I was once known as Claire Adams. True or false? [Answers on postcard please- well, an e mail will do].
It’s not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff, especially if it all looks absolutely genuine and likely to be true based on your past experience. If it looks ok, feels ok, seems ok, then it is ok. That’s the modern mantra anyway.
Experience teaches us a lot, alongside knowledge and reflection but it doesn’t always help to know a bit of the background. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The brain plays tricks on us: if we see 5 statements, 4 of which we know to be true, then we usually assume that the 5th is too.
The problems come when the final piece of the jigsaw lulls us into accepting the full package which may, on occasion, end up being not all it’s cracked up to be. It may be the one more fact that turns everything upside down. It’s the stuff of spin and deception and, I suspect, rather more common than we realise in published media, perhaps even in daily life. Sometimes it’s not what’s included that turns things right round, but the things that are there in plain sight but remain deliberately hidden. It’s a question then of what we are not told, as much as the information we are given.
Seeing from the outside
I came across a live example yesterday morning. It was a church service on Radio 4 broadcast from St Martin in the Fields in London It celebrated the 100th Anniversary of women getting the vote, recognising the pivotal role of the Suffragettes in the process. The hymns, prayers and the sermon affirmed the battle over many years to obtain the full representation women deserved.
Except that it wasn’t quite like that.
Yes, the suffrage was extended in 1918 but contrary to popular belief it wasn’t given to everyone. It was fine as long as you were a woman over 30 and had property rights but that was it. “Ordinary” women, many of whom had worked hard in factories, fields and at home to support the war effort didn’t “qualify” until 1929.
The Suffragettes seem to have gone very quiet iafter1918 despite the fact that less than 20% of women now had the vote. They had been very much a movement of middle class women, for middle class women expressed by middle class women. It didn’t seem to have affected the lives or outcomes of those who continuing to live and bring up their families in the midst of the worst depression the nation has ever known. I don’t think it made much difference to Alice Rule a young girl in service in rural Cambridgeshire.
As for the Suffragettes, popular history records them as selfless workers protesting peacefully, facing the horrors of forced feeding to obtain the vote for their worthy sisters. It’s all true but again it isn’t the full picture. Truth is much stranger than fiction and history is always written from the perspective of one side or another, with an element of inbuilt bias
In fact, it’s arguable that the bombs and IED’s used by the Suffragettes, some of the first attacks of their kind on mainland Britain, actually set the cause back. It seems that there were moves afoot to extend the vote in the years before the Great War but the constant activities of the Suffragettes pushed public opinion in the other direction. Churches including Westminster Abbey (which suffered bomb blast damage to its interior) and the homes of politicians were favourite targets.
None of this excuses the brutality of the Government’s response not does it diminish the rightness of the cause – it’s just that history (and indeed, the present) are never as clear cut as we think they are.
The accuracy of the news we see and hear today is open to question: some of it may be deliberate deception (state propaganda has a long and turbulent history) but not necessarily for reasons of manipulation. Some things are sensitive enough that redaction is required as a matter of course but like all things, its over use develops a climate of suspicion: what have they got to hide? I’m sure there’s more to it than that … and all those kinds of questions.
Seeing things as they really are
In 1993, Michael Lee Aday (better known to many as Meatloaf) had a hit record with one of the longest titles in music history: Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are. Parts of the song are clearly very painful to sing as they appear to track the destructive nature of the singer’s childhood, especially his relationship with his alcoholic Father.
As a whole, the words recognise the influence that past events and particular relationships can have on us today. With that kind of hindsight, the past as the song title implies, can sometimes seem much closer than it really is. The truth powers down into us and is part of us today.
I’ve been reflecting on the truth. It is, after all, the very stuff of which sermons and preaching should be focused. What are we bringing to our churches if it isn’t the truth? Is it a partial truth, the whole truth according to me, from my point of view or is it the whole truth, full stop?
Am I guilty of preaching an easy faith, cheap grace or of airbrushing the rough bits out of the picture to make a tough call, easier? In my hands has the old rugged cross become a nice bit of planed 4 by 2?
We might be ready to leave the building – an invitation to get off our seats and get involved – but what exactly is our message? What do we really mean when we claim that “…you must be born again?” If Nicodemas, the member of the Jewish ruling council couldn’t get it when he spoke to Jesus, what hope do we have?
Unpacking the detail of this encounter alongside Paul’s own commitment to proclaiming the truth (Romans 1 verses 14 to 17), demonstrates that the gospel is available to and accessible by everyone. It shows us what God’s love is really like and, in doing so, it reveals the nature of God’s character. Not only does He love, He is love.
The truth is simple. We are all problem solvers but we cannot solve the greatest conundrum facing the human race: what does it mean to be really loved? The answer lies in the greatest story ever told, a story in which we all play a central role. The truth is out there and in front of us. Hope has come into the world. There’s no more to add, no extra facts to consider, everything we need is here because the person we need is here.
It’s an invitation to encounter, receive and to be changed. Now that is the real deal – and there’s nothing that can take it away again.