I’ve never been one for trophies. I think it all stems from the fact that I have never been given one! Not having had any success on the sporting field, in the swimming pool, playing chess, coarse fishing or in a beauty pageant or any other of the million and one ways that people seem to get trophies I haven’t had the need for a trophy cabinet. Neither have I brought back any animal that I have slaughtered to have it stuffed for display on my walls.
My great-aunts lived in a house not far from ours. They lived like Victorians – well, they had been born in that era so they had an excuse. It was a dark house with a good supply of antimacassars, cranberry glass, seed cake and heavy oak furniture. On the way to the front room – where children were not permitted without an accompanying adult – you passed through a hall which was both frightening and intriguing. Above one door was a fox’s head above another the head of a deer. ‘Can we see the fox?’ we’d always ask and if they had time we would be taken to see it, it’s glass eyes winking at us from the wall.
We were in Leicestershire and surrounded by hunts but what they were doing with these two heads goodness only knows. We never dared to ask.
The news of the death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe last week sent shock waves around the world. I cannot begin to understand, to comprehend, what pleasure there is in killing a creature as magnificent as this one was. And his killer had killed many other magnificent animals, for, well, pleasure, the thrill, as another trophy for the wall. The fact that this was a celebrated and much loved lion is in one sense immaterial, but what it has done is to highlight the scandal of this kind of activity and the affront it represents to people who are concerned for how we live with the rest of creation.
I may be a bit of a hypocrite of course. I’m not a vegetarian; I rely upon others to kill animals so that I can eat the meat I enjoy. If I had to do it myself I would have to learn to love lentils. So why am I concerned for Cecil and not for the cow that I enjoyed a steak from last night?
I remember one episode of ‘Come Dine with Me’, Channel 4’s most compulsive offering after ‘Gogglebox’, in which one contestant said that she could never eat the meat of any animal that was ‘pretty’. So pork was ok according to her ethic but not venison! Well, its a way of making a decision. I have a friend who lives in the States who regularly hunts deer – but fills the freezer at home with the meat and the family live off it and live well. But that was not the purpose in killing Cecil – it was simply sport.
When I was in Zimbabwe last year visiting our link Diocese of Masvingo, I was fortunate enough to visit a small game park. We were driven around in search of the animals, most of which were wise enough to hide from us. But we did see giraffe (they find it harder to hide) and some deer of various kinds and it was fantastic to see animals in something like their real habitat. The Ranger who was our guide took such pride in them and in his care of them.
During that visit we also went to the shrine of Fr Arthur Shearly Cripps. It is off the main roads, in the bush and a place of pilgrimage for thousands of people and especially on 1 August each year when the people gather to celebrate their local ‘saint’. Bishop Christopher Chessun, the Bishop of Southwark, was with the pilgrims this year for their celebration Mass.
You’ve probably never heard of him. Well, Arthur Shearly Cripps was born in Tunbridge Wells, educated at Oxford and Cuddesdon and ordained priest in 1893. In about 1897 he offered himself to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) for service in Mashonaland, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) where he went in 1901 spending most of the next half century there.
Critical of church policy but still more critical of government and settler attitudes, he fought a lifelong battle for African rights. Acquiring 7,700 acres of farmland, he built a thatched church near Chivhu at Maronda Mashanu (Five Wounds) and a round hut in which he lived nearby. His tenants paid no rent and farmed as they liked. After 1930 he formally cut his Anglican links, becoming simply ‘a Christian missionary in Mashonaland’. His poetry, novels and a play entitled ‘The Black Christ’ challenged at a fundamental level the assumptions of colonialism. He battled against government policies like the hut tax and befriended black political leaders.
But his greatest significance lay simply in that he was a ‘Francis of Assisi of the African countryside’, enduring the greatest poverty, sharing his food and clothes with the poor. He was blind for the last decade of his life, but unconquerable in his hope. He died on the 1 August in 1952 at the age of 83 years.
His shrine at Maronda Mashanu, which is focused on his hut and his grave, is today this place of pilgrimage, lovingly tended by some of those who knew him and others who acknowledge his holiness and his legacy to the African people whom he served so wholeheartedly.
He lived so close to the people and the nature that he loved. For me, he was the Lamb in this situation, witnessing to Christ in the place in which the five wounds are always remembered.
Zimbabwe continues to be a wounded place and we keep the people of that country in our prayers and do all we can from the Cathedral and the Diocese to support ministry and mission there. And in this week when the Lion and the Lamb were brought together our thoughts and prayers are with the wonderful people of that wonderful country.
If I need any trophy on my wall it is the crucified Christ, whose five wounds speak to a world in which pain is continually inflicted on the innocent – people and animals – and it is in those wounds that we find our peace.
This is the Collect for the Commemoration of Arthur Shearly Cripps which we have been praying with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe.
whose servant Arthur Shearly Cripps carried
the good news of your Son to the Shona people of Zimbabwe:
grant that we who commemorate his service
may know the hope of the gospel in our hearts
and manifest its light in all our ways;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.