I’ve had quite a lot of religion in the last twenty-four hours. Quite a lot of beginner guitarists, too, and fifteen minutes of ‘Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree’ (with the word ‘gay’ in the last line substituted for ‘great’ in the kids’ books).
I sang in the choir yesterday at St Ann’s for the funeral of a man I didn’t know called Des. His eulogy (delivered brilliantly by an old friend to a packed church) painted a picture of a long and happily full life. Full of work, sport, and friends — many, many friends and, in 1973 (when he was fifty-one) he got married in St Ann’s.
St Ann’s is an Anglican church, in the same tradition as the ones I attended growing up in the North. The minister is from the North, too, so it’s all very familiar! I’ve sung there quite a few times in the past few years — I also started to learn organ there with Charles Marshall last year. At the service yesterday, Charles played as the minister said some introductory sentences of scripture before we processed down the aisle ahead of the coffin. It was really effective — the music ebbing and flowing, suspending time, allowing the concepts of life and death and resurrection to be carried into the room, not simply said by a person.
After is finished in the music school last night, I got a lift into town with Emily, who takes the new community choir out there (Castleknock School of Music in Ongar). She was asking me what brought me to Dublin and I was telling her about coming here initially to do a year of discipleship training at CORE church. It seems rather strange to me now (well, what I mean is, it sounds strange when I tell others…), but I was seriously considering becoming a minister at one point. I don’t think anyone but me would’ve thought it a serious possibility, in retrospect! Anyway, Emily and I chatted about what we believe or don’t believe.
I came home and, rather too late, had a take-away from the Chinese place opposite the DART station in Howth. The young girl at the counter, wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the name of a school of English, tapped away on her plugged-in iPhone as the two of us waited in silence for the hatch behind her to open and the brown paper bag to be thrust out. ‘Kick Ass’ was playing on a flat screen above her head. I ate the food — shredded chicken with cashew nuts in a honey sauce with boiled rice — while watching Richard Dawkins on YouTube debating with an Australian cardinal, George Pell, in front of a studio audience that applauded *a lot*. And laughed at a couple of odd places, which led the jet-lagged and exasperated Professor to ask a few times, “what’s funny about that?!”.
Today in the Irish Times there’s a review by John Waters (a renowned pro-religious columnist) of Colm Tóibín’s ‘The Testament of Mary’. On the opposite page, there’s this letter:
I wonder if I feel the same way about religion in my life as I do about the word ‘gay’ in the Kookaburra song. It’s not the same to surmise that the bird’s life is “great”. Okay, the more suitable words aren’t going to fit so neatly into the song, but when I think about that word I wonder if we haven’t lost something in ‘losing’ its original meaning.
It’s simply not possible to revert to it, though.