During the late 1970s I served under a headmaster who firmly believed that his own charisma and mental agility, not to mention his considerable charm, could get him out of any situation. So yes, he knew there were rules on things like the dress code, and he also knew that these were very unpopular with the older boys, especially those in the sixth form. He also knew that the governing body, and many of the older masters and parents, liked the rules on dress and thought them good for discipline, and that they were enshrined in the rule book. He could have declared this a closed question, but insisted it was a ‘dilemma’, and, having given it that status, declared that whilst the rules were there, the school was not about rules, and therefore in the wider interests of education and good-feeling, he would leave it to the boys to make up their own mind. He firmly supported the rules, but as we were all part of a community, it seemed better to let ‘the mind of the community play on these things.’ Of course the boys grew their hair, abandoned uniforms, and turned up looking like refugees from a pop concert. That then had its effect elsewhere, lower down the school, but by then the Head had moved on, and we had the devil’s own job restoring order. His name was Frank.
Rambling Pope Frank seems cut from the same cloth. The method is plain enough. You insist you abide by the rules, and having thus placated those who think these things matter, every word which falls from your lips undermines those rules and those who support them. No one, of course, had ever claimed that school was about ‘rules’, so to juxtapose education in some kind of contradiction to it was simply intellectually dishonest. So, when I read that RPF has said that:
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”
I ask myself who every said the church was about rules, and why in some way he is implying that the rules and the proclamation that Jesus has saved you are in some confrontational relationship? He goes on to say:
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
Hang on a moment. Has anyone ever made the claim that the pastoral ministry of the church is to transmit a ‘disjointed multitude of doctrines’? No, of course they haven’t, so why talk as though they had – unless, that is you, yourself, are under that impression and wish to signal you don’t agree.
We are told:
Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
All of this is a statement of what another old headmaster used to call ‘the bleeding obvious’. If he thinks the balance of his church was the other way, welcome to the Protestant world, but don’t be too surprised if some of your own church feel profoundly insulted – not least the humble parish priests who have been living the gospel whilst you’ve been talking a good match.
We should begin, he says, with the proclamation of salvation; indeed, but are there not, perhaps, dare one mention it, some conditions attached? Or do we not want to offend anyone by saying that? We’re all going to heaven in a big yellow bus, perhaps?
And in case you thought it was just me, try this:
(hat tip to Servus Fidelis).