Saturday, November 12, 2016

Angry righteousness can never be the way to go

The 'Thinking Anew column in today's Irish Times

Michael Commane
Although these days there is a great increase on the numbers of bicycles on the roads of Ireland, the old metal bicycle clips have more or less faded into obscurity.

Some months ago a work colleague spotted the same gadgets on my desk and asked me what they were. I was surprised that she did not realise they kept my trousers ends clear of the bicycle chain.

I have changed jobs and these days when I come out of work and put the first bicycle clip around my trouser leg I say to myself: "No there is no God". And then as I place the other one on my left trouser leg I find myself saying: "Yes, there is a God".

A dilemma?

Since August I have been working in a Dublin hospital as a chaplain. Without exaggeration, I can say it is a life-changing experience. The kindness, the love that I have seen in the hospital has impressed me greatly. I have seen the reality of God in the midst of the sick, the old and the dying, in those who come to visit the sick, and in the staff, who are there 24/7.

On one of those evenings while  I was putting on my bicycle clips an item of news drew my attention: it was the story that BBC carried about a  right-wing Catholic radio station. Earlier in the week a cleric had said on that station that the earthquakes in Italy were "God's punishment" for gay civil unions. Fortunately the Vatican swiftly condemned the remarks as "offensive and scandalous". 

The Vatican statement went on to say that: "They are offensive to believers and scandalous for those who do not believe.”

The liturgical calendar is coming to an end and in tomorrow's Gospel Jesus prophesies the end of time. (Luke 21: 5 - 19) When some speak about the Temple and the fine building it is, Jesus assures them that it too will crumble and fall.

And in last week's Gospel (Luke 20: 27 - 38) the Sadducees ask him what heaven is going to be like. They try to give it a 'human handle' but of course in so doing, it becomes a cliché without meaning.  They create their own understanding of God and heaven. Is that not exactly what idolatry is?

People are always trying to give names and tags to God. Yes, as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is divine, that he is God but for us to try to have any sort of “direct line' to God, or to make him fit into some cosy preconception, is doomed to fail.

What is it about aspects of religions that have some adherents trying to fit God into a neat package? Dare I say, especially those with fundamentalist leanings give the impression they know exactly what God is thinking? They tend to get so angry with the world. Unless we all fit into their way of doing things we will all be 'damned'.

Is it that sort ideology that has alienated so many people away from  religion? It's like some sort of silly discussion about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. And it's as crazy as that. 

The God of love is not served by angry righteousness.

When I observe the love and kindness that I see in hospital every day I am strongly reminded of a God of love. Those daily unconditional acts of love and goodness give me a tiny glimpse or a hint of the all-powerful love who is God.

It's close to  impossible to say anything about God, as it is to say anything about the end of time. 

But it is possible to hear and see a glimmer of God, watching people do good, watching people being kind, compassionate and merciful. And you see a lot of that at the bedside of so many sick people.

That's why when I secure that second bicycle clip I feel reassured about the existence and then the love of God.

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