I admit it: I'm not the biggest fan of Songs of Praise, though my wife and I watch it most weeks after cathedral evensong over a cup of tea. Put it down to my getting old and grumpy, but I find myself irritated by its relentless feel-good tone, its love of the bright, shiny and can-do, and the often jejune melodies and lyrics of its hymns and songs (and I don't just mean the contemporary ones). Sometimes it feels perilously close to religion-lite.
However, we all know that it has a devoted following. And the programme has at
times achieved real depth. This has often been when it has explored the darker side
of human experience such as human pain whether physical or emotional,
relationships that are undergoing stress, remembrance of war and conflict, and
death and bereavement. Such themes have brought out the best in presenters who
show how good they are at interviewing people who are suffering with real
sensitivity and insight.
This is why I was pleased to
read yesterday that Songs of
Praise is visiting the Jungle migrants' camp at Calais. I first
read about it on the front page of The
Sun. (What was I doing reading that particular newspaper? Answer: I
was at our new house to see how the decorators were progressing. There it was
in the kitchen. I couldn't resist the temptation to pick it up - it made a
change from Friday's Guardian.) I tweeted: 'It's not
often that mainstream Christian faith makes it on to the front page of The Sun'.
Then I looked inside. True to
form, the paper fulminated self-righteously about what a wicked thing it was to
do this. The BBC sending Songs of Praise to the Calais migrant camp amid the current chaos is like something from Monty Python. Will we get to see migrants wrestling with riot police and storming lorries as a choir stands at the Channel tunnel welcoming them with a rousing rendition of Jerusalem? The
BBC is showing its trendy lefty colours once again. It shouldn't be supporting
the migrants and making a political point out of them. It's the police and
border personnel who are protecting our shores from migrants who are the real
heroes and who deserve our support. The migrants must be stopped from trying to
get into Britain. And so on. I've paraphrased.
So I want to applaud the
BBC's decision to cross the Channel and broadcast from The Jungle. I have no
doubt that SOP
will do it compassionately and sensitively, but also intelligently and fairly.
The Church already has a presence in The Jungle where a tent has been set up
for migrants to gather and worship in. I'm glad that SOP can be there to give
the migrants air-time in a broadcast forum where it would be so easy to pretend
they don't exist. We need to hear their voices in other contexts than daily
What's the answer to the
scornful Pharisees at The Sun?
It's pretty obvious. Just ask what Jesus would do. He would be in The Jungle,
of course, just as he kept company with a lot of other people the establishment
of his day found it difficult to tolerate. It's not that Jesus didn't maintain
a clear head about the weighty matters of the law such as duty and justice. Nor
is it that he didn't grasp the endless complexity of human life. It's simply
that where he saw people in need of touch, tenderness and a listening ear
without the threat of sanction and exclusion, he was there with them.
'I am for the suffering
people' said Mother Mary Pilenko, a Russian nun who championed Jewish victims
of the holocaust. She herself was to die at the camp at Ravensbrück because she
stepped in to take the place of a frightened woman who was waiting to go into
the gas chamber. The church must always be for, and stand with, all who are
victims and who are the suffering people of our time.
I'm very glad that Songs of
Praise has made the courageous decision to be there too. Three
cheers for the BBC once again.