AKA Bread and circuses
I was looking online for a church in an area I may be moving to. I found one that looks OKish – Bible led, prayerful, a good photo of a cheerful crowd on the website, old and young, male and female…. I listened to a few of the sermons on YouTube… it all seems interesting and welcoming so maybe this is somewhere I can grow, build up some friendships, join in thoughtful worship, reach out into the community, find a place to belong….. But then, but then, scrolling down, I noticed something a bit shocking; they have 94 messages available online, and 91 of them come from men. So, in a UK population which is, typically, 51% female, this Christian church hears the female voice just 3% of the time.
The church I once belonged to here (a great little church) rules out female elders and it was only a few years ago that they accepted women as deacons. There have been murmurs about admitting women to eldership but the subject is so controversial, with such vehement beliefs from the ‘old timers’, that the (male) leadership – not wanting to foment trouble – has put off the debate, twice. I understand the problem – we all want peace in the church, we just disagree about the price we’re willing to pay for it! Women aren’t totally verboten, indeed I’ve given the message four times in the last few years and (good news!) a woman is on the rota for sermons right now as the Pastor has left and the next chap (it will be a chap, obvs) isn’t yet appointed. But I know one thing for sure, the men have a disproportionate say in all things churchy.
So. Where, if anywhere, do I fit in? Where do my three granddaughters fit in? What about all the joy and hunger, thirst and talent and enthusiasm and hope and love for God that’s in their hearts? What will they do with it? Does God truly want to write off over 50% of the population? What future for the church? I’m so glad I can blog at least. What about women whose gift is not writing but speaking? Shouldn’t we hear from them?
But I wasn’t going to talk about wimmen and blokes. I promised something about bread and circuses. Here goes:
About 100 years before the birth of Christ, the Roman poet and playwright Juvenal wrote something alone these lines: ‘the people who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.’ To put it in the 2021 colloquial he was saying ‘The people who once elected strong and just leaders, now elect anyone who promises low tax and 24hour entertainment.’ I thought of this when I was talking a woman walking past my house. She paused to ask me to translate the inscription above my front door
and after a little potted history about the building (built before 1926 but remodelled then and opened as a vestry to the neighbouring chapel) we went on to village life (she was on holiday here from Croydon) and we arrived at the ‘trouble with the world today’ via the caravan she was staying in, the 9 or 10 TV channels she can get here (at home she has hundreds apparently), and the programmes she likes to watch.
The next day we happened to meet on the beach and the conversation continued. Mrs Grimly-glum, who’s quite a bit younger than me, puts the TV on as soon as she gets up, before anything else and it stays on all day. If she goes out she leaves it on as company for the cat. She gets the daily paper, a couple of magazines every week for the showbiz stuff, listens to the news maybe three or four times a day, and she is full, full to overflowing, with gossip, opinions (often contradictory but held with deep -if fleeting – conviction), rumour, conspiracies, scandal, cynicism and condemnation. The government is self-seeking, she says, not one of them has a genuine heart, they’re all in it for the money…. and as for the opposition! They’re incompetent and communist. The local council is a shambles, elected councillors are part of the old-boy network, the NHS is going down the drain, the vaccine’s not all it’s cracked up to be, she’s had worse bouts of flu than this Covid nonsense…..everyone’s gay or transgender just because it’s fashionable…. Croydon used to be a great place to live but now… Oh, the outpouring was deafening. I was reduced to an occasional ‘Mmm-hmm’ or an ineffectual bleat of protest as the sea curdled, the birds fled, the dolphins headed off for the Faroes, the dogs found things to do half a mile away, and she sucked the joy out of the air and wrung life from the human heart. As she left to return to her caravan in the nearby park she called back “Have a good day. See you tomorrow.”
It’s not exactly Christian of me, but my silent reply was ‘Not if I see you first, love.”
Her life, I think, is all bread and circuses. Too often we live for bread and circuses. These are the things that sate us, the things we feed off, build our lives around. To some extent I think that we are all like Mrs Grimly-glum, maybe not as deeply entrenched in modern myth and conspiracy theories and judgmentalism as she is, but we’re on the spectrum! Yesterday I was strangely and unusually tired, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and just enjoy being old, but friends were coming for a scrabble evening so I prepared the meal and tried to stay awake. Thinking of Mrs Grimly-glum, I put the tv on at about 3pm. I’ve never done that before (barring International Rugby) and I’m here to tell you that it’s rubbish! On every single channel (except for Film 4) there were varieties of reality TV, cheap programming, garish studios, weak ideas, loud presenters, corny formats, repeats of trash, repeats of repeats, and -of course – every ten minutes or so there were 4 or 5 minutes of adverts. The ads were for showers for the disabled, stair lifts, reclining chairs, lifting chairs, funeral plans and donkey sanctuaries. The message of the broadcasters was loud and clear “You may be old, but we that won’t stop us getting your money one way or another.”
And Mrs Grimly-glum watches these! Day after day, she absorbed the dross of the screen, the papers and the magazines. They fill her life and that’s all she cares about. Is it any wonder her life is so empty of joy?
It made me so grateful for the Gospel, for Kingdom life, for books and friends and laughter. And it made me sad that Mrs Grimly-glum has found none of them. I think we’re failing the Grimly-glums of the world.
I went to the beach the next day but she wasn’t there, and I drove to the caravan park but couldn’t see her.
The Gospel is full of joy and hope. The Gospel can change the world. Life is more than bread and circuses.