Ros and I went for a walk in Greenwich Park yesterday. One thing that caught my eye was a statue of Major General James Wolfe. It stands just outside the Royal Observatory, right by the Prime Meridian. Inscribed on the base are the words "James Wolfe, Victor of Quebec."
The way we commemorate and adulate the victories of dead people is quite different to the way we do it with the living. We erect statues, write poems and and requiems, record them in the history books. So it is with James Wolfe. With living people, on the other hand, we invite others to meet them, to come and hear them, to share with us in why we admire and salute them. The living are not a matter of purely historical interest and we don't celebrate them in historical ways.
I think that's one of the reasons I don't like a good deal of what passes as "religious art." Oh, I can recognise a good painting or statue when I see one and admire it at an aesthetic level. Michaelangelo's David is a stunning cultural achievement. I can even see that in a pre-literate culture pictures and statues were good aids to teaching. But today the danger that images of Jesus reinforce in particular, is the idea that we are talking about a dead historical hero, not a living one. And the message is one of purely historical interest, and the church is thought by many to function best as a museum, or a mausaleum.
Right next to the statue of James Wolfe we saw a family out for the day and briefly overheard their conversation with a man who was clearly their next door neighbour. They were inviting him to join them in church today. They were enthusing gladly and publicly about the Lord. We heard him accept their invitation before we moved away through the park. They were celebrating the victory of a man who is very much alive, right next to the statue celebrating the one who isn't. Jesus will never, I suppose, be adored with a statue in Greenwich Park, for which I am pleased. But even more pleased am I that he gets adored in Greenwich Park by his people celebrating his triumph and telling his excellent greatness to their neighbours.
It was a good walk.