Hobbyists and Tolerance

I think most of us get passionate about the things that interest us, and we occupy our spare time with hobbies. I am no exception. I do not have a full-time “professional” ministry as a priest, and have a fairly boring self-employed job as a technical translator. Life is fairly full living a married life and the upkeep of our house. During the season, I take the boat out to sea and enjoy sailing. I have kept up this blog now for two years, which is my main teaching ministry as an Anglican priest. My wife and I both sing in a quartet, a choral group and have singing lessons. The little pipe organ in our house still gets tuned, maintained and played. Music is a big part of our life. We still have a dog and two cats, so life is reasonably full as for most people.

Most of us who are Christian believers would place our spiritual life above “hobbyism”. For us, Christianity is a philosophy of life that governs our political opinions and other decisions we make in life. Ideally, we live in a community that is inspired by Christian ideals of authentic humanism and humanitarianism. Christianity is to our lives what a rudder and sails are to a boat. Our hobbies are activities that enrich our lives, since they teach us new things and open our minds to fresh ways of seeing our world, whether in terms of people, human culture or nature. Travel and contact with other cultures is also a way to enrich one’s spiritual life and mind, bringing us into greater empathy with “the other”.

There is a more unfortunate side to “hobbyism”, by which people become narrow and intolerant. We get interested in something, and because we are social creatures, we tend to look for others who like the same thing. Thus we have associations and clubs for everything from stamp collecting to football, to collecting and driving vintage cars to my own “thing” – sailing boats and sailing. For religious people and those who interested in theology, liturgy, etc., there are churches. The internet has opened up a whole new world. Diversity is both a wonderful gift and a challenge, because it challenges our own “truth system” and relativises it. Someone who believes in a “truth” also believes that everybody should conform to it. Otherwise they have to accept that there is some kind of greyscale between true and false, black and white, etc. This blog tend to attract those with classical liturgical and cultural tastes, though with differing degrees of commitment at one end and fanaticism at the other end. The balance is very fine and difficult to find without oscillating between one extreme and another.

An article came up from the keyboard of a friend – Women…. His words:

Call me whatever you like but I have yet to meet a woman who knows the first thing about Liturgy…

I wonder how many patients in the surgical ward at the hospital know as much about their own bodies as the surgeons. These words are provocative (I like Patricius, but he sometimes makes me wince!), and some of the comments are revealing. There must be some women who have become knowledgeable about the liturgy when they study theology at university. They have another view of liturgy, as the closest they get to the liturgy (in churches that don’t ordain women) is the choir loft or their place as churchgoers in the nave. Most women have the same amount of knowledge about the liturgy as I have about what a surgeon did to me (I was under a general anaesthetic) when he repaired my hernias! He gave me an explanation beforehand and showed me diagrams and photos, but in a way as I could reasonably follow. Women, like any Christian lay person, go to a church service that encourages them to pray and affords them a certain amount of dignity in keeping with even the most moderate feminist aspirations. I might be called a renegade by some, but I do allow women and children to read the Epistle (Old Testament reading or from the New Testament outside the Gospels) at Mass. We also sing the sung parts of the Mass together. In the absolute, I see no reason why they may not serve Mass, except that we live in a politically-loaded world and anything granted at a general level tends to lead to other things. We have indeed to be careful that our own hobbyism doesn’t take away from common sense, a pastoral sense and a spirit of tolerance.

I think my readers are familiar with the possibilities this blog gives for finding old articles, especially the “search” box and the cloud of themes in the right-hand side bar. I have striven to keep this blog at the highest possible quality, notably by keeping the trolls out. We recently had a problem with anonymous posters pretending to have organised a kind of private inquisition to purge the clergy of various major and minor churches. That seems to be another hobby, a “sport” of those who would do the same thing to blogs as young city vandals do to the very public telephone that could save their lives in an emergency. I try to be fair, and gave those trolls a chance to explain themselves and write something credible. They failed miserably, so the best thing is simply not to feed them.

This blog is mainly about my commitment as an Anglican (ACC) priest and things I like to share with others without wanting to make them mandatory. I love sailing, but if everyone did it, the sea would become as miserable a place as our roads where some very unpleasant people sit behind the steering wheels of their vehicles. Already, there are some unpleasant people in boats, but most I know have the instinct, not only of saving lives in danger, but being of help. Perhaps the tolerance comes from fewer of being interested in that particular hobby.

Failure to respect and tolerate diversity gives Christianity a very bad reputation with atheists. Atheists tend to believe (or at least say) that nastiness and intolerance are intrinsic characteristics of religion, a least until we find them to be even nastier than we are! In our life journey, in terms of spirituality, the other “serious” things of life and our hobbies, we need to explore and find our own way, our own identity and aspirations. We don’t need any other justification than fulfilling our own vocation and inner aspiration, being what we have always been. Such ideas certainly sound “post-modern” and not characteristic of a conservative Church, but our Church has learned many lessons over the past couple of decades. We are here to follow Christ’s calling, not to conform to someone’s half-baked ideology of what he thinks of as a mandatory truth for all.

When people fail to see the whole of the human experience, or at least more of it than what is in our little universes, we tend to get angry with other people who have other ideas and seem to challenge our own. One thing about running blogs for the last ten years or so is learning to be thick-skinned. There are many people out there with a connection to the Internet for whom religion has become an ideology, an all-consuming hobby. They would be better without it, at least for the time it takes for them to “get a life” and integrate their light and darkness, animus and anima, or however one wants to put it.

Certainly, I have made as much of a hobby of blogging as anyone else. The important thing to realise is that the outside world is bigger and more diverse. This idea should be the tool we use to keep ourselves within limits by a healthy dose of asceticism. If we show ourselves to be intolerant of the diversity of others, others will show less tolerance to our claims of freedom and diversity. I have seen some of the stick my friend Patricius has had to deal with. Generally the critics identify the wrong issues and they are totally à côté de la plaque. It doesn’t help to call someone who prefers the liturgy of before 1950 a Gallican or a spook from Peter Anson’s Bishops at Large. Perhaps those critics should be given the possibility of going to the Novus Ordo or being burned at the stake! Tolerance narrows and narrows until it disappears up its own *%@!*§?…

Should England revert to Sarum? I certainly wouldn’t be against it. However, if that happened, it would be like millions of boats queuing up outside ports and navigation channels, pooping their horns at each other and getting angry, instead of the sea being a peaceful place. We are a more populated world than in times gone by. Personally I prefer the freedom of diversity to having to suffer the consequences of everybody being made to do things “my way”. I would hate it! Anything becomes ghastly when it is generalised and commercialised like Christmas.

Aesthetics above doctrine seems to be another thing that gets people going. They sometimes fail to see that without aesthetics, many people would never have had anything to do with churches. I don’t think I would have. Some very unhealthy trends sprang up as a result of Anglo-Catholicism, to the point of a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited talking of sodomites with unpleasant accents. Does that give complete reason to Protestantism and philistinism? No, it doesn’t. Does the fact of one person shoplifting in a supermarket justify the systematic searching of all customers?

It is indeed a temptation for some of us to enjoy living in isolation. As some have suggested, living in isolation from a church community, except those times when I get over to England for our Diocesan Synod and other special occasions, is not particularly good for good judgement and spiritual life. There’s not a lot I can do about it, unless (as I pointed out a short while ago) someone pays for my emigration to a country where someone is offering me a stipendiary benefice with all the perks. Whilst I am living on my money and work, then I can only do the best where I am, be it in a spiritual desert. When the game was over for Archbishop Hepworth, I agonised about becoming a Roman Catholic layman. I have yet to find out what good would come out of that. Rocks and hard places, I suppose. I am happy in the ACC and I keep in contact with my brethren and Bishop outre Manche.

Imagining our own church is a great temptation, and I have found that the best antidote is living in secular society and relating to people on a basis of candour and simplicity. The ACC means precious little in France, much less than the idea of the TAC being the basis of the then-future Ordinariates. From late 2009 until late 2011, I used to be invited to meet up with the French celebrities of the traditionalist world, speak on the radio, be photographed and interviewed for magazine articles. Now I am nobody, and I think that is better. I just got used to it and get on with life – and remember that I am still a priest. I am under the jurisdiction of a Bishop, like I used to be under Archbishop Hepworth. We serve God where we are.

As the years pass, the lustre wears away. If we age gracefully, we mellow and worry less about things. It is good to take a step back and not assume that we know everything about our particular “thing”. I often envy those with la foi du charbonnier and the simple womenfolk and their devotions. Last time I was in Lisieux and seeing busloads of Spaniards making for the bondieuserie shop and making a lot of noise, I wondered – like any good Protestant – whether their pilgrimage did them any good as Christians. At the same time, who am I to think myself as any better or more virtuous?

Some of us, in all modesty, have a certain “prophetic” sense and fear the intolerance of the “hard-line” traditionalist. Those people feel really challenged when their idea of all the problems starting with Vatican II is called into question. I do believe that most churches lost their savour at differing times in history. I do believe that the liturgical and sacramental dimensions of the Church are vital, if we believe this is the way by which Christianity continues to be something real through the presence of its incarnate God. If that dimension is eroded, then Christianity seems to be at best a noble variation of Cynical philosophy, and at worst yet another political ideology. Problems go back a long way, and probably to the very foundation of the Christian Church. Christ saved us through human imperfection, a mystery we find it so hard to come to terms with.

Some do make a very good point of what can happen when a young person with strong convictions flip-flops and goes to the other extreme. As we get older, we begin to give priority to other things in life or integrate our passions and hobbies, so that they become facets of a beautiful diamond. There are many young men (few women) who are extremely zealous. Perhaps when we hear no more from them, it is because they converted to Islam! There used to be a young man in England who went from traditionalist Roman Catholicism to neo-Nazism (!) and Jansenism. He developed a website that is still up – Rigour. He used to write unpleasant comments just about everywhere, but he seems to have disappeared. Fair enough. Perhaps he is discovering wisdom and the joys of self-questioning.

I hope the experience of life has enabled me to find the balance between writing things of interest, and integrating everything into life that can be lived in relationship with others we either love or at least put up with.

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4 Responses to Hobbyists and Tolerance

  1. Plethon says:

    Father, I derive very great comfort from your writing. Whatever its benefits for you, it is spiritual wisdom to me. I live in a region that by contrast with yours is very religious indeed, but I am entirely out of sympathy with the sort of religion practiced: fundamentalism and evangelicalism. I was tempted for a time to revert to Anglicanism but the Anglicanism here is evangelical or third wave. None of the classical Anglo-Catholicism that formed me and that I brought over with me to Rome. For now I stay home on Sundays and pray the Divine Office from the Monastic Diurnal. Keep up the postcards from the desert!

    • Thank you for these kind words. We all just seem to want to revert to Catholicism but without the ideologies and the up-tightness. Carry on with the Divine Office, because with it you are praying in communion with the whole Church as if you were in the greatest cathedral in the world. You can be in Rome, Canterbury (either cathedral 🙂 ) or in Siberia. It’s the same!

  2. Jim of Olym says:

    “Imagining our own church is a great temptation,…..”
    Well, I’ve done that, from time to time, and the only member was me! I wonder why. It was so ‘perfect’!

    • Again, the world is grey – or rather it is coloured. There is everything between absolute individualism and cujus rex ejus religio (you follow the official religion of your country whether you believe it is true or not, cf. the Vicar of Bray), which if applied nowadays would not be very favourable to faith or religion!

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