Some months ago I took friends around Parliament. As a special delight we were able to head down into The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. Dating back to 1297 its quite the mark of how long an established church has been around. While Christianity of one form or another has been a part of our society for a long time, the protectors of the purity of faith have also caused direct or indirect persecution of people from other faiths or credal allegiances. People died. Some were banned from living in London. Catholics are still not allowed to marry an heir to the throne. They are a minority. Meanwhile we have become a minority also.
I was explaining to the folk I was taking around the Chapel about the role of the Speakers Chaplin. Every Wednesday she gives the Eucharist fifteen minutes after Prime Ministers Questions begin. Whether she does it then as a reminder of the paradoxical nature of Christ as true ruler I do not know. After explaining this to them I spoke admiringly about the catholic folk I know who work around parliament and told them that they to regularly go to Mass together. Its then that I realized that they probably don’t come to this chapel. I admire the catholics I know because they seem so very well integrated, even though to a greater or lesser extent they are a minority even within a decreasing minority. But they take their faith seriously.
In faithful public engagement protestants, particularly evangelicals, err in two directions. We either assume that we are a majority because in the past we have been. Or we privatise what we think to the detriment of being fruitful. We can learn from catholics who have had a lot of practice being faithful in public while being a minority religion. To positively illustrate how we err one should look at the hero of the action film ConAir (Nicolas Cage) and the environment depicted in Straight Fiction, a short story by Martin Amis published in Heavy Water.
Straight Fiction is one of Amis’s pieces of Science Fiction, in which the world is inhabited by homosexuals who are established as a majority, have instituted rules against heterosexual relationships, procreation outside the test tube (that is in the usual sense) is prohibited. We read the story of a man and woman surviving, despite all, to bring forth a new child. They are rebellious in a world where what some of us might call normal is no longer normal. But its not a straightforward reversal to the narrative that homosexuals are persecuted in our world. Rather it also portrays, as one blogger has put it, “the ordeal of [heterosexuals] coming to terms with their own nature.” I posit this: In the UK we are a post-evangelical protestant country. Like a Pregnant Widow, we are still coming to terms with what that means for us. We don’t yet know what it means, or how to rebel like the sweethearts from Straight Fiction.
In ConAir Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), returning home from a military operation to his pregnant wife. He kills a man in self defence in an unprovoked bar brawl. Poe, an elite army ranger is convicted to 7-10 years in a federal penitentiary, because his body constitutes a lethal weapon (inversely much like the body and blood served at the Eucharist, but that is pulling the analogy way too far along).
In prison the montage shows Poe staying in shape, learning spanish, and origami (for his daughter) and generally keeping up with his wife and their child through letter writing. After making parole, he is put on an airplane and is scheduled to meet her on her birthday. The federal Marshals have decided to use the same plane to “populate” a new maximum security prison with the most heavy criminals in the system. I will not give too much away if I let you know that the convicts have a plan, capture the flight and general mayhem ensues. Through Poe is offered opportunity after opportunity to leave what is obviously both a dangerous and uncomfortable environment he doesn’t. But out of a sense of duty he stays to protect his friend, and a female guard.
Poe’s uniform is the same as the other convicts. This is true also for the DEA officer who was sent undercover to gain information from a drug baron. But there is a difference in their disguise. Poe is a real convict. During the initial plane capture scenes, the DEA officer loses his cool. Poe doesn’t for the sake of peace at the right time.
Throughout the film there are criminals who suspect him and there are police who don’t trust him. At times he has to kill in self defence. Sometimes he has to help the group in the short run in order to protect himself and his friends. Cage’s character is a minority within a minority (a good man amongst convicts). He has learned discipline and understands the subculture of ConAir. He has the trust of the lead convict and is sending the right messages to the people on the outside.
We must learn to be as rebellious as the sweethearts in Straight Fiction, while being as diligent and patient as a humble minority. Gaining the confidence of those around us and those on the outside, rather than shouting. As one man has put it, we need to learn civility.