“There shall in that time be rumours of things going astray, erm, and there shall be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia-work base, that has an attachment. At that time, a friend shall lose his friend’s hammer, and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight o’clock.”
Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a real classic. There are so many great lines in that film. This line came to mind today as I was looking for yet one more thing that I had misplaced…er…lost. How often do I lose things? Now before you smarty pants who know me well start crowing — that was a rhetorical question.
For those who are unfamiliar with Life of Brian …where have you been? – Ok so in brief – Brian is born on the same day as Jesus in the neighbouring stable and spends his life being mistaken for the messiah. What follows in this movie is a series of events that can only be described as hilarious. If you have never watched Life of Brian – rent it and watch it – you will not be disappointed.
This whole thinking about Life of Brian was brought on by an exchange I had yesterday with a Roman Catholic who for the purposes of this article will remain nameless. To the incident in a minute, but first let me set the table. One of the funniest scenes of the movie is a scene where Brian’s followers split themselves into two groups. One group worship one of his sandals while others are devoted to a gourd Brian left behind. “Cast off the shoes, follow the gourd,” one woman exclaims. “No, No, let us gather shoes together,” exclaims another follower. Now this is ridiculously funny because it is an exaggeration of that which is all too real for those who follow Jesus. They spilt themselves into camps and argue about which way the ‘right way’ is. Now this takes me back to last night’s encounter. At a table with friends at a local football party, someone remarked that “he is a priest.” He, in this instance – is yours’ truly. To wit, this man said in the condescending manner that I have become accustomed to hearing from him, “He is not a priest.” To wit, I responded, “I most certainly am a priest. I was ordained a deacon on the feast of St. Bartholomew in 1997 and a Priest on the Feast of St. Boniface in 1998.” The response? “You are NOT a priest. You are a minister. Do you have a Pope? …He is NOT a priest!!!” Now this is ridiculous enough to be funny but it is also alarming this day in age. I would be lying if I said it did not bother me to be so clearly reduced to being ‘less than a priest.’ That is a priest as he sees it from his Roman Catholic perspective. Am I ordained by the group that worships the shoe or the group that wants us all to follow the gourd? I really am not sure! Both seem equally laughable. The issue here is the fact that my Holy Orders were not bestowed by the followers of the right rite!
Now it should be noted here, that I am married to a faithful Roman Catholic who shows nothing but respect for my Holy Orders as do most of the Roman Catholics that I know. It should also be noted that I have chatted with many Anglicans and Protestants of a variety of persuasions whose attitudes about Roman Catholics and RC priest are less than honourable and whose words are as derisory as those expressed by my ‘friend’ here in Tecumseh last evening. He is the product of a time which has thankfully passed – he and those like him, have sadly never accepted that passage of time.
When we reduce ourselves to a people who see each other with contempt, we sadly become the parody depicted so very well by Monty Python’s Life of Brian! We appear, to the world around us, to be arguing about bowing down to a shoe or following a gourd. How can we every salvage the Church (that includes the many manifestations of church), when we still have to contend with people who are willing to devour their own young? It there any wonder that we are struggling to find a relevant voice in this world? It is a challenge to overcome the negativity that is eating the Church from the inside out. The irony here is that my faithful ‘friend’ from Tecumseh appeared to feel smug and proud of the fact that he was reducing a ‘minister’ from another church while what he was really doing was reducing the Church (speaking in the plural here), the Roman Catholic church included. G.K. Chesterton wrote that “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” If we are unable to show one another that loyalty in the current storm that we all weather as Church, I fear we will one day realize that Ralph Waldo Emerson was correct in asserting, “Religion is as effectually destroyed by bigotry as by indifference.”
I hope that the reflection of religious bigotry that I was subject to last night was a glimpse at an endangered species that will soon be extinct as evolution takes its course. I hope that we all find a voice to speak together against those who deride, diminish and degenerate. Our common dignity demands no less.