Monthly Archives: March 2013

Turning off King Lear

Slowly it dawns on me that my friends who are outside the church tend to think that Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services are in the nature of theatrical performances, something to which I go so that I can enjoy them.

It is certainly true that I would not miss them unless I really had to.  Also, that they are highly theatrical. They are not so much a matter of intellectual as visceral impact. On Thursday, the beauty and the seriousness of remembering that first giving of the body and the blood. The foot washing, graciousness given and received, an assurance of acceptance, of essential equality, an embracing care. Then as the mood changes, a kind of desperation, an anger, in the stripping of the church of every nice thing, every beautiful thing. Then the procession of the sacrament to Gethsemane, where Jesus prepares himself to be faithful to the bitter end, and faces just how bitter that end will be. The clergy and servers arrive and prostrate themselves. Somehow this is unbearably moving, the more so as some of the brightest and best people I know are lying face down in humility and adoration before a young man in an agony of fear.

And the wait, the long wait until midnight, often in tears again, in silence, separate yet together, as the church slowly chills, waiting until the last of the sacrament is consumed and Jesus, so invariably there until now, is suddenly not, and there is no comfort, no hope and we all leave, in silence and utter loneliness.

And the next day, that Friday we dare to call good, when we sit and remember just how low human kind can sink, and what brutality they can perpetrate, and how many suffer, and how God suffers in them. And we ask ourselves how far, and what, we are doing to stop the suffering, and the answer is not comforting. It is the bleakest day of the year.

My outside-church friends think I go to it as the kind of catharsis one gets form watching King Lear. There is a degree of truth in that, in so far as a great deal of planning goes on to ensure that people CAN get to experience all that.  And also because something like washing the feet of upwards of a hundred people takes a bit of managing in the bowls, warm water and towels department if things are not to go on past midnight after all.

But the difference is this. King Lear never lived, and Cordelia never died. If Lear gets too much you can bring it down to size by choosing to remember this. But Jesus was real and he did die. And today, out there, people are still tortured, and Syria is a bloody mess, and little girls are shot to daring to make their voices heard and wanting an education, and sitting thinking about it all is really really hard.

And you cannot turn any of it off by reminding yourself it is make-believe.



Isaac Poobalan – real Christianity and real Islam

I do not really understand the pleasures of prejudice. I was brought up to detest it, and the enduring legacy that my difficult, demanding, unsatisfied father gave me was a conviction that other people are interesting and  approachable. A rock solid belief that it is going to be rewarding for both me and them if we meet as equals. I never realised just what a wonderful lesson and legacy this was until I got out into a world where people do not merely judge others, but pre-judge them based on a position of total ignorance about what they believe and what they stand for.


I am not alone in my conviction that we need to encounter others as real people, because the really-rather-wonderful Isaac Poobalan of  St John’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen has been encountering real people. He encountered real people praying in the cold and he thought they would be better off praying inside his church in the warm.


The result has been warm congratulations from thinking, feeling people, and a storm of abuse from those who prefer the pleasures of prejudice. Because those he encountered praying were not Christian but belonged to one of the worlds other great monotheisms, Islam.


It appears that those attacking the Rev’d Poobalan are utterly ignorant of Islam. This is not the time nor yet the place, and I am not the person, to give you a full account of a noble religion, but let us deal with a few misconceptions. Allah is not a moon-god. He is the One True God that Christians love and try to follow. Islam does not believe that women should be oppressed and subjugated and denied an education, although regrettably a minority of its followers in unenlightened cultures do think that – and before we get sniffy about that we might stop and consider the really vile things a minority of Christians in our own country appear to believe. Not to mention the fact that our sister church in England still does not allow women to become bishops, and has just enthroned a man who still does not believe God blesses gay relationships despite what he admits is the evidence of his own eyes. But I digress.


Islam has as an utter key-stone the need to give to and support the poor, in a way that Christianity at its worse (though not at its best) simply ignores. Islam is to its core a generous faith. At times in history it was Islam which kept the light of learning alive, and the scholarship it promoted in science has left every one of us an important legacy. Indeed, the legacy of Islam in opening Western minds to the possibilities of creating clean, safe cities is also remarkable. Islamic states had them and we did not.


Never the less, a number of incredibly stupid people (have I offended them? Oh GOOD) have attacked Isaac through Facebook for his enlightened, sensible and utterly Christian stance. Our faith, too, is about generosity – about meeting people where they are and quietly, and for no ulterior motive, seeking to be of service to them. I just hope Isaac knows how many more people support him to the hilt.