Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences

Ah, that nostalgic feel of an autumnal equinox. Autumn is always the season for remembering. At this time of year, I like to remember the ankle-deep leaves falling onto Parks Road. The yellow light of Brasenose welcoming exhausted, smelly Chemists back from a hard day's Purgatory in the Dyson Perrins lab - any Chemist accused of being involved in unseemly parties at Oxford has the alibi that, smelling as we always seemed to of esthers from the bowels of Hell, nobody even invited us to seemly parties let alone unseemly ones.

And so we celebrated the equinox today in the Moot House, as the weather was looking dodgy. We had an "apple" theme - which is to say that everybody brought an apple or two to hold, pretend was the earth and/or another planet depending on how much fruit they had bought. And, when Hnaef started a very long sermon on the finer points of an organ piece by Messiaen, they were very handy for throwing.

And so we spent part of the afternoon hosing down the Executive Arch-Assistant Druid to remove 100 pounds of apple sauce. I mean, what were the chances of that happening three years running?

And thoughts of Hnaef's repeated apple-sauce issues remind me of another woe that occurred to somebody from a former house group, in a former church, many years ago. He was a teacher, and arrived one evening a little shell-shocked. Unsurprisingly. That day, when he left the classroom for a moment, his class had set the contents of his briefcase on fire.

Now, Martin Saunders mentions a particular Christian reaction - and I quote - "the sympathetic heart-cry of compassion" - accompanied by a bit of a frown and head tilt. This is what Christians do when somebody else suffers any kind of inconvenience. However small. Presumably because every minor setback a Christian suffers, is clear evidence of either persecution or the hand of the evil one. And Christians have to sympathise. It's the Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences.

There was, during the one-day series the other week, an incident where a batsman received a fast delivery, for want of a better description, midwicket. And the fielders did what cricketers always do when a batsman has a ball arrive in the area for which the protective box was invented. They wandered around a little way away, smirking a bit. No doubt somebody suggested he did a bit of counting. It was a kind of slightly amused sympathy.

And that was the feeling I had when my friend told the house group - in tones of great sadness and shock - that somebody had set his briefcase on fire. I felt very sorry for him. Everybody else in the group did the sympathetic heart-cry of compassion. But I couldn't do it. Because, mixed with the empathy, there was a certain amount of respect for his students. Anyone could have just pinched his bag, or emptied it out of the window. That would have been nasty, and very unclassy. But somehow setting it on fire in the classroom showed a certain amount of vicious style.

And that was when I realised that I am missing a vital Christian gift. I do not have the Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences. Don't get me wrong. In the case of bereavement, serious injury or loss of employment, I am as capable of sympathy as anyone else. But mention that you had to queue to pay for your shopping, that you've got an ingrowing toe-nail, or the upgrade to iOS9 bricked your iPhone, and I won't be able to do it. I will treat the information as uninteresting, slightly sad, but underserving of tilting my head or sighing.

You know why? Let me take you back to that cricket match. There's a bloke who has just taken a sharp rap on a sensitive part of his body. Imagine if the fielders, his parter, and the umpires had been members of a Christian house group.

They wouldn't be wandering around the outfield, grimacing and making jokes about his evening being spoiled. Oh no. They would be stood around him in a circle, heads titled to one side, making that noise Christians make when another Christian has suffered a temporary but probably not serious inconvenience. If he was really unlucky, somebody would be offering to lay on hands. And chances are, that would be a little beardy bloke with a bald head and an earnest look.

The Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences. It's exercised by so many. We shouldn't encourage it. It could be terribly embarrassing.


  1. I don't know why but the phrase 'boxing and coxing' has, rather disturbingly, come to mind.

  2. The lack of empathy you display is breathtaking in it's brevity.

    You know that Terry Pratchett wrote about 'Small God's' which points us towards pastoral care for the smallest hurt or harm or insult received. You should have offered counseling through 'Talking Therapy' or referral to a psychiatrist who could help lift them from the depths of distress by hallucinating drugs.

    Small hurts are the worst, because they happen every day, and leave sufferers with a perpetual persecution complex. From the accidental cut, from the trip or fall, from dropping a penny down a drain - these are all collatoteral damage for their victims.

    As a Pagan/Christian leader, you are sadly deficient in your leadership.

  3. "The Ministry of Lamenting Small Inconveniences. It's exercised by so many. We shouldn't encourage it. It could be terribly embarrassing."

    I agree, and worst of all, it's such a bore. Can one be a Christian and not suffer bores gladly?


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