One of the things the Church often gets criticised for is being predictable in its responses to various social, moral or intellectual/philosophical challenges. Actually, we only grab the headlines when what we say or do was not predicted. For example, ‘Church opposes gambling’ is not big news, whereas ‘Church promotes pornography’ might be.
Sometimes it is good to be predictable: it allows people to know what we are about and where we stand. However, experience of the real world shows us that there are some matters of such complexity that the Church’s response (if honest) should be a hand-wringing and angst-ridden self-examination – on the grounds that if these matters are important, then we should wrestle with them and not simply give the predictable answer ‘because it keeps people happy’.
This has come to mind simply because I picked up a brilliant website (from Twitter) yesterday which randomly generates Daily Mail headlines. It also offers the (New) Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project, the David Blunkett policy maker, Michael Howard sings the Smiths and Alastair Campbell’s Wheel of Retribution. Have a go – it is very funny.
Read the Gospels and what you find is that Jesus constantly surprised people. He surprised religious authorities with the bad news that God might not be enitrely on their side; and he surprised the ‘outsiders’ with the good news that God loved them, even if the religious authorities didn’t. He healed the ‘wrong’ people on the ‘wrong’ days (the Sabbath) and made people laugh with his surprising stories and images (camels through the eye of a needle, for example).
So, they crucified him.
It might be OK for politicians and newspapers to be predictable, but there are ways in which I hope the Church will always be unpredictable – bringing the laugh of surprise to the ‘right’ people even if that unpredictability brings scorn from the righteous.