RESPECTING THE CLERGY AT CHRISTMAS
AND ALL THAT JAZZ
There used to be a time, perhaps you can remember it, when Bishops liked to be termed “My Lord”, and would hold out their disdainful hand, upon one podgy finger of which was a socking great amethyst ring for lesser mortals like us to kiss.
Not for me, thank you very much. My sort of bishop is the one who, when asked by a sycophantic clergyman if he might kiss his ring, replied, “certainly you may, my dear fellow, I keep it in my back pocket.”
Returning the compliment with nobs on
There used to be a time, perhaps you can remember it, when even the parish clergy were hugely conscious of their status. “Father”, this, “father” that, “reverend” this, “reverend” that. Slip up and call the “Father”, “Mister”, or worse “Andrew”, and you'd be shrivelled with the comment, “Father to you!”
Not to me thank you very much. Call me what you like. If it is too complimentary I will blush, if it is too insulting I'll cap, recap and triple cap your insult with nobs on.
Any desire or demand for titles, status, reverence, respect as a clergyman is dubious ethically, deplorable theologically and these day foolish.
Because of course there has been a revolution in western society, Christianity's status, respect and influence are no more. Like teachers, possibly more so, we are poorly esteemed. The powerful, the influential, the intelligentsia have abandoned us, and we carry little clout with a secularised, affluence & pleasure besotted hoi poloi.
Nor is this altogether a bad thing. Christianity can be most itself when despised, rejected, scorned and crucified.
Constantine & Christendom
It was the Emperor Constantine who, in making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, gave the Church respectability, status and power, pulled worshippers out of modest homes and cosy rooms to house them in great basilicas and cathedrals, turned bishops into potentates and politicians, and clergy into masters rather than servants.
So a religion that three hundred or so years before had begun obscurely and unremarkably, in a squalid stable among the poor and unprivileged, in the person of a nobody who was to be crucified a criminal, was turned almost overnight into a political, social, economic and cultural force second to none.
I love Constantine's glittering and powerful Christendom. As a political, social, economic and cultural force it's given us so much more than just the great cathedrals, so much more than inspired literature, glorious music and dazzling art. Through dark centuries of violence it helped keep scholarship alive that blossomed into the Renaissance. It contributed vital underpinning to the Enlightenment, providing inspiration to liberate as well as tyrannise, to criticise superstition as well as promote it, to enable scientific development as well as oppose it.
A nonentity's mewling, puking infant
In England, as well as being allied to power and privilege and so helping to fuel civil war, entrench privilege, and block equality, it also civilized, ameliorated, softened, moderated, challenged evils like slavery, child labour and more.
But, Christianity is not Christendom, and at Christmas, I am more than happy to be reminded of this. To dwell upon and relish the truth, the lovely, lovely truth, that my hero, my first love, my Christ, my Jesus, Johann Sebastian Bach's Jesulein, his little Jesus, is an outsider, a marginalised one, a fringe dweller, unaccepted, unacceptable, not well born, not well-heeled, not intellectually dazzling, not a celebrity, not one of the successful, but powerless, vulnerable, without status, a nobody, a nonentity, a nonsense.
I am happy to reflect that the miracle of miracles, at Christmas is not a star in the sky or carolling angels in the heavens, is not a virgin birth angelically announced, is not the future accurately foretold, or Herod miraculously duped. It is not God in the miraculous at all, it is not God defeating evil by fiddling the rules, cheating the system, is not power, might, influence and majesty, all of which are the stuff of Constantinian Christendom, but rather the miracle of miracles is no miracle, is rather, God revealed in the ordinary, God in the common place, God in the unremarkable, God, for God's sake, in a nonentity's mewling, puking infant. God manifested in the most ordinary of ordinarinesses in one of us, one just like us, God compatible with humanity, to be known not in sophisticated argument or mind-blowing miracle, but rather in the sacrificing love, in the often heart-breaking love of maternity, paternity, family, friendship, relationship. In the antithesis of power and privilege, in the essence of ordinariness and the commonplace. God intimate not distant, God familiar, not strange.
My first love
And so my God, my life's meaning, my first love, my Christ, my Jesus, my Jesulein, my little Jesus, my lovely outsider, my wandering, loving healer and forgiver of enemies, my lovely turner of the cheek and walker of the second mile, my loving, marginalised and despised fringe dweller, my unaccepted, unacceptable, not well born, not well-heeled, not intellectually dazzling, uncelebrated, unsuccessful pleb my powerless, vulnerable, statusless, nonentity and nonsense. Feels at home, can be at home, even in the shabby, unremarkable stable that is my heart and my life.
And he is, and he is and he is.