GENTLE JESUS MEEK AND MILD
The faces of saints, and indeed of Jesus himself, in many of the stained glass windows in the parish churches in which I have served have often repelled me. They are so simperingly soft, effeminate and sweet. I rebel too against the all too common caricature of the Church of England parson in the now defunct "Punch" magazine: large Adam's apple, smooth pink face, blushingly inarticulate in the company of females between the ages of twelve and sixty, giggly after half a glass of sherry, horrified by the word "damn".
Gentle Jesus meek and mild
Leaves me red of face and wild!
Old maids and prissy gentlemen who splutter at a bit of passion in a Church journal or sermon, or who throw a fit of the vapours at any opinion expressed that isn't as bland and soapy as imitation Gouda cheese, I deplore. Nor are frilly lace cottas, lisping choir boys and dandified clerics much my scene either. Bland and fashionable clerics, with never the guts to get down of one side of the fence or the other until the majority has declared itself and so it is safe to do so, leave me stone cold too.
The Christianity that I long for, look for and need has guts, panache, perzazz and heroism. It knows something about standing against the tide, being liberal among the conservative and conservative among the liberal, strong, humorous, different, risk-taking, courageous. Ezra Pound's picture of Christ in the "Ballad of the Goodly Fere" is my sort of Christ. There is nothing bland, wet, meek or mild about him!
Oh we drank his "Hale" in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere,
But a man o' men was he......
He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free,
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue,
But never a cry cried he.
I ha' seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o'Galilee,
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi' his eyes like the grey o' the sea.....
When you go to church, listen to and see so much that passes for Christianity it is little wonder that there are so few red-blooded young people present in church. There is far too little that is admirable, strong, heroic and courageous about Christianity today. There is nasty rigidity aplenty in fundamentalism, but there is more fear than heroism evident in that . There is stand-against-the tide and laager-building conservatism too, but that too is built more upon fear than heroism. There is fashionable, protest marching, banner-waving, peace-marching, but hurling insults or worse at Australian, English or American policeman is hardly heroic. Material comfort and Western affluence seem to breed only a soft, wet, bland and irrelevant Christianity. The Church declines in such situations for want of heroes and heroines, so where are we to look for Christian heroism that isn't far away or long ago?
Some while ago I heard on my car radio a single mother talk, without a whine or whinge, of how she coped financially with four children and no maintenance from her ex-husband. I was very deeply moved. But not to pity her. Rather was I moved to envy her; her courage and guts and common sense in resisting all the social pressure and advertisers' blandishments to keep up with neighbours, to go into debt, to be a typical consumer, to grab, bludge and bleat. She was a heroine, a marvellous woman. Overt Christian or not her courage was of the authentic Christian sort.
There is lots of this sort of courage about in ordinary family situations. Parents who don't give in to their children's every whim, who struggle to control, discipline, teach restraint, frugality, honesty, responsibility, and duty in a society that screams constantly: "do your own thing". Wives who for family reasons refuse to go out to earn a second income inspite of all the comfort and security more cash would bring. Wives who do go out to work because misfortune of one sort or another makes it necessary for them to do so. Examples could be multiplied indefinitely. There is no need to demand the miraculous, the extraordinary, the outlandishly heroic to be impressed or heartened in faith. The miracle of Christ is to be seen, more than anywhere else, in the bread and wine of ordinary life. In our own parishes, in our own churches, under our very noses there is an enormous amount of admirable courage and even heroism in evidence for those who raise their eyes from their own obsessions to look, because, as John Masefield said:
To get the whole world out of bed
And washed, and dressed, and warmed and fed,
To work, and back to bed again,
Believe me, Saul, costs worlds of pain.
If we look around with discernment we discover courage enough around us of the ordinary Mary and Joseph sort that might, should ever the crunch come, give rise, even in the Australian church, to a martyr or two!