May 14, 2007
The Ancient-Future Satirist
History became my new frontier, wrote the future editor of SPY.
While running my errands this weekend, I listened to the first three disks of the audiobook, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul. The author is Tony Hendra, a great satirist who was a university chum of John Cleese and Graham Chapman and who went on to become the editor-in-chief of Spy.
It is wonderfully comic for a spiritual memoir, but when the author gets serious, he is full of insight. After the stern and aloof husband of the woman he didn't quite seduce dragged the 14-year-old Tony to a monastery to be admonished and shriven, Hendra had a religious experience in which all the mumbo jumbo he'd been taught as a Catholic child suddenly came alive for him--became real! His description of that almost sounds like the classic evangelical conversion story.
But to my point ...
His conversion turned him on to history. Read these few graphs and think of Bob Webber--or even Tom Oden. This is ancient future stuff transplanted into the life of an English Catholic teen.
... [T]his new grasp of the realness of things ... lit up unexpected areas of my life--areas I'd preferred to ignore or endure up till then. History, once my most and then my least favorite subject, resumed center stage. It had become a tedium to study, a forgettable rat's next of dates and places and people, every one of them stone-cold dead and of no relevance to the here and now. Just as Latin was a dead language, history was a dead subject. I asked Mum once why we had to belong to such an incredibly old religion--weren't there any new ones? (She didn't agree or disagree, but she did give me a lurid pamphlet the Jehovah's Witnesses had left behind.)
Now, driven by the need to dig farther and--just as urgently--to experience the actuality of everything I could, history became my new frontier, the past became my future, a vast terra incognita, every discovery of which was another chunk of virgin territory I could claim, bringing with it the glow of ownership, the anticipatory thrill of further exploration.
What if we gave every new convert a subscription to Christian History & Biography? What if we plied them with the great lovers of God--with Pascal and Augustine and Theresa? What if we taught them that they were part of a very, very old religion--taught them to take seriously the communion of the saints?
It seemed to work for the editor of Spy.