THE PUBLIC DEMAND STRENGTH AND THE MEDIA DESIRE PERFECTION, BUT WE PROCLAIM CHRIST CRUCIFIED
Every generation presents a challenge to the Gospel; a way of looking at the world which defies the wisdom of God. In St Paul’s time it was embodied in the idea that Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom. Signs from God were rooted in Jewish history: manna in the wilderness; Gideon’s fleece; Elijah’s fire from heaven. The contemporaries of Jesus and Paul, however, turned the grace of God into a consumer right. Do something special for us; then we’ll believe. The Greek philosophical tradition was entrenched. To gain respect and an audience, an orator had to beguile and entrance with clever arguments unfolded at length. Say something special for us; then we’ll believe.
Both audiences seemed to be bored and jaded, unable to see beyond the limitations of their traditions or any idea that signs and logic, religion and philosophy, might take us nearer in our journey to God but never into relationship with him on their own. To do this takes the work of the cross, in all its foolishness.
Our traditions are different today, but just as immovable. Today it feels like Paul’s words could say: the public demand strength and the media desire perfection. This is the era of the strong man – and it usually is a man. I do not think we expected this a decade ago, but leaders in the United States, Russia, China, Turkey, Egypt, the Philippines and many other places are celebrated the more unyielding their style. For a world in flux, re-ordering with the speed and randomness of a kaleidoscope, it is more comforting to believe that one person can solve the problems for us. This strength isn’t expressed collectively. Teams are considered weak and compromised; far better to trust in one man. And in doing so we ignore all we know about human nature.
Our pattern must be very different in the Church, if we are to bear a generous witness to a populist world. The church leader should not be the strong man or woman. God has spread his wisdom liberally around. By picking up the pieces we can make sense of the jigsaw. The autocrat, by contrast, looks at a thousand fragmented pieces, some the wrong side up, and immediately tells you what the picture is.
In tandem, the media desire perfection. Ours is the photoshopped age. People in the public eye are judged by their appearance, not their roles, especially if they are female. It is cynical and unsparing, building people up to knock them down. People spend longer and longer time crafting their social media profile as if it were a CV, which increasingly it has become. Perfection is an idol which we try ever more frantically to appease, only to find it demand more. These platforms have been created by adults and they are being consumed by young people. How exactly are we safeguarding children when we submit ourselves uncritically to the norms of social media?
The public demands strength and the media desire perfection, but we proclaim Christ crucified.
God submitted to the cross. Among all the options open to him, he decided that our defining image of him would be a powerless and humiliated one. An image that deeply offends our perfect, airbrushed world. God does not enchant like the strong and perfect people parading in front of us today. He has turned these values upside down and asks us to do the same. It looks really foolish, but then that’s the whole point.
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