FOR something that is based on revelation, religion does seem to
hide quite a lot. Or at least this was the sense of a man I spoke
to the other day.
But first a social-media update: Canon Mark Oakley recently
tweeted a link to a report of an attack on gay-rights marchers in
Georgia, which included the throwing of rocks, and which was led by
a priest. Irakli Vacharadze, who led the Tbilisi-based gay-rights
group that organised the rally, said: "They wanted to kill all of
Another of the marchers, Nino Bolkvadze, said that if they had
not been close to the buses when the violence began, "we would all
have been corpses." But the Church appears unashamed of its
leadership in the onslaught. In a statement, the head of the
Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, compared homosexuals
to drug addicts, and called the rally a "violation of the rights of
the majority" of Georgians.
In response to the story, Canon Oakley quotes Fr Harry Williams:
"Nothing is so apt to mask the face of God as religion."
His comment reminded me of a recent conversation with a man who
looks after the spiritual welfare of clerics. On the face of it,
what could be a more rewarding occupation? Yet he was in some
despair. "They bring their role to me," he said. "But never
themselves. When will one of them walk in as themselves?"
It was not a clergy-bashing conversation. We were agreed on the
uniqueness of the ministry. Who else can live and breathe in the
local community on so many different levels, and in so many
different settings? I can't think of another job like it. Yet those
who walk with clergy in spiritual direction often agree that they,
perhaps more than others, can use their position to avoid
themselves. So can religion mask our own face, as well as
I angered a priest recently who believed that self-awareness was
"Buddhist", and had no relation to theology. His understanding was
that you are your theology. There is no "self" to speak of; so what
is the point of awareness?
My understanding, however, is that our theology is intimately
related to our psychology. A man who is mentally unwell cannot
possess a theology of pristine wonder. All aspects of ourselves are
linked, which is a truth with pastoral implications: if we cannot
hold our conflicted selves in awareness, we will be unable to hold
those in our community.
Theology is not just God-talk. Theology is also the vessel that
holds our God-talk; it is our searching, contradictory, pondering,
angry, hurting, hoping self. If we are to unmask the face of God,
we may need first to unmask ourselves.
Simon Parke is the author of A Vicar, Crucified