Some years ago I went to see an exhibition at the Kelvingrove Museum on the work of the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. The exhibition was replete with atmospheric perspective drawings of some of his buildings, and a few floor layouts. There were samples of fabrics and other household items that he had designed, but of the most interesting buildings that he had designed, I could find no plans showing the layout of the site as a whole or of its relationship to its surroundings. Similarly there were few floor plans to show the internal workings of his buildings. In other words the exhibition was about what his work looked and felt like, but not on what it was or how it worked. Essentially it was about the appearance and image of his work rather than its reality or content.
One of the things I find intriguing about our times is the sense that we want the appearance of things but are not so sure about the reality. It is the image and the perception rather than the functioning and the reality of what we see that determines our responses. Presentation takes precedence over content, and critical thought is based on the image and persona of the commentator rather than what is said and whether it stands up to scrutiny. Indeed the question of who benefits and who does not are more significant than the issue itself.
This makes it extremely difficult to think clearly about most issues, if their discussion is essentially emotional and where facts are presented according to the case they are held to support, and are therefore selective. This may all be grist to the political mill, where power is and control are more important than function and effectiveness, and where essential discussions and decisions on priorities and resources are clouded by matters of image and presentation.
But the gospels give us a different perspective. Jesus had said “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ “ and in this I can only see the sense that we should say what we mean and only make promises that we will keep: without distortion, evasion or deception. Perhaps the most revealing comment is that made by Pilate to Jesus: “What is truth?” when presented with the reality of Jesus who is the Truth.
Of course it is easy to become all self-righteously indignant at the (perceived??) failures of our leaders when we still need to be honest with ourselves, and there are two aspects to this. First, we all need to see ourselves as Jesus sees us – and if we ask Him, He will indeed show us what we are like. It may not be comfortable, and yet to know that He looks at us and within us and points us to His priorities will be strangely comforting. It will mean admitting our faults and sins before Him, and not trying to evade or excuse their reality.
Second, it will mean being willing to receive His forgiveness, as He gives it. It was Charles Wesley, in whose hymn “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise” said (v 3) “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me.” This means that we need also to be willing to receive His forgiveness, and to know that when Jesus forgives, He forgets, and then he forgets that He has forgiven.