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The Parable of the Altered Man

The master announced to his disciples that they would take the train to London, where they would learn ‘lessons from the cathedral’.  The disciples prepared for the journey, a little curious what the master might have meant by ‘lessons from the cathedral’.  Why not, ‘in the cathedral’?  Was the lesson from the cathedral itself instead of from the words of a lecturer?  And which cathedral?  Yet they were excited at the prospect of spending some time in London.

Upon their arrival early the next day, the master had his disciples position themselves nearby one of the entrances to the cathedral.  After half an hour, a black limousine arrived.  Out stepped three men, wearing white gloves and colourful aprons, badges, and other items marking them as Freemasons.  They carried a wooden box that was marked on one side with the words, ‘Cathedral Contributions.’  Half an hour later, the three men returned, accompanied by a bishop.  The bishop shook their hands and offered a grateful smile.

The master then led his disciples around to another entrance to the cathedral and, once again, had his disciples take up positions nearby.  A group of workers were carrying things out of the church building.  Several boxes emerged first, all marked ‘library.’  The master had one of the disciples enquire from the workers as to the boxes’ contents.  ‘Bibles,’ they replied.  ‘This box includes Bibles of historical worth to the British Library, but most of the boxes are just of recent publication.  They are not of any use and are just taking up space.’

Interestingly, they were also carrying boxes into the cathedral.  ‘And what are you carrying into the cathedral?’ one of the disciples asked.  ‘These are some other books—not sure what,’ said one of the workers.  ‘Here, have a look for yourself.’  The disciple looked into the box and raised a copy of the Koran for the others to see.

‘Shall we see what is transpiring on the other side of the cathedral?’ asked a disciple.  ‘Not just yet,’ replied the master.  So they waited until all the boxes were carted to the awaiting lorry or unloaded from it and delivered inside.  Then the workers began to carry out crosses.  A priest stood by, apparently overseeing the work.  A disciple approached him.  ‘Are you having these removed for cleaning?’  ‘Oh, no,’ said the priest.  ‘We’re having them removed.  A hideous symbol, don’t you think?  A cruel symbol of pain and death.’  ‘But it reminds us of Christ’s sacrificial death for us,’ protested the disciple.  ‘And what was that all about?’ replied the priest.  ‘Nothing more than a challenge that we are so sinful that we needed someone to die a bloody, painful death for us.  In a day and age when we are trying to be inclusive and celebrate diversity, we can’t go around telling people that they are sinners or that they need to repent and believe to be included in our community.  The cross is a divisive symbol speaking of sin and death.’

Next, the workers began the exhausting work of removing pews from the cathedral.  The master suggested that the disciples purchase some lunch from the nearby market and return quickly.  When they did, they found the workers carrying round tables into the cathedral.  The priest in charge explained to a disciple, ‘round tables are excellent for holding engaging conversations to listen to others who are different from ourselves and reach new levels of mutual understanding.  Those pews set us up for an authoritarian teaching from a book from the old world, but we want to hear from real, living people about their life stories.  If necessary, we will reach good disagreement through these facilitated conversations, which we like to call ‘indaba’—a Zulu word, by the way.  Having shared conversations is so refreshing after centuries of the Church telling people what to believe.’  The disciple noticed that, since lunch, the priest had changed out of his clerical clothing.

A bit wobbly, the disciple crossed the street again to join the other disciples.  Moments later, a Druid in a purple shirt, carrying a book of poetry, and a Muslim imam joined the priest, and the three of them entered together.  They seemed like old friends.  Someone began to put up advertisements on light poles for the coming Sunday, featuring an imam speaking to the congregation and reading from the Koran.

The master suggested that they reposition themselves now on the opposite side of the building.  Here some other workers were placing garden lights along the path, facing the cathedral wall.  ‘Alright,’ called one of them into a cell phone, ‘turn them on.’  To the disciples’ utter amazement, the wall of the cathedral lit up in a colourful rainbow.  A woman carrying a very large rainbow flag passed by a few minutes later.  She was about to enter the cathedral when one of the disciples asked what she was doing.  She gave him an irritated look, but replied, ‘This will hang at the front of the cathedral.’  ‘But isn’t the cross hanging there?’  ‘Not anymore,’ she replied, with a wry smile.

The disciples continued to watch the busy activity at the cathedral.  Elton John showed up with David Cameron at one point and, while the nature of their visit remained a mystery, the disciples did hear the organ ring out with ‘A Good Heart’.  A worker carried out a large placard of some historical interest that read, ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel’. 

When the disciples thought that they had seen it all, the Archbishop showed up to examine a major renovation of the gate to the cathedral grounds.  One of the stone sides of the gate was removed in order to widen it.  ‘It was already wide enough, of course,’ said one of the workers to a disciple.  ‘But the archbishop thinks it is too narrow.  He wants what he calls a gate of ‘radical inclusion’.  We’re building the widest gate in London.’

‘I think we have learned enough,’ the master finally said.  The disciples were glad to hear this and thought that they might head to see London Bridge.  ‘We want to make sure it isn’t falling down,’ quipped one of the disciples.  Instead, the master began to teach.  ‘A certain man suffered a terrible accident.  He had to have two legs amputated and was fitted with prosthetic legs.  He had a liver and heart transplant.  His face had been greatly disfigured, but after ten cosmetic surgeries, he was given an entirely new face.  Nobody could recognise the man after all the changes.  Even his voice was altered, having been severely damaged.  He now spoke with a squeaky, high pitched voice.  However, when old friends talked with him, they knew that this was the same man.  Despite all the changes that were made, he still had the same memories and perceptions.’

The disciples wondered how this story related to their day at the cathedral.  This Church of England is like the altered man.  Both are going through significant changes on the outside.  But this Church is also different from the altered man.  What the Church of England is doing is destroying its memories and perceptions and creating a new Church for the twenty-first century.  It is changing its very soul. Its doctrines are different.  Its ethics are different.  Its authorities are different.  It is adding new liturgies to celebrate what it once called ‘sin’.  While people think that they are visiting the same cathedral that has stood here for 1,000 years because the stone walls are still the same and in the same place, it is, in fact, no longer a Christian church at all.  The man in the parable was changed outwardly, but inwardly he was still the same person.  The Church of England still looks very much the same outwardly, despite all the changes we saw today, but inwardly it has been transformed into another religion altogether.’