Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

A new mindset

9 March 2021

Like millions of other people, we watched Oprah Winfrey talking with Harry and Meghan, and listening to some of the turmoil that the couple have been going through. It made for hard listening - emotions were stirred, sympathy aroused. But we have to remember that this is only one side of the story. Whether or not we ever get to hear the other side is an open question. But one thing has become clearer. There is a clear divide between the Family and the Institution. The Royal Family has its own life and purpose. The Institution of the monarchy is responsible for organising the Family, and clearly there has been a clash between these two elements in the palace.

But that's the nature of institutions. They have their own life, their own rules, their own purpose. They can remain immune from the world around them because their only purpose is to serve themselves. Their relationship with the world beyond is minimal. The world beyond can look at the institution and see only the activity, but never the soul.

Questions will doubtless be raised by the conversation with Oprah - questions that may never be answered publicly. And we will watch and listen, while remembering all the time that life behind the walls of the institution is hidden from our gaze.

All institutions maintain strict control over their membership. There are a multitude of different regimes in place to cover every eventuality. It is possible, within an institution, to ignore the world beyond because the primary purpose is self-perpetuation. It has nothing to do with thinking outside the box because all that is important is contained within the box, and never, never must the box be opened.

And so a mind-set develops that relates only towards fellow-inmates of that precious box. The box is all-consuming, whether it be a royal box, a church box or a governmental box. And boxes can be found in every street - it is the way people inside regard people outside in terms of their behaviour, or their origin, or their contribution to society, or in any of a million ways in which we all make judgements about other people.

At worst, this sort of mind-set is crippling and deadly. There is no escape within the box, only escape from the box. But there is always hope - hope that breakout can happen, that whatever ties people to the strangulating power of the institution can be burst open.

Jesus knew a thing or two about institutions. Judaism in his day was a tight-bound institution, governed by laws and by political expedience. He knew the only escape was from within, and he set about challenging the mind-set of the Jewish authorities. His dramatic attack on the profiteers in the Temple was perhaps the culmination of his preaching and arguing with scribes and Pharisees (although John put it at the beginning of his travels). Did the institution win? After all, he was arrested, tried and executed. But the seed had been sown and a new movement was born, costly but liberating.

However, institutions are hard to kill. We are members of an institutional church. Rules and regulations abound, rites and rituals flourish - and the world outside looks and sees the structure, not the soul. We should be following Oprah's example and asking questions - we should be recognising the stranglehold of tradition that has become habit. Maybe, just maybe, Covid-19 and lockdown might prove to have been a Kairos moment, a brief opportunity to think hard about who we are and why, a chance to examine the mind-set that we all possess.

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