This is the script for this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
Yesterday I went to a church near Huddersfield to dedicate a new font. Not, I hasten to add, a fancy new printing typeface, but the place where Christians are baptised in water into the life of the church.
The point about a font – in this case a stone bowl resting on wood and glass – is that it has to contain water. This one had only had a dry run, and when we put water into it, it dripped straight through the bottom onto the floor. The plug didn’t fit, apparently.
But, it did offer a vivid image of the people who will be baptised in it. If the font leaks, then so do we. Something we can’t hide from this week – Holy Week – as Christians walk with Jesus and his friends from Jerusalem towards a place of execution called Calvary.
This journey has not been comfortable for anyone. The friends of Jesus protest undying allegiance one minute, then run away the next. They want some of what they think will be the glory, only to melt when the heat is turned up. In other words, they turn out not to be as big or strong as they had thought themselves to be. Peter, the man who would deny even knowing Jesus when confronted by a young girl in the garden, takes his name from Petros – the rock – yet he turns out to be more porous limestone than impenetrable granite.
Now, for Christians this is no big deal. Almost every service in an Anglican Church begins with us all putting our hands up and admitting – publicly and corporately – that we have messed up. Yet, this isn’t some group therapy session – nor is it any sort of bah humbug nonsense. Rather, it’s a recognition of what every human being knows: we fail and we fall. And there’s no point pretending otherwise. It isn’t about being maudlin; it’s about facing the truth about ourselves as people, then moving on with resolve, but without illusion.
The point of this is simple. It sometimes seems as if we have created a culture of perfection in which any sort of failure is to be instantly damned. Even worse, it lays us all open to charges of hypocrisy – easier to spot in other people than to admit in ourselves, of course. Or, as Jesus famously asked: “Who, without sin, is going to throw the first stone?”
Hypocrisy is not attractive. But, it is the sort of charge that should only be levelled by those who have first faced up to it themselves. Motes and beams come especially to mind here.
All of this seems particularly apposite and poignant when we witness the frailty and hubris of people in the news – particularly as we learn more about the hidden life of a German airline pilot. Perfection is the art of the arrogant; the rest of us are left, like the font, leaking unsurprised humility.