I was doing Pause for Thought on the BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Show this morning. It’s not always easy to know what to say about what, especially when you have to write he script a day or two ahead of the game. ‘Events’ might intrude in the interim…
Anyway, this morning it was a casual conversation that got me going:
A couple of days ago I had one of those conversations that leaves you confused – not about the content, but how the conversation itself ever happened in the first place.
I was having a chat with a woman in a shop and I remarked that I hoped we’d sort the Swedes out on Friday. She said the best way to deal with swedes is to chop them up, boil them, then roast them in the oven. At least, that’s what I think she said. The problem was, I was talking about Euro 2012 and England’s chances on Friday while she was thinking ‘vegetables’.
This reminded me of when I was a kid in Liverpool. Two neighbours were having a chat one day about the ants. It was only when Mrs Green went into detail about how, when even Nippon failed, she resorted to pouring boiling water down their hole, that Mrs Howard twigged that she wasn’t referring to the two elderly spinster ladies she had been talking about. In Liverpool we didn’t distinguish between ‘ant’ and ‘aunt’.
I remember this every time I find myself not listening to what someone is actually saying and jump to conclusions about what I think they are saying. And this happens a lot – not just to me, but to all of us. What we hear is not always what is really being said.
Remember the disciples mishearing Jesus in Monty Python’s Life of Brian? “Blessed are the cheese makers? Of course, he means producers of all dairy products…”
We do this with Jesus all the time – making him say what we want to hear him say, rather than what he actually said. We duck the hard stuff. We can confidently propagate the stuff about ‘loving your neighbour’ – even if we find it easier to say than to do – whilst quietly ignoring the embarrassing stuff like ‘deny yourself, pick up that cross and come with me’.
What we hear isn’t always what is being said. So, when I say I hope the Swedes get battered on Friday, you know what I mean.
I was sitting in a cafe waiting to do a radio gig and had the time to look back at the last couple of days’ news. Also scanned Twitter. Then thought about Harry Redknapp. That led me on to empires during the last few millennia. I know: weird.
The thing about Harry is that just a few months ago he was riding high. He won his tax court case, was a media star, was tipped by all the media and pundits as the only choice to replace Capello as England manager. Then Spurs dipped, Hodgson got England, Harry made demands, and yesterday he lost his job. And this morning’s media are even suggesting he is now finished in football.
Fickle old world, isn’t it? Yesterday’s media certainties are today’s embarrassing misjudgements. All this proves, of course, is that pundits and the commentariat should never be taken too seriously. They fill the page or the screen with today’s gobby ‘wisdom’, then, while others remember what they have said, they move on to the next one.
Empires come and go. That’s what history (and the Bible, actually) teaches us. What looks permanent today can be gone tomorrow. Like confidence in Spain’s economy or Holland’s Euro 2012 outlook. Anything said with confidence today should be taken with great scepticism – it might have changed by next week.
Interesting, then, that yesterday’s noise about the Church of England’s response to the government’s ludicrously inept consultation on gay marriage is followed this morning (apparently) by some vital stuff on church chairs. Despair is evident in the twittersphere about yet another example of C of E PR ineptitude. Maybe it is. But, just who decided to roll these two things together. How long has the ‘chairs’ item been in the diary can? Would it even have made it to the airwaves if we hadn’t had the earlier gay marriage stuff?
The other complaint is that while Iain Duncan Smith is doing his ‘poverty’ stuff, the Church is banging on about chairs and not poverty. OK, that’s how it looks. But, it’s a bit naive, even it does cause instant depression in many of us. The reality is that we spend most of our time tackling poverty at local, legislative and political levels – ‘church opposes poverty’ is not news.
What all this makes clear, however, is not that the substance of the church’s concerns is misguided or that the priorities are necessarily wrong. Rather, it just goes to prove that we are terrible at ‘spin’. The Church hasn’t exactly managed the news to its institutional advantage this week. Maybe it hasn’t tried…
Which brings us to the response to the Church of England’s response to the government’s consultation on ‘gay marriage’.
OK, picking out one statement about threats to the establishment (one paragraph out of something like twenty seven) offered the media the lead story and ensured it dominated the front pages. Actually, to my mind this is the least interesting or important or significant element of the statement. The Church’s response is not primarily about establishment or status – even if there might be consequences here. The Church’s concerns are primarily about what is usually called ‘the common good’.
Change our understanding of marriage and we are not doing something trivial or consequence-free. The Church cannot simply go with the flow of contemporary culture, blessing whatever is this era’s wisdom. Someone has to ask the hard questions and question the language and assumptions behind moves for social change. It might not be popular and it can be mishandled, but it has to be done.
The shoddy consultation (a) confuses ‘marriage’ with ‘wedding’, (b) assumes a lie – that British law distinguishes between ‘civil’ and ‘religious’ marriage, (c) fails to distinguish between ‘equality’ and ‘uniformity’, (d) fails to address why civil partnerships would continue for gay couples and not be open to heterosexuals – surely ‘unequal’ – if gay marriage comes in, and (e) clearly sees this ‘consultation’ as a mere preliminary to doing what it intends to do regardless of what the consultation throws up.
Does anyone seriously think the church – or any sentient body – should just ignore all this and roll over?
Yes, it looks like the Church is being a bit flouncy or scaremongering in relation to its status, but the substantial critique of the government’s assumptions, language and process also need a response. I look forward to it – it has to be a bit more intelligent and less emotively woolly than the tangent the response has led us on so far.
The Church in Wales has also responded similarly and with great frustration about the same issues. I haven’t yet caught up with any response to this.
This one will run and run. The best hope is that we get some answers to the substantial questions while continuing strongly to affirm committed relationships of any sort – for the common good.
(On the footie question, my UEFA 2012 fantasy team – Purple Haze in the Spain Sucks league – is doing OK. But, in the context of poverty issues, Cameron at the Leveson Inquiry, questions around marriage – but not church chairs – it doesn’t really matter.)