Blaise Pascal is someone I had never heard of until I was in my 40s and my daughters were doing RE homework. Having discovered his ‘wager’, I looked more into the man’s work and found so many quotes that struck a chord with me, and kept me on my toes.
“Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary” and “There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous” are both Pascal quotes that might have been written for me in mind, I must admit.
This week I have been reminded of one I rediscovered a couple of years ago; “It is as much a crime to disturb the peace when truth prevails, as it is to keep the peace when the truth is violated”.
A story that got into the press this week related to the actions of a man of note when he was drunk. The reason for his drunkenness was due to the condition he found he had to face, alcoholism.
Some people on social media had a field day laying into the poor man. His on-line debates were laid bare. Fortunately there were a few good souls who pointed out the questionable behaviour was possibly due to his illness. Coming from a family and a job that has witnessed the tragedy alcoholism can heap on loved ones, this was heartening. Although I saw no one accept the point publicly.
There were also comments about the comedy aspect of the gentleman’s case. Here I was castigated, along with many others, for making the point that it was not comedic unless it was meant to be and Christians being seen to snigger at such upsets could not possibly assist Christ in the mission to ‘Baptise all nations’.
I suspect many of us have something in the past that we’d rather keep under wraps. Imagine having to cope with your own and your families feelings while in the hot glare of a media spotlight.
A minister I know from a church I do not know (they clap a lot and do not recognise apostolic succession) told me many moons ago he and his wife had lived in fear of people knowing they met when appearing as Disney characters in a Dutch theme park. It was their son who spilled the beans and everyone loved it. However, they did not, they were upset and they moved away. The emphasis has to lie in their feelings, not the amusement of their congregation. They felt shame for reasons only they knew and shame is a gift from God to help us avoiding hurt to others.
When I was in discernment for the diaconate someone asked me, loudly so others would hear, “did you tell them you were a once a bar man in a very popular gay club?” This was not strictly true. In 1978 I worked in The Market Tavern at Vauxhall. It was attached to The Flower Market, which was where I had my day job. I worked there for three months, it looked like the reception of Crossroads Motel and our main clientele were employees of Her Majesty’s Prices Commission. In the early 80s it was a gay pub and won an award for the most popular in London. I would tell people I had worked in a gay pub that won awards and they would understand the twinkly aspect of the tale. This occasion was an attempt to use the story as a ‘stick with which to beat me’, it didn’t work, but some people would be upset at attempts to ridicule a past from which they have moved on.
Parading faults does no good. While all this was going on last week I was pointed to two other stories both about fallen clergy and disclosed on Twitter. One priest was a paedophile and the other’s personal life had required him to take time to consider his future. The latter man was clearly popular in his parish, but words of love for the priest were treated with disdain. While I can see the merit in the openness of the first story I believe I will never understand the motivation for disclosing and deriding the second and for that, I thank you Lord.
Jesus commanded us to love one another, Paul tells us love keeps no record of wrongs, to love someone as Christ tells us is to want the best for them, and the best does not include invoking the gift of shame.