It's Sunday afternoon. Ok, it's early evening, but the idea holds: another Sunday afternoon in which I wasn't writing anything for the local paper. Usually I write a report on what has gone on in our church - either I do it or my pal does it, and we have been in the habit for years now of making sure that one or other of us was able and willing to do this, covering for one another as necessary and getting hold of someone else to do it if we couldn't. But today - no. Pal didn't do it either, though we were both in church and perfectly able to do it. Sermon was interesting and relevant too - for although our American visitor knew it was Transfiguration Sunday, she didn't know where the lectionary had hidden the readings and had prepared to talk to us about greed and God. And this led us to talking a bit about Credit Unions, and how we might get involved ... as I said: relevant.
So why, do you ask, was one of us not spinning this worthy news for the local press?
I'll tell you why. It's my theory that too much contemporary relevance in the business of church triggers some negative response in a publication that still seems to want the churches at least to submit pieces from the "and a good time was had by all" school of journalism. Now, dear reader, I would rather poke out my eyes with a quill pen than write that sort of stuff, and to date I have resisted any pressure - only there hasn't been any. Working on the assumption that most churches tend not to generate any news worth reading unless it's the Good News that we're supposed to promote, we have for years now written as interestingly and cogently as lies in our power about the message of each Sunday's sermon. Sure, we've stuck in things like impending Episcopal visitations - we're having Bishop Kevin next Sunday, folks - but these things don't happen every week. The Gospel does.
A few weeks ago, I submitted a piece concentrating on the idea that the story of the Good Samaritan showed Jesus cutting through the strictures of The Law - a human creation, when all's said and done - and showing how much more important was God's law of love. As the preacher on the day had said, it was radical then and it's radical now. And yes, I had in mind the awful way some Christian churches treat people they consider beyond the pale - but I refrained from spelling it out.
Back came the mail: "We will not be considering your piece for publication as it is too theological."
I didn't ask the hack who contacted me how he knew this, though I did suggest to him that it might simply have been too relevant. There was no reply, and none to my comment that every week we had people tell us in the street, in the supermarket, how much they'd enjoyed reading our reports.
We do these things, I suppose, for publicity. But what kind of publicity do we want to create? If we want our church life to come over as a cosy anachronism of blinkered self-absorption, then I suppose we'd write about how happy we are to have our visitors and the loan of the hall in which we currently worship, and nothing at all of the burning issues of the day that are at the heart of ordinary life. We'd write the same stuff every week, so that we could substitute an old report without anyone noticing, and we'd seem as boring as ...
I could go on. But I don't think I need to. I have a feeling that God, and what God does to the heads of thoughtful Christians, is probably too interesting for a local paper.
And I feel better now. I've written my piece.