Thought for the Day - Rev Rosemary Lain-Priestley

Good morning

No keynote speech at any party conference would be complete without soundbites. This week Ed Miliband did not disappoint with his reference to ‘wealth creators and asset strippers, producers and predators’ and his follow-up about not being anti business but anti business as usual.

A quick search for political soundbites on the internet comes up with some amusing results – including on You-Tube a spoof interview with David Cameron where a series of his soundbites are run together so that his message becomes the opposite of what he would really want to say.

A soundbite is a double edged sword. It is deliberately memorable of course, that’s the point, but once it is out there in the public domain it has a life of its own. It can very easily be taken out of context and is heard differently according to people’s own personal filters and assumptions. The use of a soundbite to clarify and inform can go badly wrong when its originator isn’t there to say ‘No, that’s not at all what I meant’.

Perhaps one of the most well-known soundbites from the New Testament – and the one most likely to make our hackles rise when misused - is Jesus’s phrase ‘You must be born again’. It comes from his conversation with Nicodemus, a man who was trying to work out what he might learn from him and how he might tune into his perspective on life. Jesus, in telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, is saying: You need to look at the world with new eyes, view it from a different perspective, only that way will you see the presence of God.

Nowadays the phrase ‘Are you born again?’ is often used as a way of testing people’s religious credentials, whether or not they are genuinely in the club. It loses its exploratory, encouraging and life-giving tone and becomes a term of judgment. I would hazard a guess that this was not what Jesus intended at all.

Soundbites are neither a good nor a bad thing in themselves. They can be funny, useful, poignant and helpful in crystallising a speaker’s message. If they are clever and appropriate to the subject they can move a debate forward, even if they do this by giving the speaker’s opponents something to kick against. But soundbites are only of real use if, when the speech has ended, we are inspired or provoked to turn our attention to the issues behind the words. On its own the clever use of language will not resolve complex political problems or change the landscape of people’s lives.

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