Just as I was simmering down over Fr John Dear, I decided to go and hear John Bell of the Iona Community speak today. He was being hosted by the Victorian Council for Christian Education and a small crowd gathered for pizza and coffee to hear him speak this afternoon in Port Melbourne.
He is very easy to listen to, bearing some resemblence to Billy Connolly–grey hair, beard and thick Glaswegian accent. But again, as I listened to him, I found myself asking how we can guard against mistaking our ideology for theology.
It started early in the piece when he said that there was too much fuss about same-sex relationships in the church, given that there are only a few scattered references to homosexual activity in the scriptures and Jesus never said anything about it. He said “If God didn’t like gay people, why does he keep on making them?” I couldn’t resist retorting: “With respect, John, he keeps on making sinners too.”
Later on, he talked a little about song writing that takes into account people’s real lives. “Why can’t we sing songs in church that refer to the stockmarket? Or why isn’t the word “kitchen” ever used in a hymn?” Again, while I can just imagine “kitchen” being used in a song of blessing perhaps, I balk a little at singing about the stock market. After all, when you have the Blessed Trinity and the forgiveness of sin to sing about, who wants to sing about the stock market?
He did stress listening to Scripture as a way of making sure that our understanding of God’s/Jesus’ message is connected to the real world, and was keen to emphasise taking in the whole “panopoly” of scripture. In an exchange at the end of the lecture, he suggested that the best way we can be self-critical about our reading of scripture (to avoid adopting our own ideology as the theology of the gospel) was to listen to scripture “in community”. To me this suggests the need to read and interpret scripture in what the Catechism calls “the analogy of faith”, ie. congruent with the whole Catholic faith.
John Bell is entitled to his own opinions (he is not, after all, like Fr John Dear, speaking in the name of the Catholic Church). He was interesting to listen to, but I didn’t go away thinking “Yeah, he was spot on about this or that”. Perhaps the most valuable thing he said was that we need to learn to value Psalm 88 as deeply as we value Psalm 23.
For myself, I think there is more to learn about faith and politics in the second half of Benedict’s Deus Caritas Est or in his speeches to the Latin American Bishops on his recent journey to Brazil. Still, I like singing John Bell’s songs. Well, most of them anyway. Not the ones about the stock market.