Over the Summer, I heard a replayed interview from Radio National’s ‘Saturday Extra’. The person interviewed was Emma Sky, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, who was an advisor to the US Military in Iraq.
Here is what she said, as I heard it. “Before Barak Obama was president, we were sort of doing OK in Iraq. The country was starting to function again .We recognised that Malachi had to go, and that we needed an Iraq for all Iraqis. There was this option available to us because the party that ran on this platform won the most number of seats. But Mr. Malachi refused to accept the election result. But then Barak Obama came to power. There was little enthusiasm for involvement in the war any more, and so a very rapid draw down of troops happened. The administration decided that it was better that Mr. Malachi stay as President. Many Sunnis were then persecuted, which then led to the formation of Islamic State.
This was a revelation to me. From the news, most of what we get is a reporter standing before a camera saying something like “These troops are going from A to B’ or “This house has just been blown up” or “These people are injured in this hospital.” I was reminded of the new adage ‘If it bleeds, it leads’, or the news producer in the TV spoof ‘More Tears’ who is interviewing a grieving couple and after the interview says “That was great, but listen, can you do the interview again, only this time more tears!”
So I become aware, not for the first time, I guess, that what we get in the news papers is little of the ‘big picture’ but lots of ‘stories’ that have no connection to one another. I am missing the kind of analysis that Emma Sky brings.
If you speak to the media they will say something like “We have to sell news papers. People’s attention span is very short, and they don’t want the big picture.’ Journalism appears to be a fairly pedestrian activity. The profit motive gets between reporting the news and giving people ‘what they want’.
Contrast this with Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globe Awards. She was talking about the role of the press in the context of the incoming president, Mr. Trump. She said words to the effect that “You (the press) are the 4th estate! You are the ones who hold government accountable. You are the ‘free press’ which is essential to a functioning democracy!
Now this was true too. I remember the work done by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they uncovered the activities of the Nixon Administration, and the ‘Iran –Contra Deal’ of the Regan Administration. I remember the pictures of the Vietnam War, that helped stop this intervention in what was essentially a civil war.
I remember the ‘Four Corners’ stories that led to the Fitzgerald Enquiry into corruption in Queensland.
There were people trying to give us a ‘big picture’ (stopping the ‘downward thrust of Chinese Communism’ and the ‘Domino Theory’ , but it was the press’ bring us the pictures of the war that helped us to see the bigger, big picture.
So all this says to me that the institution of ‘the press’ is a flawed one. It operates on the high ideals of being the ‘Fourth Estate’ and sometimes delivers. But most of the time, the picture that is presented to us is one of cynical ‘if it bleeds it leads’, ‘more tears’ and ‘parish pump’ journalism.
This reminds me of life in he Church (or perhaps any institution for that matter). We are charged with being a ‘slice of redeemed humanity.’ We are meant to show the world what it means to be followers of Jesus, who connects us with the power of the God who is his Father, who created the world, and runs it on love.’ What a mission!
But most of the time we worry about toilets and drains. We worry about where the money is coming from. We worry about who is out of sorts with whom and which big fish is running the very little pond of each congregation.
Worse, we often participate in the abuse of those little ones we are meant to be standing up for. Our reputation for many has been trashed because of this.
So this combination of the difference between our ‘high calling’ and the reality of Church life sends many away.
But there is another approach to institutional life for which I am indebted to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer’s idea is not that there is an ‘ideal’ community and a ‘real’ community, and that we have to bridge the gap between them by our efforts. His idea is that the gap between ideal and real has already been bridged, in Jesus. Our job is to participate in Him! As he says in ‘Life together’ Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The Church is not something that ‘we get something out of’ each Sunday, nor is it the place where we have to try to pit together the reality of our vision with the reality of life as it is lived. Instead, the only job we have is to point to Christ, who has done this already.
In the short and the long run, this means discipleship. It means praxis. We participate in Christ as disciples in communion trying to follow him. Stop. The reality of this Jesus, the Christ, promises to show up every Sunday as we hear God’s word, and participate in God’s sacraments.
Once my Dad told me this story. At his Church, there came a person who had been convicted for sex crimes. He came and said “I want t come to Church, but this is my truth. I cannot come, an d be left alone with young people, I cannot come and be unsupervised. Will you be able to provide that person for me? “ My Dad did this!
What humility, what commitment, what discipleship. This is the way that the reality of Christ, through discipleship and mutual accountability makes itself apparent. It is not our job to join together what God has already joined together. It is our job to be witnesses to this fact, and in discipleship of forgiveness and following as best we can, to participate in this reality.