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Leader: Lambeth bookings

15 August 2007

THE ROOMS are booked, but are the guests coming? The uncertainty surrounding attendance at next year’s Lambeth Conference continues, as various conservative groupings realise the political capital that can be made from hesitation. The bishops in Sydney, advised by their standing committee to come but to whinge (News, 29 June), look as if they will hold out until after the US House of Bishops meets next month to debate formally the demands of the Primates, made in Dar es Salaam, that they turn aside from the path that led to the election of Bishop Gene Robinson, a non-celibate gay man. Several African bishops have indicated already that they do not intend to come; yet more are still to be heard from.

There is talk this week of a deadline ignored and an Archbishop undermined. Yet when Dr Williams wrote to the Primates in July, he said no more than: “It would be a great help if these replies were received by 31 July 2007.” As we have said (Leader comment, 25 May), the US bishops have been invited in the full knowledge that their decision in September might well be to defy the Primates’ strictures. Nobody seriously believes that Dr Williams will withdraw their invitation, though that will not stop some from pressing him to do so.

Paving-slab religion

IT IS DANGEROUS to use the term “nadir” when it comes to matters of taste, since the corrosive nature of low culture invariably enables it to find a lower level than might be thought possible. Nevertheless, the face-of-Jesus-on-my-toast phenomenon reached a new level last week when the Serio family prised up a slab of concrete from their garage and sold it on eBay for $1500. A smudge of driveway sealant (whatever that is) was thought by the Serios to resemble the face of Christ, and an eBay bidder agreed with them.

The prospect of commercial advantage has sharpened the eyes of the faithful on many occasions in the past few years. In no particular order, they have seen the image of Jesus on a chapati, a crisp, a duster, a womb (via ultrasound), and a steak-and-kidney pudding. Christ’s mother has chosen to appear on the side of a building, a picket fence, and a pork scratching.

As the phenomena do not appear on church premises, the authorities have been spared the trouble of responding, as they must when statues of saints start weeping or bleeding. An attitude of amused dismissal tends to be the best response. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm for such manifestations gives an insight into the iconoclasm of the Reformation. The 21st-century mind concentrates on the artistry of the images destroyed. It knows, too, the benefit of using imagery as a way into a deeper communion with God. It is harder to grasp the cultic superstition that attached itself to statues and images in the Medieval and Early Modern period. The frivolity of the paving slab and the crisp helps to convey this to us. The reformers resorted to brutal and grotesque measures in their attempts to police people’s souls. But the eBay icon hints at how far they were provoked.

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