Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 36: The Importance of unimportance

It's important not to feel important in this job. Or to make sure your feeling of importance is legitimate. 

Because once you start to let others make you feel important you will fall into one of two equal traps: you will enjoy feeling important because of others' projections onto you as a church leader; then you will feel lost when you do catch a glimpse of your actual unimportance as an Anglican Minister in the big secular world out there (where recently only 19% of people in the street could name the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury).

Because it's a funny mixture of things in the 'National Church'. People outside the church are interested looking in, up to a point. They see through what can look like the self importance of the church's pomp and ceremony, but at the same time they might be attracted to it because at its best the pomp and ceremony, which we do quite well, reflects the otherness, beauty and holiness of God. 

Pomp and ceremony of the 
enthronement of the new
Archbishop last week
The dog collar gives you a certain recognition in the neighbourhood and some people will look to you to solve the problems of the church, to a larger and larger degree depending on your status. That is why successive Archbishops have spoken of the huge 'burden' of expectation. One might almost say that to the extent that the church is floundering, that's the extent to which everyone is desperate that the leader will quickly sort it all out. Did the first century Christians who were fearlessly proclaiming Christ in the midst of persecution and martyrdom go around saying 'What we need is strong leadership'? I doubt it; they were too busy getting on with being the priesthood of all believers.

Various factions looked to Jesus to be a certain leader: political; miracle-working; conquering Jewish King. None of these was on Jesus' agenda. His sense of importance was found in God alone. It's really no more welcome to be feted than to be criticised, as I've been reminded when tempted to feel a sense of clerical importance, for example when tourists in Oxford appear to enjoy taking photos of large groups of clergy as they process out of an Oxford College in their robes during Holy Week. 

Just another 'famous for a few weeks' singer that
everyone loved. Then forgot.
A sense of false importance is the double bind of celebrity culture too. You're led to thinking fame is desirous, but when you achieve it, it must be endlessly propped up by constant exposure to fans and the fickle critique of the media who fall in and out of love with your latest song, film or TV appearance. I just couldn't watch the X factor any more because of this blatant ignoring of the real facts of fame, and the assumption that mere exposure will guarantee a better life. And sadly it's also true that Christian leaders can be flavour of the month. Or not. Look at the crowds during Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and then again on Good Friday.

There's nothing wrong with feeling proud to belong; having dreaded the onset of vestments in my life, I now feel proud to wear them, even sporting the collar on the tube; but any sense of importance emanates only through the grace of knowing I'm loved and called by God, like anyone else.


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