is simple. It is direct. It is messy. It is human. It is real. We have to let the echo from the past, sing out to us: ‘Don’t let life; don’t let life get you down.’ We can get ever so dreary. We can despair with the politics of play-acting around us. We can get wearied with the supposed collapse of our Religious scaffolding. It hasn’t gone. God isn’t dead. Much of what has gone, is good riddance. Have fun with faith. Make a splash.
Holy week and Easter has come. The Community prepared a very alternative Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Another team got Good Friday ready. Everyone is talking about Good Friday. The priests were pushed aside. They were allowed to say together the words of Absolution. That was their only role on the stage. We knew what John the Baptist felt like. ‘They increased. We disappeared or were disappeared without losing our heads.’ There was a traffic jam for the Confessions but it was wonderful. We have several marketing managers out selling the programme. It belonged to them. We are the bystanders.
Some weeks ago I met a man who retired at 49 and a quarter! That is what he told me. He was suffering from burnout. He had worked with the police. I see many of our teachers retiring at 60 or before and they have a short year and a fairly short day. Many of us can’t get a chance to visit the toilet never mind retire! We need to use our energy and strength before we burn out too. I think our Church people are magnificent. We need to Celebrate ourselves. But we have to have the vision to move from conformity to imagination. All our priests – be they women or married men for the future – need to be tested on their humour and their imagination and their creativity. They need to have the ability to clown around. They need to rise beyond the mundane and be artists of God. We could do an appraisal of all Church ministers using these criteria! Otherwise – Victor Meldrew takes over in all of us. In some ways the nonsense of celibacy has deprived us of a more messy humanity and has made us less real but our day is here now. Too often – the incarnation itself was minimised. We have a new gift – the gift of clowning, to give our God and our Church. Young Francis is leading the way. He may not get there but he has knocked down the prison walls of faith and we are reaching a promised land. The sun is shining.
In conclusion: The only two TV programmes I occasionally watch are New Tricks and Grand Designs. I love the old codgers and their way of going about things. I see ourselves as old codgers going about things in a new way. I also accidently meet up with Grand Designs and again it excites me to see those new homes appear. I see ourselves as architects of a different future which has to be full of creativity and faith. Grand Designs and New Tricks indeed. That is our way forward. We are an antidote to the despair of life around us. The Scream (Edvard Munch) cannot be our banner. We are indeed an Easter People and Alleluia is our song (and all versions of it)
Seamus Ahearne osa