Fr Christopher Smith remains unimpressed by Thought for the Day, and offers an antidote
I mentioned a few months ago my love-hate relationship with the Today programme on Radio 4, but there is one segment which almost always has me reaching for the off switch: Thought for the Day. Now, that’s really because if it gets to that time and I’m still in the vicarage, I’m running late: I have to get the church open for the eight o’clock mass. But then again, Thought forthe Day, three minutes long, is apparently never long enough to develop a theological point, but just long enough to make a dubious link between a contemporary issue and a passage of Scripture, or between a recent trip to the cinema and Jesus. Or Buddha, or another figure from a `world religion’.
I have been thrilled recently, though, to discover a website (which is really a Twitter feed, but that remains beyond me) called `Thought for the Day Abridged’. Here’s a potted version of a Thought by Canon Alan Billings: `I had breakfast while flying over Iraq. This reminds me of the Good Samaritan and Australian immigration policy. And what was the gist of the piece by Bishop Nick Baines on the Feast of the Assumption? The A level results are out, which naturally reminds me of St Paul: You get the idea, no doubt. And TFTD Abridged is an equal opportunities mickey-taker, since TFTD itself long ago went multi-faith. Here is one adapted from indarjit Singh: `Smartphones? I don’t trust them. Guru Nanak worried that people might spend too much time on smartphones’.
But the news has been so bleak at times this summer that a September contribution was abridged as `Everything is just terrible right now’. True enough, although the abridgement doesn’t do justice to the shoe-horned reference to John Wesley at the end. On the relevant feast day, we got The many recent beheadings remind me that John the Baptist was also beheaded. And
that’s terrible. That was the Bishop of Norwich, who talked about `executions’, but of course these killings are not executions in anyjudicialsense, they are straightforward murders. We would do well to keep the seriousness of the situation in the Middle East at the forefront of our collective mind at the moment. So let me give you a thought for the day of my own. I would, of course, start with the customary good morning’, or perhaps the more familiar `Hello John, hello Sarah’ of Rabbi Lionel Blue.
`Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?; ask the disciples several times in the gospels. Jesus, who, unlike me, is capable of responding with the maximum amount of patience and the minimum amount of visible irritation,
never rolls his eyes and tells them off. But he does tell them to change. `Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven:
Yet it is not unreasonable to ask where child-like humility leaves off, and allowing ourselves to be trampled over begins. The news media have at last cottoned on to something which you and I have known for a long time: that there are a terribly large number of Christians being treated abominably in many parts of the world at the moment, most particularly in Islamic countries. How humble should they be? How humble do we have the right to expect them to be? Do they have to turn the other cheek to the point of extinction? Did Jesus really die and rise again so that his followers could live good lives but die out two thousand years later?
Jesus uses the child as a symbol of humility not because children are especially humble, but because they have no status in his contemporary society. In our `enlightened’ society, we make great play of our claim to give children a very high status, but we still manage to stand by while they are trafficked for prostitution under our very noses. The child is dependent, and Christian dependence is our dependence on God, who has hidden the truth from the worldly, and revealed it to mere children.
The Good Shepherd
We have a model of the care which we must show to one another, which is the care of the Good Shepherd, who goes after his one missing sheep: it is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish’ What might that make us do for our persecuted brothers and sisters? Surely, pray. Surely give, if we possibly can, and sacrificially. And what else? Have we been negligent in failing to bring their plight to the attention of politicians, however hard of hearing or hard of heart? They seem to know about some of it now, but for how long will they care once the current news agenda moves on? At least, and at last, our bishops have been calling on the government to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians, and if you want to know why, read what Canon Andrew White, the Anglican Chaplain in Bagdad, has to say about the attempts at forced conversions and consequent murders, the shootings and beheadings. Never have our prayers been more necessary.
We may count ourselves fortunate that we have not yet been presented with the stark choice to abandon our faith or die. But it is happening to our brothers and sisters even as we speak. Now perhaps our minds are a little more concentrated; now perhaps our prayers a little more urgent. Please pray; and still forgive.