Sunday, May 12, 2013

Evangelising with a nail


From Brother Ivo:

Whenever Brother Ivo puts his hand in his coat pocket to find his mobile phone, car keys or change for the parking meter, he finds a nail. It is about 3 inches long.

He was given his nail last Good Friday and he put it in his pocket. He did not intend it for it to remain there, but never quite found a good enough reason to put it aside, which is perhaps what Bishop Stephen Cottrell intended when he wrote his short Lent book The Nail. Its 75 pages can be read in a sitting, and comprise seven reflections which can be used privately, with a Study group or, as Brother Ivo encountered it, as a constituent part of a Good Friday 3-hour service.

After setting out a relevant part of the gospel, the author presents a fictional internal reflection for each of the key participants of the passion narrative; Peter, the Roman Centurion, Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, Mary Magdalene, and Pilate's wife each in turn asks questions of themselves and indirectly of the reader.

The biblical texts are familiar, which is perhaps why the Bishop's additional exploration is useful. To hear possible questions, reactions, motivations and doubts of these participants draws the reader into personal engagement with the crucifixion from a very human human and strangely vulnerable perspective.

The fictionalised monologues may not be 'true', but they contain truth in the same way that a Shakespearean play may reveal much about the human condition on a grander scale. It becomes easier to excuse Peter his cowardice when he asks: "What would you have done?" The Centurion reveals our own cynical self=-justifications when he begins with bravado: "What a laugh, strung up by us lot for aggravating his own." Yet even he reflects more sensitively on how Jesus affected him, before passing the buck - to Pilate. Mary Magdalene confesses: "I had never known God before."

We live in an age where 'How do you feel about..?' has become the opening gambit of many media reporters, and by this elevation of the emotional response to importance in each and every daily issue, truth is often devalued. It is not wrong, however, occasionally to use such techniques. They can take us deeper. Jesus's teaching method was to start where people found themselves. If those around us use their own emotional response as the guiding principle of what they believe and 'consume', it becomes increasingly necessary to spark such a response, but with the intention of leading them the foot of the cross.

One might once have been able to jolt people into a realisation of their need for faith by declaring 'Jesus wants to wash you in the blood of the lamb', but the Jeremy Kyle generation - to whom such cultural references mean nothing - needs to be approached from a different angle. They are repelled by the ease with which they believe Christians condemn them, so accessible books like The Nail are truly valuable.

Being short, it does not feel intimidating, but it packs a punch: story-telling works.

In Jesus' ministry, he does this all the time. 'Behold a sower went out to sow..' invites the audience to engage with the coming story and its message. We are ready to pay attention and ask 'What happens next?' Similarly, no parent can fail to identify with the grieving father of the Prodigal Son, knowing what is best, yet patiently waiting for the child to learn from their own mistakes. The projection we make onto the sower hoping for a harvest, or the father awaiting his child, is fictional, but also universal.

So it is that when Stephen Cottrell's Judas begins: "I have to explain.. It's not what it looks like." We want to hear his account of self-justification and expect to confront him; yet with his plausibility, he does not let us condemn him easily. The more we hear his and every other person's plea to be understood, the more we realise that they truly are just like us.

When Brother Ivo experienced the reading, everyone was given a nail, and its significance remdinded at the end of each witness testimony. The words were repeated: 'You hold in your hand a nail that was used to crucify Christ.'

We all have our part to play.

It remains as a reminder in Brother Ivo's pocket, and when it makes itself known, there is also a recollection of the chilling sound from the closure of each of the witness readings - that of a nail being driven by a heavy hammer into a block of wood.

Brother Ivo has been thinking of his nail as he watches the world's leaders in politics, the Church and the media exculpating themselves from a variety of scandals concerning bullying, abuse of power, obfuscation, and sexual abuse. He cannot help regretting that so few of them will read The Nail.

Imagine if our leaders spent less time trying to prove themselves innocent and more time trying to improve themselves by acknowledging culpability.

Imagine if they ceased justifying themselves and allowed themselves more time to be justified by faith.

Isn't this where the secular world starts to go so wrong? With no internal controls, and an aversion to feeling personally discomforted, personal failure is not something to be considered and worked upon, but rather to be denied and given over to those who manage reputations.

'Make it go away' is so much easier to ask than forgiveness. The former is an assertion of power; the latter of vulnerability.

How much would public life be improved if Ed Balls came forward and said: "I really wish we had not spent all that money, like we did." Think of how children's lives would be transformed if David Cameron confessed "We really have not done enough to explain the value of marriage for children or done enough to support them." Imagine Lord Patten reflecting: "We have become too protective of own privilege." Perhaps Nick Clegg might say: "I did not do enough to protect women" or Tony Blair: "Actually, I'm not the pretty regular sort of guy I claimed to be."

These would be early steps on the way to the world being truly transformed.

Actually, Brother Ivo does not insist on humiliating public confession. He would settle for our leaders making a start by admitting it to themselves.

For the want of a nail..

(Posted by Brother Ivo)

20 Comments:

Blogger Nick said...

Whenever there is some kind of calamity, collapse of the banking system, undue number of deaths in an NHS hospital, a mass shooting in an American school, the response is often to blame the "system". The "system" being some abtract entity that prevents us from having to hold ourselves or other individuals responsible. If it is politics, you just blame the party on the opposite side of the House

Not that witch-hunts are a good thing, but facing up to individual responsibility is good. The tough thing isn't accepting responsibility, it's admitting it to yourself. Watching politicians continually trying to justify themselves is tiresome. It's a bit like when a "grieving" adult appears on TV with the police to plead for help finding a missing child. You know it's probably a Sicilian defense, and the adult is very likely responsible for the crime.

12 May 2013 11:56  
Blogger graham wood said...

For those of us who have not read 'The Nail', then perhaps brother Ivo you could enlighten us with a brief and simplified summary of its central message? We could then respond with an informed opinion.
Thanks
Graham

12 May 2013 12:41  
Blogger Brother Ivo said...

Brother Graham

I think the essence of the book is to resell the story from an imagined internal perspective of all the main secondary characters.

A " case of the defence" is offered by each- they acted reasonably ... It was someone else's ultimate fault. Judas even passes the buck to Jesus. It is the very plausibility of the accounts that lead us to appreciate our own evasions and obfuscations.

In a sense there isn't one " central message" because you will read the stories with a different back story to mine. You might be drawn to the Centurian whilst another identifies with Peter more .

We all " know" that we crucified Christ, but these accounts lead us to embrace that concept by reproducing all the self justifications in various ways and from different perspectives.

You might think this " soft theology" but there is a need for many ways of drawing people to engage with a story that can become too familiar. An invitation to see it afresh is welcome.

12 May 2013 13:01  
Blogger Brother Ivo said...

Brother Graham

I think the essence of the book is to resell the story from an imagined internal perspective of all the main secondary characters.

A " case of the defence" is offered by each- they acted reasonably ... It was someone else's ultimate fault. Judas even passes the buck to Jesus. It is the very plausibility of the accounts that lead us to appreciate our own evasions and obfuscations.

In a sense there isn't one " central message" because you will read the stories with a different back story to mine. You might be drawn to the Centurian whilst another identifies with Peter more .

We all " know" that we crucified Christ, but these accounts lead us to embrace that concept by reproducing all the self justifications in various ways and from different perspectives.

You might think this " soft theology" but there is a need for many ways of drawing people to engage with a story that can become too familiar. An invitation to see it afresh is welcome.

12 May 2013 13:01  
Blogger Brother Ivo said...

Brother Graham

I think the essence of the book is to resell the story from an imagined internal perspective of all the main secondary characters.

A " case of the defence" is offered by each- they acted reasonably ... It was someone else's ultimate fault. Judas even passes the buck to Jesus. It is the very plausibility of the accounts that lead us to appreciate our own evasions and obfuscations.

In a sense there isn't one " central message" because you will read the stories with a different back story to mine. You might be drawn to the Centurian whilst another identifies with Peter more .

We all " know" that we crucified Christ, but these accounts lead us to embrace that concept by reproducing all the self justifications in various ways and from different perspectives.

You might think this " soft theology" but there is a need for many ways of drawing people to engage with a story that can become too familiar. An invitation to see it afresh is welcome.

12 May 2013 13:01  
Blogger Hannah Kavanagh said...

Hi Brother Ivo,

Judging from the comments on various threads on this blog, of those who speak for Jesus, then the following bit should surely have deleted the word 'believe' and re-written as :

"[Non-Christians] are repelled by the ease with which Christians condemn them"

12 May 2013 13:06  
Blogger Peter D said...

Its a book based on a psych-drama approach to Good Friday. A 'role-play', if you will.

A large wooden Cross is brought into Church, nails banged into it and one large nail left spare. Members of the congregation are asked to come forward, pick up the nail and take the role of one of the participants at the crucifixition - Roman soldier, Peter, Caiaphas, Pilate, Judas etc.

They express their personal feelings about the event as if they were participating in it and how they might have behaved.

It centres on the theological question: "who was really responsible for the killing of Christ?"

The message: - we all were and are.

We pass the blame onto others for what seems to be good reasons: being under orders, keeping the peace, pleasing the crowd, being fearful, forcing Jesus' hand.

Essentially, the book is a guide to help us realise how we duck taking responsibility for our sins and failures to live as God wishes.

12 May 2013 13:09  
Blogger Naomi King said...


Thanks Peter.

12 May 2013 16:50  
Blogger non mouse said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12 May 2013 17:09  
Blogger non mouse said...

Generally, Brother Ivo, I'm not keen on this nail business. I say affective piety is both emotionally cheap and psychologically dangerous.* So - some years ago, I never returned to the church where a 'vicar' was waving rusty six-inch nails about; it was unnecessary: rough and crude.

In contrast, though, your allusions here enrich the imagery from the material side! "For want of a nail..."** does indeed evoke thoughts about the political chain that binds our kingdom (and keeps us from our Kingdom). Gosh... modern dominions don't even care if we lose the horse; they're too busy making us eat it!

So, having recognized the situation, we must learn to say grace again. Repenting, we must also gratefully accept the Redemptive Grace that ensues from Christ's sacrifice. Through that Christian Paradox, He transformed the greatest Evil to the greatest Good. Those nails work as connectors that enable the conversion; that's why so many old images present them as red jewels.

He is with us, in the Battle.

__________
*I'd say "see" Margery Kempe and other visionaries --- but don't do what they do!!!

**
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of a horse, the rider was lost;
For want of a rider, the battle was lost;
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost;
And all for the want of a nail.

12 May 2013 17:34  
Blogger Preacher said...

Being nailed to a cross for six hours is literally a Hell of a price to pay for a lost soul like I was. But I'm so glad that Christ loved us & chose to make that sacrifice.
I believe the nails were six to nine inches long & crucifixion was a slow & agonising death. It makes me sweat to think of it. Thank you Lord.

12 May 2013 17:58  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Preacher old chap. To add to your sweat - Roman nails were NOT pointed. Instead, the things tapered to a small square. One does believe there cannot be a word in the English language to describe the pain and tissue damage caused by a few of those going in...

12 May 2013 20:18  
Blogger Peter D said...

Brother Ivo
This post has not attracted the attention it deserves. Perhaps because it presents too many challenges. Or perhaps because it risks what you call "soft theology" and a humanistic approach to the Crucifixtion of Christ.

When Jesus said: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," how can we begin to understand the agents if they did were themselves unaware of what they were doing?

To empathise with the main players means entering their mind-sets and hearts. Was the High Priest aware Jesus was the Messiah - just not the one he wanted? Was Judas similarly aware and full of disappointment that the promised Kingdom was not to be an earthly one? Both were surely under the influence of Satan? Can we understand the mind of a person working for and possessed by Satan? The parts played by Peter, Pilate and the Jewish mob who called for Jesus' death and mocked Him on the road to Calvery are perhaps within our imagination. Even the Roman soldiers acting under orders.

Apply this approach to the main agents in the Shoah and see where it leads. Evil of this order is hard to understand. Maybe failing to stand against it through fear or self preservation isn't.

My preference, I have to say, is the Catholic Good Friday service. We approach the Cross, we kneel, kiss the feet of Christ and, in our hearts, say: "Forgive me."

12 May 2013 23:30  
Blogger Katie said...

are you sure that this book wasn't ghost written by Rowan, he of the Oystermouth?

13 May 2013 06:50  
Blogger Brother Ivo said...

Brother Peter

I don't think we need gauge any piece here by the number of comments. This book isn't controversial so we won't get an excitable response.

It is good to explore difficult issues but we also need to remind ourselves of the familiar and find ways to refresh
our faith when useful books like this come to our attention.

" To everything there is a season. "

13 May 2013 09:01  
Blogger Preacher said...

Inspector.
Thank you. I believe the word that you seek is excruciating, which I am informed was derived from the agony of crucifixion. Thus ex-cruc-iating. whether this is true or not I haven't been able to ascertain.

Blessings. Preacher.

13 May 2013 16:52  
Blogger non mouse said...

Mr. Preacher @ 16:52 -- it probably is right, though I haven't time to access the OED right now.

However, Chambers is a very respectable source and abbreviates the etymology as: "L excruciare to torture, from ex- out, and cruciare, -atum to crucify, from crux, crucis [f] a cross."

____
The Chambers Dictionary. New 9th Ed. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap, 2003.

13 May 2013 19:37  
Blogger LEN said...

Being nailed to a Cross must be one of the most painful humiliating things that can happen to a human being.
Having had two operations for 'carpal tunnel syndrome' I have experienced for a few seconds the pain that can come through a damaged medial nerve.

When nailed to the cross the nails were driven through the wrist at the point where the medial nerve is located the pain must have been excruciating without all the other aspects of the crucifixion.
For Jesus who was without sin to have taken our place on the Cross for our sins is a testimony for the love our Saviour has for all of us.

13 May 2013 19:42  
Blogger Hannah Kavanagh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

14 May 2013 19:55  
Blogger Rambling Steve Appleseed said...

Ordered a copy via your Amazon link.

This reflection reminds me of Graham Kendrick's all but forgotten 1970s album 'Paid on the Nail' in which the song How much do you think you are worth?' contains the line 'It was you broke his heart, not the spear.'

Agree political life would be better if mean would admit their mistakes and indeed show some penitence. It is my long settles opinion that the worst fault a man can have is the refusal to admit to himself that he could be wrong.

15 May 2013 06:37  

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