The Man O’ God
Given their peculiar remit, it is never easy commenting on men of the cloth and their citadels; and, being Roman Catholic and at home with guilt, it is doubly difficult. Religion is sacred ground and on pain of perdition commentary more often than not is restrained. The posse of pastors riding unbidden to our rescue, however, no longer don their mystical cloaks with as much impermeability as they once did; and we are no longer as constrained by the fear of damnation. As we siddon look, we are left to ponder the binary nature of the Man o’ God: pious words in lock step with fleshly frailties.
The distinction between the secular and the sacred blurs, and I am no longer certain on whose behalf the ministrations from our many pulpits are set forth – God, the faithful or the Man o’ God? No longer cocooned in the childish certainties of my youth, nurtured at Sunday school with colouring books telling of the life of Christ, I see clearer now that our Lord’s message has been transfigured into one fit for our times, an age in which the temporal and the heavenly operate in blissful symbiosis.
In recent times, the growth in the number of onward Christian soldiers, particularly of the Pentecostal shade, has produced a generation of the faithful that seamlessly yoke material salvation and the salvation of the soul. They demand of their faith a double dip – manna on earth and manna in the hereafter; and, the Man o’ God is ever present to affirm the fidelity of their faithfulness.
I verily concur with that well-worn staple that the revealed faith is a way of life rather than a religion; but even so, surely that alone cannot excuse that excess of vanity in the Man o’ God that has become so de rigueur? The dissonance in the lives of our gaggle of shepherds and the life of Jesus Christ grows more and more by the day and the Man o’ God’s claim to the cloak for all seasons is more convenient than it is convincing
Passionate sermons are preached in the language of entitlement and reaffirmed in tongues. It is thus that the flock, enchanted by the prospect of rapture, gives itself to the Man o’ God, as if he were standing in for God. The Man o’ God must be weary as we are weary of this propensity for constructive deification. Given our disposition to bowing, scraping and touching our forelock, the Man o’ God readily finds fellow travellers that follow first and reflect, if at all, at leisure.
He crafts our Lord’s teachings into a near-perfect light in which earthly bountifulness, morphs into eternal essence. Interpreting the promise of salvation in the currency of the day, he is adept at adopting scripturally succinct insights on a range of subjects, enabling him insinuate and pontificate. Before our very eyes the Man o’ God becomes all things to his flock!
Our state and fate after the expiration of the corporeal life is the final knowledge frontier this congenitally inquiring specie is not given to know…yet! The Man o’ God, in his cloak of illuminator, shines a light on the nature and mysteries of life after our physical lives with such soaring simulation that his followers are readily carried along on a biblically infused wave, submitting themselves to active participation in the attainment of spiritual critical mass. Quaere, are they uplifted by the optics and histrionics, or are those merely consequential of their spiritual grace, or otherwise?
The answer to the unanswerable is the Holy Grail that the Man o’ God underpins his perorations with; his unique selling proposition – eternal life! It is the most sellable proposition there is and ever could be: the promise of certainty through faith in a life which we cannot know…yet. His capacity for theatrical reaffirmation of the certainty of eternity reinforces the perception of the Man o’ God as a messenger of our times, opening vistas to all manner of beneficial engagements.
As the claim of religious institutions to be not-for-profit comes under closer scrutiny, it is right and proper that such bodies be held to the highest of standards; as they receive advantages others do not. The grant of that status is a reflection of society’s mores and values at this stage of its evolution and ought not to be taken advantage of, contradicted by those who claim it. So, let the veil be placed aside and the true nature of these citadels be better appreciated, and accounted for.
As befits the times, the large modern-day church is an incorporated behemoth, packaged and presented with a veneer of sophistication and the similitude of divinity. In another lifetime they would be ashamed of what they have become but not so now. Today, amidst a people ridden with doubt, the Man o’ God is the stylish purveyor of our Lord’s certainties. He does not only reassure of the Creator’s munificence on earth, he also offers a copy of his very own keys to the pearly gates.
Organised religion has always been heavily invested in status and power; and in its Pentecostal incarnation, outdoes itself in its flirtations with the good and the great.
It flows easy on the tongue that the kingdom of man is the kingdom of God but I fear the Man o’ God flitters dangerously close to the flame. Seamlessly, he merges the earthly and the eternal, adapting and adopting the teachings and ministrations of Christ and the extrapolations of Paul to endorse his flock less than it enlightens them. It is thus that the Man o’ God’s vanities is given full rein.
In extremis, the manifestations of this carnalisation of the shepherd are everywhere about us. With assuredness he reasons away any disconnect between earthly pursuits and a dedicated stairway to heaven, reconciling yawning divides with rhetorical flourish and biblical invocation. The growing gap however between the Man o’ God’s modernist and dare I say, somewhat bohemian interpretations, and the life, lifestyle and lessons that Jesus left as a template for those that would follow Him are dangerously divergent. My base and carnal mind conjures up images of a celestial pyramid scheme that is devilishly difficult to disavow.
The approach to the pearly gates no longer appears as long, winding and bumpy as it once did, not now that the symphony of our faith has the Man o’ God as an earthly conductor. With lives bedecked in evidence of the Lord’s grace and favour, they lead and they are mightily followed.
The most abiding imagery those Sunday school colouring books left me with was of Jesus Christ washing the feet of His disciples. Now, as then, nothing more intuitively communicates His call to service as evidenced in His life on earth. From His Immaculate conception, through His baptism, His miracles, His teachings, His crucifixion and His resurrection, the images and lessons of Christ’s life are unparalleled in their demonstration of Love and sacrifice. Too many of the modern gatekeepers of that singular life regale us with their own worthiness because they love themselves too much. That is why many are daily tested and many daily found wanting.
The Man o’ God’s vaunting sartorial elegance is yet more vanity personified, offered up, of course, as evidence of our Lord’s earthly assurances, as preached in the message of prosperity. They arrive at events, are recognised and applauded, and then led to a seat worthy of their standing. Travel is ever in style, Business Class at the very least for the less well heeled who cannot yet afford the upkeep of a private jet. Their prisons are of their own construction, and every new disclosure is another denouement, demonstrating how far they have travelled from the base camp of their faith.
There must be a bonfire of these vanities if we are not to partner the rampaging materialisation of society with the materialisation of salvation. The Man o’ God enables a squaring of the circle by declaring that you take ownership of a thousand cattle on the hill that belong to your Father in heaven. He is less forthcoming and forthright in prescribing how to come to terms with the terrible depths we daily descend to in this Sodom and Gomorrah that is Nigeria.
It is there, at the nuanced seam in the billowing cloth that is our lives that the Man o’ God ought to position himself, as a guide in our attempts to live our lives as testimony to our faith. Instead, he wilfully participates in and actively encourages a dangerous blurring of boundaries, loudly proclaiming that there are none.
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