Friday, April 11, 2008

We all need heroes

Although perhaps not the black-rubber-suited type. Our heroes could well be folks who do some of the things that we do, but who do them better and have done so consistently for a very long time. The old Archdeacon who I served under as a theological student back in Montreal for about five years was one such hero. I hear his voice frequently and believe that, were he still alive, he would again be looking down his long red nose and shaking his head at me about some of the same issues we struggled with twenty-some-odd years ago.

I've had the opportunity to do a few Thought(s) for the Day on Radio Scotland over the last several months. I'm certainly not used to having a producer - especially one who lets me know when she thinks what I'm proposing to say doesn't quite pass muster because it's too 'newsy' or 'not newsy enough', not in line with the BBC 'style' or simply unclear and a bit dribbling. Members of my congregation could probably be located who'd testify that I might profit from a producer back home in the congregation. Perhaps they're secretly hoping that my impending marriage will produce such a result in the long term.

Thought for the Day on Radio Scotland makes use of a two minute format. These two minute talks are not prepared far in advance - they're worked out the day before, based on what's been on the front page of the Scotsman (Edinburgh) or the Herald (Glasgow) or elsewhere. You get a phone call from the studio in Glasgow just before noon. You chat a bit. You hammer something off and email it along. Then after 20 minutes there's another phone call and a few more emails back and forth - so far generally about four drafts seems to be the average. It takes the better part of an afternoon of my time to come up with something serviceable every four or five weeks.

What is being sought is a faith perspective on the daily news- what the news means when spoken about by somebody with a religious vocation.

I will admit to a certain initial discomfort with the idea of providing a 'faith perspective'. I don't provide just 'any' faith perspective. It seemed a pretty generalizing thing - like somebody pulling a coat off a hook and saying 'wear this - it should fit you' - where the 'you' in the sentence could be an Episcopalian, a Roman Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew or a Sikh. I am not so post-evangelical as to think that one can be all things to all people. I wondered whether what was being asked for was the sort of gentle vicar-spew you sometimes hear in the media.

What clinched it for me was the parallel I drew in my mind between Thought for the Day and work I'd done in hospitals, schools, port chaplaincies or homeless shelters. It was some of the best and most interesting work I ever did. It was done, though, by hospital standards or under the watchful eye of a head teacher, in partnership with shipping agents or social agencies. A fair number of us are used to working by our own rules and on our own turf within the confines of our congregation. Even if that turf shrinks to a small patch of ground and a handful of souls we feel no tremendous discomfort. Life carries on after a fashion and above all we can preach the Word in the way we feel called to preach it. We don't often get challenged and we don't always make very good guests in somebody else's pulpit. We don't always stand up to the scrutiny of the marketplace.

A radio station is somebody else's turf - it's a civic platform. You're being heard in a car by a commuter. It's his car. That's his turf. He has a button in front of him that can turn you off. It's not so much that one has an obligation to 'tone things down' or to be 'winsome' instead of 'direct' but that one has been given a tremendous 'opportunity' - one which is worth the effort of changing one's style and approach.

Once treated as opportunity and not as obligation - the fun really begins.

Lots of people listen to Thought for the Day on Radio Scotland. It's a 'good gig'. Even more listen to Thought for the Day on Radio 4, however. It's broadcast throughout Britain. They're generally made up of three-minute meditations. That extra minute allows for quite a bit. Among the regular contributers to Radio 4's Thought for the Day is one who I consider a bit of a hero. Her name is Angela Tilby and she's the Vicar of St Bene't's Church in Cambridge. She has managed to combine the gentleness of a guest with some really quite chewy and provocative talks. Her style is one worth keeping in the back of my head.

A list of her Thought(s) for the Day can be found HERE. You can read them or listen to them.

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