Day 17 – Sent from Coventry

We have now flogged through Coventry in a heat wave. I suppose I wasn’t really surprised to hear warnings in the media by the authorities that it was unwise to go out in the sun! How nannyish is this and what a silly waste of money? What have we come to when the authorities lecture presumably sentient people as to when they should and should not go out in the hot and cold. It’s beyond parody!

We visited the magnificent cathedral. It reminded me of the skilll of architect Basil Spence in demonstrating in stone and glass the resurrection of holiness over the dark powers of darkness.

We lunched in the Shepherd’s Arms. Our visit was unerringly timed, for we found we had joined a bevy of patients from the local mentally disabled home. They were all rather old, and they spent their time enoying the sun, jerkily gesticulating and quietly talking or shouting to themselves. The senior carer asked Jane and me what we were doing, walking in a heat wave? When we told her the story of where we have come from and where we are going she looked at us curiously. I think she thought we were out on day release from a competing institution! She may be right.

As it was so hot neither of us wanted to eat much, so we enjoyed a cup of tea and a bun at a cafe staffed by a Greek Cypriot called Stefanos. He told me he married his “angel” Abigail in a Greek Orthodox ceremony about a month ago. Then the delightful Abbey appeared and told us that she is a social worker specialising in the mentally ill. She said she was delighted to be part of a Greek family because they are far more social and “family” than the reticent English that she had been used to. It’s exciting to see such a fine young couple relishing to the full what life has to offer.

A Family Business

I am sure that when I mention “religion”, some of my readers may switch off. Perhaps they think that faith should be popped into the box marked “the tooth fairy and other myths”, or maybe they would prefer to spend their valuable time studying the 3:10 at Cheltenham races.

However, please trust me and read on… We have to agree that religion is a topic that makes many people deeply anxious, as does any serious discussion of sex. Humour is often the only medium through which people are able to release their anxieties on either subject. If you doubt the truth of that, just listen to the patter of stand-up comics and you’ll see what I mean.

Holier Than Thou?
My views on religion as such may come as something of a surprise. Because three out of our four children have decided that their careers lie in preaching the Good News – I have to concede they are doing this on an industrial scale – many of our non-Christian friends have concluded that Jane and I have to be deeply “religious”. I watch old friends edging away in some astonishment at parties when they realise that the Anglican Church has become our family business. They think religion is contagious and that if they keep us as pals, they risk losing their other more balanced friends. One of our non-Christian relatives proclaimed in astonishment when she heard of the number of vicars our immediate family has inadvertently produced: “But you’ve always been such party people”. The implication was that overnight we must have morphed into killjoy, holier-than-thou, swivel-eyed bores.

Sad to say, I know what these sceptics mean. I think it was Ghandi who said that while he loved Christ, he was less than impressed by those who claimed to be Christian. Although a good many of our lovely Christian friends live Godly and apparently happy lives – and I know a good many non-Christians living similarly virtuous lives as well – I have to say that I have seen a good many “Christians” who do not appear to be happy advertisements to those who may be wondering whether or not to turn to faith.

Some Christians confuse being “salt and light” with being weird and downright obnoxious. Christians are not commanded to wear funny clothes, speak in “churchy” voices, or accost people in lifts. We are not instructed to talk in jargon about our pilgrimages, missions or visions, or to announce that God has just provided us with a parking space in Oxford’s city centre. Equally, we are not told to sniff at other people’s lifestyles or disapprove of parties and fun. We do not have to look down on profit-making businesses or bang on about “sins” – usually sexual – and nor are we instructed to oppose change as a matter of principle, parade obscene banners at gay marches, or imply to the sick that their illness is due to unconfessed sin. And the Christian faith does not teach that those who admit to doubts are somehow defective and should try harder.

So neither Jane nor I regard ourselves as “religious”, for the fact is that Christ was crucified by the “religious” people. In fact, Jesus was the most exiting revolutionary who ever lived; he died to make all things new and to release us from bondage to freedom and life. It is a profound paradox that so many people appear to have dedicated their lives to trying to tame Him, thus turning their faith into an ultra-respectable charade that bears no relevance to real life.

The Real Show
Jesus spent most of his ministry with hookers, dope addicts and deeply flawed people like me. In fact, as you study the Gospels, you are bound to notice a pattern so consistent it appears to be a formula. The more ungodly, unpleasant and unattractive a person, the more they are attracted to Jesus. And the more righteous and self assured a person, the more that individual feels threatened by Jesus. It’s just the polar opposite of what most people think of as the ideal believer: a rounded, solid citizen who holds family values close to his heart and socialises with the “right” sort of people. Just remember those whom Jesus consorted with: a prostitute, a moral outcast, a Roman centurion, a mixed-race woman with five wrecked marriages and an unclean man with leprosy. At the same time, the Pharisees who had lived upright lives, studied the scriptures rigorously, and obeyed the law, all saw Jesus as a threat.

Jesus kept his harshest words for the “religious” people. So the party poopers have an uphill job but sadly they keep on trying hard to wreck the whole thing in the name of religiosity. Jane and I pray that our children and some of their magnificent friends will be able to help keep the real show on the road. Knowing them as we do, we expect they shall.

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