Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Fine Romance: the Mills and Boon Christ

It seems that there is a war between different loves raging in this world, setting church against society and, indeed, Church against itself. The issue is clearly how it is appropriate to behave when one is "in love" - whatever that means.

I think that one of the contributing factors has to be this idea of Romance taken out of context.

There seems to be something terribly noble about the star-crossed lovers pledging their love in spite of apparently insurmountable odds. One can read Pride and Prejudice and see how Elizabeth Bennett finally navigates the obstacles of society and finally bags the dashing Mr Darcy. Apparently a box of tissues is a requirement when one watches Love Story or Titanic. There is the quandary over which woman to love in Dr Zhivago. How many women fantasise about their boyfriend in white uniform a la Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman? Some classics, some not so, but they have this picture of love against the odds sometimes with tragic endings.

In these days of readily available media, many folk are presented with this notion of love against the odds, disobeying antagonistic parents, avoiding crowds of unwelcome suitors and ill-chosen subjects for an arranged marriage, or the disapproval of an oppressive regime in order for the couple to engage in the great embrace in the final reel, or suffer painful lingering deaths.

Is it possible, then, that people look on these as a generic component of falling in love, that there has to be some battle against an oppressive regime for there to be this frisson of Romance?

One looks at the modern acceptability of sex outside marriage. Society turns a blind eye, saying that this is now a reasonable and normal activity. Yet this was never the case in the past when unmarried sex was called fornication and seen as shameful. I suspect that what has happened is that Romance came on the scene.

What was taboo became suddenly terribly noble - the young couple expressing their love despite the tyrannical disapproval of a strict society bent on crushing any expression of tenderness by forcing them to commit themselves in that evil and binding notion of marriage. How wonderful to see this young couple overcome all the odds!

Similarly, homosexual relationships thrive because of the Romantic imperative. Two young men struggle against social and moral taboos in order to come to terms with the feelings burning within them. It's seen as beautiful, noble and thus completely acceptable to a society which equates the superficial expression of love with the true depth into which true love expands.

These folk also romanticise the life of Christ. His sacrifice against all the odds seems to give license to the view that Love can be expressed in any way that society permits. It is Mills and Boon Christ permits homosexual relationships because the love is true, and it struggles against the disapproval of the world. This superficial love needs to be seen for what it is - it permeates only to the level of feelings, not to the good of society as a whole. Everything may be permissible, but not everything is beneficial, and the Mills and Boon Christ seeks only to scratch an emotional itch, rather than seek to build up families and communities in a deeper and truly selfless action.

Looking at the lives of the saints, it is here in which we see the struggle to love against the odds to satisfy the desire that all folk should realise that they are loved by a personable, yet utterly transcendent God who wills their good and loves them more deeply than any rather falsified notion of affection spawned from some idea on the Big Screen.

If Romance truly exists then it is in the more cosmic story of a God and His Creation overcoming the oppression of free-will to be together in Eternity.

Ciborium or fancy tin mug?

I haven't really had much time to post on this poor little blog lately, though I do intend to keep it alive.

I thought I ought to relate an incident today which I believe sums up the attitude of a sizable part of the CofE.

Our Parish Church building is under renovation at the moment while the heating is being put in. This has meant the removal of the floorboards, and the covering of many of the precious items in the Church. It also means that our Aumbrey in the Lady Chapel is now inaccessible.

I came into church this morning to lead Mattins and sure enough saw that the sanctuary light (a ghastly 1960's electrical thing with a flickering flame "effect") was off. Of course, this would make one curious as to where the Reserved Sacrament was now being stored. It is of course of a vital importance to a rabid little Anglican Papalist like myself. So I looked around the church ("seek and ye shall find") and eventually found the ciborium stuck in the corner of an old disused sacrarium (only just prevented from falling in the sink) at the back of the church surrounded by a pile of old chairs, chest of draws, a filing cabinet filled with our modern "liturgies". There was no attempt at reverence, no thought for what this receptacle contains even if some folk in the C of E see it (wrongly) as merely symbolic. The attitude speaks volumes.

While I can understand that the Aumbrey had to be rendered inaccessible, the fact that there was no plan to accommodate the Sacramental Presence of the Lord seems incredible. I often come into the church to find the Aumbrey obscured by a display of flowers, or a chair, making the practice of kneeling before the Lord very tricky and usually I have to do some furniture removal if I want to venerate the sacrament.

How typical this seems to be of many a C of E parish. It has become just a Rotary club with ritual (which thus technically means nothing). The Peace is a shambolic free-for-all, the Creed altered, bits of the canon of the Mass missing.

I still wonder why I am a member of the C of E. I've nowhere to run, but I still have some work to do here albeit in a peripatetic and peripheral nature. My vocation in this church, indeed this parish is clear to me, though there are times when I wish there were a credible alternative. I have now not received the Sacrament in my own parish for a year, preferring to go to a neighbouring parish to do so (like this morning), but even the the superficiality and lack of thought and care seems to be infiltrating. It must be a spiritual version of the second law of thermodynamics - religious entropy is increasing.