I was recently reminded about returning to school one September back in the early 80s, it was an unpleasant experience because, over the summer holidays my peers had decided they were going to re-invent themselves and become tribal teenagers. I was just terribly un-cool. The girls would ascertain which tribe we belonged to by asking as series of probing questions. Firstly: are you a Durannie or a Culture Clubbie? Secondly: which one is the fittest? This second question would be posed with the centrefold of a recent Smash Hits open on some pop group or other, and I think the unwritten rule was ‘don’t pick the drummer’.
What a strange time the 80s were!
I failed miserably with the questions. Firstly, apparently you HAD to like either Duran Duran or Culture Club, liking neither was not an option. But I knew more about sackbuts, crumhorns and Stravinsky that I did about Simon le Bon and Boy George so the question was illogical. As for fancying pop stars, I simply didn’t get that, so by sheer random fluke, I picked the drummer and they laughed nervously.
Igor- never knowingly a Smash Hits centrefold
The girls were then in a bit of a dilemma about which tribe to stick me in. I was neither a Durannie nor a Culture Clubbie and I obviously didn’t understand the rules about what constituted a ‘fanciable male’ so therefore I was a puzzle. Some girls got away with being different. Charlie got away with not fitting-in because she was more experienced with boys than most of us and she was into Heavy Metal which nobody argued with. As for myself, they decided, that I’d simply have to be re-invented by them. I wouldn’t do as I was, I was too weird.
Two ‘Durannies’ took me into their care, they lived near me, we caught the same bus home. They painstakingly tried to ‘improve’ my wardrobe with trips into town to visit Chelsea Girl and Top Shop and they encouraged me to listen to the trendy DJ on the local radio station. I found most of the music and the banter boring and I soon retuned and found John Peel on Radio 1 and was mesmerised by Jamaican dub and post-punk weirdness, and if Peel was playing some tripe, there was always classical music on Radio 3. Luckily, they soon gave up trying to make me look the part too. Their little bit of social engineering had failed and I made my own stubbornly independent way through the teenage maze.
There is no direct analogy here to how I find myself in the Church. Though I’m definitely someone much more at home in the older rites than the novus ordo, this is very different from expressing a preference for a certain pop group. I do not want ever to think that I have been sorted into a tribe because my tastes in liturgy are one way and my theology is definitely not nouvelle. I do not ever what to be called a ‘trad’. However, there are those who have a tendency to sort the church into ‘Conciliar’ and ‘Trad’ and in all honesty it is little more than what my peers were doing all those years ago. There is only one Body. The Church is One because Christ is One. We are part of the same Body as anyone else who receives the Eucharist and the only way to make that body more Christ-like is to clear out all the crap from our own selves that doesn’t conform to Christ. Everything else flows from that, and we can only strive for this end if we let Him transform us.
We cannot afford to become insular, navel gazing, smug and filled with 'victimhood', though this is certainly how I find many who would define themselves as 'trad'. Nor can we attempt to re-design others who are not like us. Souls will be drawn to Christ if we are holy, gentle, generous, kind and good natured, yet also authoritative and uncompromisingly truthful. Souls will not be truly drawn to the Church if they are primarily drawn to a ‘movement’ within the Church. Beauty, goodness and truth are part of the unity and do not reside in any one subset of the body. We are creating unnecessary divisions. The real divisions, those which create the biggest battles, are the ones we have within ourselves, the ones linked to pride in our own achievements, our own righteousness, our own sense of self importance, and our own understanding of God. The false understanding that boxes Him in, makes Him into an idol of our own ego; there to do our bidding because we are right, and 'they' are wrong.
(ps: my epic battle with BT is now in its 4th week).