Years ago, I recall being led around a monastery in a small town at the head of a long valley and at the foot of a Swiss Alp. The two monks we were withwere rather jolly: being both under fifty, they were much younger than most of their community.
At one point, they took us to a room filled with tribal art collected by a sister monastery in Africa. I don’t know if they still have it.
One of the two priests (all the monks I encountered in Switzerland at that time had received Holy Orders) told us they had commissioned a crucifix in a similar African style.
After a time, they took it down, feeling it didn’t blend with the predominant symbolism of the material in the room.
Besides, he said, it might suggest that the monk’s faith was weak such that they needed their own symbols imposed on every single room. Ostentatious displays of belief or belonging are no equivalent or compensation with faith.
Ever since I’ve found it hard not to see the same lack of faith in almost any adherence to ostentatious symbolism. The road that must/must not be walked down; the minister determined on the flying/not flying of flags.
Earlier in the week, Gail Walker produced an excellent study in the ambiguity most normal people feel about identity. She notes of Rory McIlroy:
When forced to choose whether to play for Ireland or Great Britain & NI in last year’s Olympics in Rio: “All of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am? Who am I?
Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to p*** off the most. I started to resent it and I do.
I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in, that’s my feelings towards it, and whether that’s right or wrong, it’s how I feel.”
Even in his frustration, his struggle to sum up his feelings speak eloquently and to the heart of the issue:
“Not everyone is (driven by) nationalism and patriotism and that’s never been me, because I felt like I grew up in a place where I wasn’t allowed to be. It was suppressed.
I never wanted it to get political or about where I’m from, but that’s what it turned into. And it just got to the point where it wasn’t worth the hassle.”
Two things strike me.
First, for all his fabulous success in Golf (and subsequent wealth), Mr McIlroy is far more normal than those of us who obsess on the importance/relevance of politics.
Second, perhaps a deeper, more action focused faith in your own project is better for engaging such ‘normals’: those who are impatient to fulfil their own lives and ambition.
And not content to grumble at the injustices and limitations of the past?
On the other hand, the shrill fundamentalist demands that Rory choose between one or other of his competing identities which saturated the airwaves a few years ago, has led to our finest talent simply walking off the pitch, like so many others who used to think it worth their while to vote.