to help you discover the God you already know

Month: November 2018

The Scapegoat

Some Conservative MPs want to assassinate the Prime Minister. Not literally of course, they don’t wish her dead. But they do wish her gone. ‘If only we can get rid of her, then our problems will be resolved. It is all her fault.’ That is their view. No matter that most people point out that removing the Prime Minister will do nothing to solve the issue we’re facing, indeed, will probably make it harder to manage. Its not actually the Prime Minister who is the prime problem here

It’s a painfully familiar cry. Every time I hear it I know that something nasty, maybe even ‘evil’, is being proposed: placing all the blame for something, on one person, or group of people, for if we can only get rid of ‘them’ then the problem will go away. Hitler did it to the Jews. Many today, like Mr Trump, are doing it to immigrants, as nationalists everywhere, are prone to do. Its never true of course, but its a simple way of placing responsibility for an uncomfortable issue, on someone else, so that we can avoid our own responsibility for dealing with it. Its called ‘Scapegoating’ and the individual or group scapegoated are Scapegoats. There’s always a nasty smell in the air: massive injustice lurks and is about to be perpetrated on somebody, somebodies, who are deemed to be vulnerable and disposable.

It’s a process that has a long history. It began in the Old Testament, where the Jews were worried that their sins might provoke God’s wrath upon them. They had a list of likely sins with sacrifices that should be offered to God in penitence. But there was concern that some sins might not have been recognised or adequately atoned for, so, once a year an innocent goat was sent off into the desert, symbolically bearing those un-atoned sins of the people, to wander and die, as a sacrifice. It was known as the scapegoat and was seen, centuries later, by some early Christians as being a good image for Jesus and for explaining what they knew from experience had occurred as a result of His innocent death. Its an image that doesn’t make much sense to me with respect to Jesus, but there’s no doubt as to its continuing power, and of the willingness of people feeling themselves to be guilty and under threat, to use it to divert attention and responsibility somewhere else. ‘We’re not to blame, its not our fault, its nothing we’ve done, its all down to him/her or them, over there. Its all their fault, they’re responsible. Anybody but us. Just get rid of him/her/them, and everything will be alright.’

As I said, its not an image that I find at all helpful for Jesus. Its an image for an action which most of us can see with hindsight to have been abhorrent. Yet it continues to be recognisable in all walks of life, from the personal to the public.
Even the church has a line on it: the Roman Catholic Church is currently coming under fire, and rightly so, for the abusive behaviour of some of its priests, and the church is punishing the guilty ones. But the real responsibility, it seems to me, lies with the institution itself, which demands that all priests be celibate. A demand that makes the abusive behaviour all but inevitable. Rather than acknowledge that and reform itself the church scapegoats the expendable individuals. Society at large is little better, many of those languishing in prisons, in poverty, or in deprivation are being punished by society for it’s failure to care and provide adequately for all of its members.

Sadly, we seem to be less skilled at recognising it in the present, especially when we ourselves are doing the scapegoating: whether its individuals, groups, nations, religions or races who are involved. And of course, its always those judged to be weak and vulnerable who are picked on, rarely the powerful.

Bring it on!

Last night I slept till just after midnight, when I awoke remembering that I hadn’t completed my prayers before falling asleep, so I did so. When I had finished I was fully awake so I went downstairs, made a cup of tea, and sat in Sarah’s chair [a chair we bought recently and which, for me, is in memory of my daughter who died in the spring].  It felt right to sit there rather than outside, although I did go and stand outside briefly and welcomed the fresh cool breeze on my face. Sarah’s chair increasingly feels like a holy place for me.  It connects me with her, of course, and thence to our family and beyond to all of humanity, living, dead and yet to be born, and it’s a place where I feel comfortable, at ease and safe. We’ve been looking for a chair that I feel comfortable sitting in for what seems like ages and at last we’ve found one.  I lit a candle and sat and mulled:

Its less than two months since I returned my PTO and went feral, and much has happened, as is usually the case when I look back over any period of my life: more than I was aware of while it was happening.  The cumulative effect has felt very affirming.

In response to my letter, I received a friendly phone message from the Bishop.  I’ve encountered a number of people who have something of the feral about them, so I’m not alone. I had rich fellowship with Roy and Christine in St Albans. I’ve been party to conversations not only at home, but in Lewisham and Lincolnshire.  I spent time sitting by the river and sensed the Divine Presence in the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Sylvia’s garden has a been a source of wonder with all the autumnal colours. I was challenged by Grayson Perry’s series of tv programmes on rites of passage.  I led a retreat for some Methodists in Ilkley, where I was blessed with deep encounters, and led a silent eucharist.  I spent a long weekend with two grandchildren in Surrey, and found pleasure in simple things.   I met with two brothers in Ludlow to share our reflections on the spirituality of van Morrison, and was stimulated and nourished by the experience, not least in being aware of the divine activity in a man who “wouldn’t touch religion with a ten foot pole’.   I shared in a simple and moving communion service in a friends home in Ely. I was graced with the hospitality of Val and Graham at Stixwould.  My times of prayer have been stimulating and challenging.

I’ve been blessed with lots of support and encouragement for my new adventure, including the gift of a carved wooden sign with the designation ‘Feral Priest’, that I’ll hang on my shed door.  I’ve read several books, one of theology, one a novel and the third a book of poetry, that have echoed and fed my experience in the way that books I find myself reading often do. Together they have made me aware that feral is very Celtic: a connection that I’d hadn’t explicitly made before. There have been moments of pain, anxiety and sadness too, but overall its been a rich and busy time, and I’m quite tired as a consequence. But I’m loving the sense of freedom.  If this is feral priesthood bring it on!

Its often been the case. that when I have followed what I sensed was a prompting from God, and have taken a first step in response, that I experience what l call a ‘following wind’ for a period, which seems to authenticate it. It doesn’t last, but it does provide an initial impetus, which is encouraging.   Its often followed by a flat and barren period which can cause me to doubt, but is really a challenge to deepen my trust.  I await that to arrive in due course.


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