For Channel Five’s programme over the weekend about the Loch Ness Monster, the makers built a fibre-glass and polyurethane rubber version which roamed the Loch for a fortnight. Hundreds of stunned tourists thought the 440-pound model named Lucy was the real thing but others thought it was part of the tour or just a movement of the waves.
No doubt reaction among the duped holiday makers varied. Some were probably angry that they had been taken in, others quietly superior because they hadn’t. For those who thought their belief in the existence of the monster had been proved, the let-down must have been considerable. None of us likes to be deceived. Whether it’s because we were gullible, in which case we might feel angry with ourselves, or because someone deliberately lied to us, it’s not pleasant to be taken for a ride.
Jesus reserved some of his most powerful invective for religious leaders
who, he felt, were pulling the wool over people’s eyes. In religious matters, it is particularly important that no one is encouraged to believe in something that isn’t true. But as parents, teachers, clergy, colleagues or friends, many of us are involved in one way or another in helping others to make sense of what’s going on in their lives and finding a belief structure which will help in that process. Perhaps today we might spare a thought for each other in this task and hope that what we say, and do, helps others to discover truths about which they’ll never feel they were deceived.
“Anyone for cricket ….in the snow?” That’s what Matthew Hancock and Matt Coates are planning. Among their luggage, when they set off on Sunday for an eight-week skiing trek to the magnetic north pole, was a ball and, a compromise to minimise the weight of their luggage, an inflatable bat. They hope to play the most northerly game of cricket in the history of the sport. Mr Hancock said he was a great cricket fan and wanted to take his passion with him. “There is a certain satisfaction in taking the game completely out of context."
How comfortable they’ll be, playing at minus 50 degrees Celsius, is uncertain, but there’s no doubt that in other situations where behaviour is not appropriate to the context, it can feel distinctly uncomfortable. Many of Jesus’ actions were felt to be out of place by those who set the rules about what was fitting in his time. When he healed on the Sabbath, taught simpler but more rigorous guiding principles for life, claimed to be uniquely one with God, it put him outside what was acceptable and, eventually, outside the city on a cross.
Perhaps today there may be situations in which we feel out of place. The right solution may be, if we can, to extricate ourselves. There may, though, be good reasons to persevere with the discomfort because we feel we are standing for something which needs to be expressed. Like Mr Hancock, we want to take with us those things we feel passionate about, wherever we go.
A memorial without a statue has to find other ways of expressing the character of the one honoured. The giant ‘water feature’ in Hyde Park is intended to do just that for Princess Diana. Water runs down in opposite directions along two gently-sloping semi-circular channels. These channels incorporate a variety of features to make the water behave in different ways before it ends its journey in a large, tranquil pool where the two channels re-join.
‘I think the fountain represents Diana’ said the chief architect, Kathryn Gustafson, when it was opened. ‘There are all sorts of fun things in the fountain that are turbulent and cascading down, and champagne bubbles, and total calm, and it’s playful. "
Opinions differ however as to whether the memorial does capture Diana’s character. Her mother felt it lacked grandeur whereas one of her closest friends, Rosa Monckton, said on the contrary, it epitomised Diana who was ‘one of the unstuffiest people I know’. Some would say the difficluties it has created in the years since it was built do reflect the turbulent and sometimes disruptive life of the Princess.
Describing a personality without recourse to physical representation of their features is something religious people have no choice but to do when it comes to honouring God. The Bible is full of imagery which attempts to characterise the one who, in the most commonly used metaphor, many call ‘him’. Yet people differ about what images are appropriate – each of us has our own sense of what God is like and a corresponding set of preferred images. Other people’s ways of expressing God’s character may be interesting and contribute to our own understanding but it’s important that we give priority to those ways of thinking about God which reflect our experience of, and our relationship with, the divine.
Perhaps today we might reflect on those experiences and that relationship and check that the images we use aren’t just inherited but really reflect our own awareness of God.
Today The Passion of the Christ is being released today in the US. The film is Mel Gibson’s project from start to finish and tells the story of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life.
The film has already been criticised by those who have seen previews: they say it is anti-Semitic and unnecessarily violent. But Mel Gibson has been planning the film for many years and it reflects his traditionalist Catholic beliefs. “I think he’s true to his beliefs”, says Patrick Goldstein, of the LA Times, “and sometimes when you’re true to your beliefs, you can be blinded by your beliefs”.
During Lent, which starts today, Christians recall the occasion when Christ was tempted in the wilderness*. The story goes that the Devil suggested he should act on his developing belief that he had superhuman powers. “Turn stones to bread, rule the world, do magic tricks. If you really do believe you’re the Son of God, be true to your belief!” Christ’s replies indicate that he did not intend to be blinded by any belief he may have had about himself. No dogma or ideology could take the place of a life of listening to, worshipping and trusting God.
Most people have convictions that govern their behaviour and attitudes. Some are self-consciously brought to bear on any decision that needs to be made. Others are more subliminal. All are capable of trapping us, of enclosing us within such a tight framework of belief that we are not even aware of its grip upon us. Those who see the film will judge whether or not Mel Gibson has been blinded by his beliefs. Perhaps today we could check that we’re not blinded by ours, and that we maintain that openness and flexibility to new insights and developments which Christ showed.
* Luke 4:1-13
A contribution to Pause for Thought on Terry Wogan's Breakfast Show:
It’s Chocolate Week this week, Terry, as you’ve been telling your listeners? I wouldn’t have thought chocolate sales needed a boost - it’s apparently the endorphins which makes chocolate such an appealing purchase and give us that comforting morale boost. Of course the comfort doesn’t last. We eat too much of it and make ourselves feel ill. So though chocolate has the capacity to make us feel good, it can also bebad for us.
This week is also Radio Two’s Faith in the World Week and of course much the same can be said about religion. It can make us feel good, and cause good things to happen, but it can also be bad for us and has down the ages and even now become a cause of violence and war.
Most of us find that hard to understand. How can war be part of religion? Howcan something which is bascally good become so unhealthy? I think it tends to happen when peoeple don’t really understood what religion’s all about. They see it as a way of dealing with their fears about life. So they create an ideology which makes them superior to others and become threatened if anyone challenges that. Or they see it as a way of dealing with a sense of emptiness so they create a mass of rules and regulations to fill that gap and then need to defend against those who accuse them of wasting their time. The same anxieties which make many of us look for comfort in chocolate, they cope with by a false religion.
True religion, at its best, does offer a way of dealing with human fear, emptiness and insecurity. Believers have a relationship with a divine being who cares about them and who invites them to trust their lives to him. It’s in that relationship that real security and reassurance are to be found and it’s much more lasting than the comfort of chocolate.