( this is a bit of fun, with a serious twist at the end )
Religion doesn’t get a very good press these days… too often associated with bishops covering up the unsavoury misdemeanours of their juniors, or straying into politics and alienating those who don’t agree with them.
I have memories of bishops before these trendy chaps (rarely women) strayed from their narrow paths of bland conformity. Trollope’s Bishop Proudie was the first bishop I felt I knew… timid and hen-pecked husband of the redoubtable and unforgettable Mrs Proudie, the undefeated power behind the episcopal throne of fictional, but very believable Barchester Towers.
But my first actual encounter with a bishop was in Salisbury Cathedral when I was fourteen. I was there with a dozen others to be confirmed in a small private ceremony. My parents had given up on the church some years previously, were late arriving, and kept the bishop waiting for them. Then my stepmother, who had a talent for easing sticky social occasions with gay laughter and light- hearted jokes, scandalised the waiting bishop by joking that they’d given him plenty of time to have a quick tipple of the communion wine. Which my father told me afterwards, went down like a ton of bricks.
Maybe, I thought later, this explained why no beam of golden light shone down on my head when the grumpy bishop laid his hands on it, and I had felt no magic sense of godliness or even goodness. Instead I embarked on a career of crashing down heavily in a faint on the stone floor in church during communion, and returning home with bruised swollen jaw, black eyes and the rest, until my stepmother insisted on me having breakfast before I left.
Bishops were not in evidence during my years in the army, but once married to a vicar’s son I had an inside look at the workings of the Anglican religion… and charity forbids me to say more. While in Hongkong bishops became part of my life for a brief season. Bishop Hall, an intrepid son of the church who’d retaliated to Japanese invasion by ordaining a Chinese lady as vicar to secretly tend his bereft flock in Macao, handed over to a more prosaic, but kindly man while I was there.
And while the Archbishop of Canterbury back in England and safely out of reach of the brutal Japanese invaders, had unfrocked the poor Chinese lady vicar, this bishop managed to get two women into the ministry while they were still arguing about ordaining women in England years later…
I got to know Bishop Baker quite well, when his interesting and strong minded American wife (a power behind the throne, but not in the same class as Mrs Proudie) approached me to offer a part-time job as a PR consultant for the Anglican diocese in Hongkong. This entailed going to an office in Bishop’s House every morning, and twiddling my thumbs, before going to my day job on the newspaper, unless I had a depressing visit to the teeming slums of Kowloon with a visiting Anglican dignitary that I could write about and slip into the South China Morning Post.
There was also the monthly purgatory of the parish breakfast, when all the diocese clerics – mostly non- English- speaking Chinese gentlemen, gathered for a jolly brotherly breakfast in the cathedral hall. I was required to attend and try to mingle… the only redeeming feature of the occasion being the freshly baked and delicious bread rolls carted over from Macao by a generous cleric.
I only lasted for six months in this extra-mural job, badly though I needed the money… but I couldn’t go on pretending to be enthusiastic about the church to the kindly bishop’s wife.
For the next few years, both in Hongkong, and then in New Zealand deans were more likely to cross my path than bishops, though thanks to my friendship with his wife, I knew a Maori vicar who shot up the ladder of promotion to become Archbishop of New Zealand. He then ditched his churchly purple and bishop’s gold regalia to climb to even higher things, the political appointment of a Maori as Governor- General. I suppose even an archbishop found the lure of a knighthood and visits to and from the Queen more attractive than rubbing shoulders with his Maker. And being referred to as His Excellency must have been more exalting than a mere His Grace…
So thanks to him, my last encounter with a bishop was a beaut, as they say in Australia. His Excellency invited us to a ceremonious, but small and intimate dinner at Government House, where we rubbed shoulders with half a dozen illustrious citizens, among whom was the conqueror of Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary. The Gov-General/ ex-Archbishop of New Zealand, had invited one of his old buddies to this occasion, and I was sitting next to him. He was the Archbishop of New York, a tall, somewhat dour personage who took due note of the fact that he had been tactlessly seated opposite a large dominating portrait of George III – still not a popular personage in the US – even though the poor chap had lived over two hundred years ago…
During the grand and boring meal, I became conscious that the Gov-General’s corgi was roaming the carpet under the table. So I slipped him a morsel of my bread roll and he thus became a fixture at my feet. As the meal progressed he and I became more and more friendly. Come the cheese course, I ran out of cheese biscuits to give him, so I turned to his Grace, the Archbishop, and asked him for one of his, lying un-eaten on his plate.
He obviously didn’t hear me, so I tried again, but he still seemed not to have heard. Never one to be deterred, and thinking my neighbour must suffer from deafness, I repeated quite loudly for the third time, the request for a biscuit for the corgi. At which the august personage turned to me and snapped: “I heard you the first time – and NO !”
I was staggered, was there no milk of human kindness running in those American veins? Maybe it was because he was not English, and didn’t care for dogs. But did he have no chivalry either – to refuse a lady – or no good manners? Certainly, no charm.
Bishops, it seems, are not what they once were… instead of dwelling quietly behind their splendid palace walls waiting to have their amethyst and gold rings kissed, they now make controversial statements, enjoy the worldly pleasures of hobnobbing with celebrities, and much more interesting, some are now taking part in an experiment to see if taking drugs increases levels of mystical experience. This experiment includes leaders of most faiths, except for those who refused – those who follow Islam and Hinduism. Presumably Hindus already know about these things with their centuries of meditation and mysticism – Islam – who knows?
The participants report that the experiment so far has made them more tolerant and open to other faiths. How amazing that religious leaders could be so bigoted that they would think that the Maker of Heaven and Earth would care whether they used a rosary to pray, thought sex was not for making love but for making babies, wore a tiny scrap of fabric on the back of their head, or thought that only their founder knew the truth, and therefore everyone else deserved to be killed. How amazing that each religion should seriously think they have the only direct line to the Creator and that everyone else is wrong or deluding themselves.
The Quaker silence has felt the holiest religious gathering I’ve attended. Like the Baha’i faith, Quakers – or Friends as they call themselves – accept that there are many paths to heaven, and that no beliefs are more ‘right’ than others. They respect all people. Genuine Quakers don’t have bishops. Instead, every year each meeting elects twelve elders. They meet once a month to work out the running of the meeting, and if all the elders do not agree, then no decision is reached at that meeting or succeeding meetings. Until there is consensus, no action is taken.
This seems to me to be the ideal way for Planet Earth to run its affairs. Twelve good women and men, idealistic and practical, experienced and knowledgeable, paid a pittance so that no ambition mars their decisions, and elected every couple of years from the four corners of the world so they can’t make the post a career, but elect to serve as a privilege – surely this could be a true meeting of nations which would work for the good of mankind.
No more fingers on triggers, knee jerk threats, old enmities, or profit-driven exploitation, but cooperation, peace, justice and mechanisms to make life worthwhile not just for all members of the human race, but also for ‘all creatures that on earth do dwell’, to slightly adapt the words of a Protestant hymn sung since 1561. This could be: ’a new order of the ages’, in pre-Christian Virgil’s words, words which are also the words of the motto on the Great Seal of the United States – and worth remembering in our so- called New Age. As US President John F Kennedy said: ‘Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Food for threadbare gourmets
I love leftovers… they are often tastier than first time round food. So when I had some mince from spaghetti bolognaise, but not enough to make a lasagne with, I turned to my tried and true method of stretching leftovers. I made some pancakes again, as in the recipe in blog called ‘Do we have a choice between technology and love’. and made a really tasty cheese sauce, with plenty of cheese in it.
Spread some meat in each pancake, roll it in three, and place in an ovenproof dish. Pour the cheese sauce over the pancakes, and heat up, gently browning the sauce topping. With salad or vegetables – delicious.
Food for thought
I am neither in temple nor in mosque: I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
Neither am I in rites and ceremonies, nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If thou art a true seeker, thou shalt at once see Me: thou shalt meet Me in a moment of time. Kabir, Sufi poet 1440-1518
19 responses to “Religion, relevance and Planet Earth”
Perhaps we could start the new world governance by paying a pittance to our parliamentarians; maybe not a pittance but something equivalent to a basic income or a living wage (as it once was in NZ) I would also like a system where ordinary citizens could be called to do parliamentary duty just as they are now picked to be jury members.
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Totally agree Amanda … it really gaps my axe to know they all have free travel for themselves and wives for the rest of their lives, generous pensions etc etc… and yes to parliamentary duty, but no celebrities !!!!
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Definitely no celebrities!
I would have been staggered also…rude! JUST PLAIN RUDE!!! I don’t get rudeness by anyone at anytime EVER!
Oh, sorry….I got on a rant!
Still an excellent article!
Know what you mean – rudeness shows such a lack of respect for other people…. rant on dear friend !!!!
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Such an interesting stream of memories Valerie, but with a very important and excellent point.
Thank you Andrea, I always value your comments – you always get the point !!!!
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Fascinating recollections indeed. Also, valid comment on the sadly deluded who believe that any god would require these often imbecilic customs to be followed.
That archbishop so needed to be taken down several pegs. A comment on the lines of ‘mannerless lout’ comes to mind.
Good morning friend ( wonder what the time differential between S Africa and NZ is…)
Thank you for your comment… the archbishop was a shocker wasn’t he… what a reflection on religion !!!! I thought you’d agree with my thoughts about the deluded… that man among them… doesn’t anyone practise what they preach these days !!!!
An interesting history with bishops…and a corgi!
Thank you… the corgi was unforgettable !!!
Good to hear from you…
What an eventful life you have led. I love your wide reaching posts. Practise what you preach is a lesson that rude man needed to learn! I have long felt that if I were to follow ant religion it would be the Quakers, their love of peace and their collaborative decision making. I love your idea for world governance, so needed in our troubled world.
Bolognaise pancakes, oh yes! 🙂
Thank you for your thoughts, Sally, it’s such an encouragement and a joy to know that a person of your experience and discrimination enjoys my posts …my uncle who had no belief in God ( he said) attended Quakers for years… I think he felt he met like-minded people there, who didn’t judge him…They met in Pembroke Library at Cambridge and I went there once with him… what a setting for such a meeting of minds !!!
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So much comes to mind to say. Having suffered insult and mental injury at the hands of the religious, both leaders and congregants, I’ve many thoughts, some quite angry ones. It doesn’t mean I fault God, for sometimes I think he’s not the author of religion. In fact I believe He’s horrified over the atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion.
Suffice it to say, I enjoyed your words this week. I could imagine that dear little corgi sharing your dinner and being a bright spot in an otherwise miserable affair.
I hope you don’t mind my sharing another Sufi poet…Hafiz. This short poem seems to fit here and is one of my favorites
STOP BEING SO RELIGIOUS
Do sad people have in
They have all built a shrine
To the past.
And often go there
And do a strange wail and
What is the beginning of
It is to stop being
Hello Rochelle, thank you so much for your comment and the Hafiz poem… we read him often of course…I totally agree with you that God/ the creator, Allah, etc etc, was/is not the author of religion….he/she/ or it is an energy of love far beyond the power games of most religions… and when people move into other dimensions of understanding of Spirit, then they move on from religion, into a ground of being which is all inclusive.
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My grandmother came from a Quaker background. And I am reading “The Roundtree Family of York.” As you probably know the Rountree’s came from solid Quaker stock. They accomplished amazing things. They were living examples of ! Corinthians: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices the with truth. It always protects, always trust, always hope, always perseveres.” Hugs coming your way.
Lovely to hear from you Rebecca, yes, I’ve always loved Quakers since I read John Halifax Gentleman as a small girl… I longed to join when I was married to an army officer, which wasn’t practical, but once alone, I began ‘attending’ as they call it, for many years, until the validity of so many other philosophies moved me along… love to you, Valerie
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I love they way you wrote – “validity of so many other philosophies…” we continue to learn, explore and be open to many possibilities.