Home Truths From Abroad

President Obama’s recent acerbic observations on Britain and David Cameron came as no surprise. Everyone knows what a mess we made in Libya and elsewhere, but the tone of the remarks will have irked many, despite the damage limitation exercise subsequently carried out by White House officials. The world is used to America telling it what to do and ignoring or downplaying other countries’ contributions. That is an American trait, and it is not likely to change any time soon. It can even be seen as endearing on occasion. I’m not sure, however, that it works the other way round. Does the U.S.A. take to heart the concerns raised by other nations? The bewilderment (and anxiety) experienced in Britain and the rest of Europe at the prospect of a Trump or Clinton presidency, for example, doesn’t seem to register. What is true of nation states is also true of individuals. Most of us are quite good at deciding what others should do and giving them the benefit of our advice, but we are not often so good at taking it. Why is that?

I think there are two possible reasons. One is that we are all reluctant to take responsibility for our actions. Ever since Adam, we have all looked for someone else to pin our guilt on. Blame Eve/Mummy/Daddy/the boss/the staff/the Conservative Party/the Labour Party/Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. The other is that we have genuine difficulty in seeing others’ points of view. We look out at the world from inside our own heads, and that perspective can never change. It can be widened, but it can never actually change.

To widen our perspective is to lay ourselves open to uncertainty, vulnerability even. When Jeremiah’s eyes were opened to the plots being made against him, he was forced to rely on the Lord absolutely (cf Jeremiah 11. 18–20). It wasn’t easy. It meant risk. The Chief Priests and Pharisees in today’s gospel, by contrast, were unwilling to expose themselves to risk. The new prophet from Galilee everyone was talking about could be no prophet at all, for none came from Galilee (cf John 7. 40–52). They were scathing in their condemnation, and they needed to be because any openness, any display of willingness to learn or change, meant a chink in their armour, a weakness.

Today would be a good day for reflecting on how we react to ‘home truths’ about ourselves and ideas that are unwelcome or expose us to risks we do not want to take. That doesn’t mean we should embrace every new idea or accept as valid every observation made to us — far from it. It means listening carefully and asking the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we can discern what is of God and what isn’t.

Note:  This post is not about President Obama and David Cameron. I use their example as a peg for an argument.

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7 thoughts on “Home Truths From Abroad”

  1. You have hit the nail right on the head.
    If only we could all realise that honesty, sincerity and humility are not signs of weakness but of strength then maybe the world would be a better place. But that means confronting ourselves, whether we be powerful politicians or just ordinary everyday people. And that is the hard bit.
    Thank you for this piece. I am so glad I found this Facebook page.

  2. For whatever it’s worth, I’m a member of Mr Trumps party and share your bewilderment I’m even more bewildered at imagining what it is in so many people that finds Mr Trump’s message appealing. As to criticism from others, we accept it poorly, but that’s a symptom of nationalism, which is an idol worship so craven, because it rests in such respectability.

  3. The symptoms of receiving criticism badly, a violent, oral or physical reaction. But if we take the time to do some careful listening and ascertaining, why the criticism is made, might just give us some insight into our real deficiencies, which we might view as strength.

    I’ve heard criticism being deflected by describing the person who made the criticism as a ‘know all’ or worse, ‘no-nothing’, which doesn’t generate any insight whatsoever, and creates bad feeling.

    I suspect that Mr Cameron is one who doesn’t readily receive criticism, nor does he listen to it for insights. The evidence is all around of his government being told, by some very able critics of the damage that they’ve done to the most vulnerable people in our society, which is rejected out of hand, or even applying more of the same.

    I hope that I personally receive criticism or feedback in the spirit that it’s intended – it’s an essential component of the ministry training that I’m undertaking that we seek and accept and reflect theologically on such feedback – and it’s an exercise in humility and graceful acceptance, which does much to provide food for thought, for prayer and for the content of assignments each term.

    Perhaps my tolerance level has been extended through God’s grace, because when I was a more hot-headed younger me – I wasn’t so well balanced 🙁

  4. Many of us in this country are very concerned with what has happened to our political process that has allowed someone like Trump to rise so far. It is sobering to see that other countries are concerned as well (they should be). Prayers are needed that eyes will be opened and hearts will be opened to love instead of hate and fear. It is indeed a scary time for our country.

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