WARM TO SIN
As I grow older, almost worse than the inevitable physical degeneration, is a growing realisation that I have few if any heroes left to inspire me. No truly wise, rock-solid, infall-ible folk, older and profounder than myself in whom to trust, and upon whom to lean and depend. Everyone, I begin to suspect is un-certain, fallible, sinful and as puzzled as I am.
I grow old, I grow old
Growing old, for most of us, it seems to me, is less a problem than growing up, and accommodating our self to this. When we are children our parents are as God to us. Wise and strong, they make our every decision, are always there to know and be everything for us and to answer all our questions. As we grow up we begin to realise that they are fallible, and then that they are probably little wiser than we are. It is a disillusioning revelation.
So too it is with all our heroes. I remember some years ago sitting in the gallery of the legislative assembly in Canberra and looking down at our parliamentarians during Question Time. The whole, marvellous, billions of dollars worth of Parliament House exists to allow, facilitate and encourage the men and women I sat watching to exercise their talents, display their wisdom, explore the best way forward for our lovely land. The very city of Canberra itself exists for the men and women I sat watching. Yet how little they looked in their baggy grey suits, how small, fallible, insignificant, ordinary; and likewise their questions and answers, their posturing, bleating and roaring.
But so too, as we grow older, seems everyone. Who isn't puzzled, worried, distressed, small, unsure? Who isn't foolish, fallible, faint- hearted? Who isn't running away from ultimate questions, the riddle of existence, God or no God? Is death the end of everything?
The biographies we read reinforce the same sad point. J F Kennedy, for all his touted talents and burnished reputation, was actually a philandering, bullying and essentially weak man. Leo Tolstoy, so wise and humane in his novels, was a vacillating and very silly fellow in real life. Mahatma Ghandi, for all his redeeming qualities, was little short of a crackpot, so his latest biographer reveals. Nelson Mandela, indubitably heroic on a wider stage than his home and family, was also vain, adulterous and neglectful of his family, and so on and so on.
Hypocritical, puzzled, floundering
It is not growing old that is the problem, it is growing up and realising this truth. We are all of us a pretty shabby, unimpressive lot, often frightened, always hypocritical, puzzled, floundering.
This might well be a problem only to peculiarities like myself. Certainly most folk appear to cope happily enough, either by worshipping crass, rat-bag,"celebrities" with the help of hideous rags like "New Idea", or by running away from the problem to the club room bar, obsessive golf, bowls, football fanaticism, a DVD induced stupor, or even to the unreality of religious certitude, to extreme fundamentalism with its spurious certainties and easy answers, or to astrological charts, crystal gazing and mantra muttering hocus pocus.
None of which is really my bag, and so I, Andrew Neaum, growing up, look around for wisdom, strength, inspiration, for people upon whom to lean, depend, rely on, people to admire, to be my mentors and gurus, only to discover that there are none.
Even the very, very clever, the brilliant, lead, as often as not, messy, messy lives, as shambolic as the lives of you and me. Even the good and the very best, appear always to have a dark side, when their lives are probed.
Which leads me to fall back upon my background, the Church, the faith, the tradition, upon what sustained my parents and theirs, and gave shape and purpose to their existence. Where does that faith, their faith, your faith, my faith direct us to look for solace, for strength, heroism, real worth, profound goodness, strong enough to lean against, rely upon and aspire to?
Warm to sin
In animated conversation with Diana the other morning, I made a comment that I considered interesting enough to record in my journal. We were talking about someone we knew, who touted himself as a good Anglo Catholic. On reflection I commented, "Of course he isn't really an Anglo Catholic at all, it is just a veneer, a gloss, his relationship to sin is not warm enough for him to be a genuine Anglo-Catholic."
You see the Christian answer to human mediocrity failure and wickedness, is always love, love, love, but love's relationship to our fallibility, lack of heroism and sin, needs to be warm, rather than judgmental, sympathetic not condemnatory, empathetic nor puritanical. In others, most certainly, but often even in our self. Because if we are disgusted with and condemnatory of ourselves, we are almost always even more so with ourselves as perceived in others.
When we look around at our congregation, or at our friends and acquaintances, in order to be heartened, strengthened, given the courage to continue, we don't look so much for certainty in faith, or strength of purpose, or heroism, nor for brilliance, answers, absolute rectitude, rather, we look for love, lovingness, lovableness.
The fundamental heroism
Love is the only fundamental heroism that ordinary life offers us. Love, revealed once upon a time supremely on a cross. Love with open arms though, not puritanical rectitude, not finger-pointing, key-hole peeping, tut-tutting, but warm even to failure and sin, warm especially to failure and sin, not least because failure and sin in others involves usually a flash of recognition, "Ah yes!" we say. "Me too!" Is empathetic then, forgiving, accepting, compassionate, never cold-hearted, and when tough only reluctantly, hesitantly so, always accepting, empathising, affirming.
Our gurus, mentors, heroes, have to be simply the loving. There are no others, and we need no others.
Many of you regular worshippers in the various churches of this parish are that to me. You probably and rightly appear to recognise in me, all your own failures and fallibilities and yet still affirm, forgive, compliment, love, enjoy, appreciate. I love you for it and respond to it.
The bond of love
"If you love me," says St John's Jesus, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments, I shall ask the Father and he will give you another comforter to be with you forever.... I will not leave you orphans.... I will come back to you... I am in the Father and you in me and I in you...." "I will give you another comforter..." I am in the Father and you in me and I in you...."
The bond of love, the Comforter, God's Spirit, sent to be with us, in us, of us. Where is he?
For me he's in you, the people of this parish, in your love. Without it, without him, I shrivel up and die.
The bond of love, the Comforter, God's Spirit, sent to be with us, in us, of us, where is he?
For you, as God's people (at least in part) he's in me, your parson. In my love, without my love, without God's love in me, our parish begins to shrivel and die. Not entirely of course, for there is each member's love for each other and God's love in each for each other, but my love is so, so necessary too.
To live the faith, we don't demand or need from each other credal correctness, moral perfection, heroic sanctity. We need in each other only affirming, accepting love, the bond of love, Jesus in the Father, the Father in Him. Jesus in me, in you. You in me, I in you, the bond of love.