Friday, 1 November 2002

Out of the comfort zone

The lady in the tea shop said how cute Imogen looked asleep on my knee “she must be exhausted poor thing, but isn’t it sweet to see them so peaceful.” (punctuated with one or two cooing noises).
Imogen wasn’t asleep.  She had only put her head down seconds before her admirer appeared from the kitchen.  From my angle I could see that her eyes weren’t even shut.  I knew that at any moment she might pop up again and resume her demand for crisps.  But for some reason I hadn’t the heart to shatter the woman’s illusion.
I suppose it was because she was so caught up in it.  She had sold herself a particular heart warming vision and why should I relieve her of it?  I even began to feel anticipatory guilt lest Imogen should do it for me.
Is it just that I am not a ‘straight talking Yorkshireman’ or have we all been in similar situations – far less trivial ones perhaps?  It’s not necessarily that we tell any lies but just that full honesty becomes somehow inconvenient or uncomfortable or maybe just avoidable.
I think that this is one of the key problems with the Church.  We claim to talk about ‘Truth’ but where does Honesty fit into the scheme of things?  People are required to be nice to each other and to avoid conflict, not to ‘upset the apple-cart’, but where does that get us?  Ironically, in a lot of churches the only thing that is said with real response-provoking passion is the phrase “I usually sit in this pew?”  And there we sit with the eternal platitudes slipping over us!
It is a trap that all clergy are drawn towards – becoming publicly bland and ineffectual – and who could blame us – see what happens to those who speak honestly of their views when those views transgress too far from what is acceptable.
Of course, an organisation which wants to maintain its position and stability at all costs has to treat creative spirits in this way.  But it must be clear by now that all the church can maintain this way is its gradual decline into irrelevance – if that hasn’t happened already.
So next time someone says to me “God answered my prayer” I’ll say, “What does is mean to say that when he didn’t answer the prayers of the parent whose child has died after suffering who knows what horrors?” 
Or will I?          We’ll see.

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