Thought for the Day - 02/07/2014 - Rev Dr Sam Wells

The conviction of Rolf Harris on 12 counts of indecent assault against four girls and young women vindicates the courage of those who came forward as witnesses, and leaves the wider public confused and sad. Yesterday I heard a child singing, ‘Two little boys had two little toys.’ I found myself saying, ‘I’m not sure you should sing that song anymore.’ When the child said, ‘Why?’ I opened my mouth to explain; but no words came out. I wanted to say, ‘Because it makes people cry.’

We all have idols, people whose attributes and achievements lift us out of the mundane and make us hope, and gasp, and dream. Celebrity culture’s a way of commodifying the famous, of keeping them at arm’s length, so we can spectate from a safe distance. But there are others who we’re also drawn to – not because they’re beautiful or clever, but because they’re warm, and human, and have the ability to draw out the texture and poetry of life. We don’t admire these people – we love them. Admiring someone is a way of protecting ourselves from loving them. But once we love them, and invest in them all our projections about safety, and permanence, and trust, then we’re profoundly hurt if the truth turns out to be very different from how we’d always assumed.

What do we do with that hurt? We may well feel naïve, and look round and think, ‘Am I a fool, and is everyone a deceiver, an exploiter, a cheat?’ It’s then easy to develop a cynical armour that mistrusts and pushes away any gesture of tenderness and intimacy. But this is to allow ourselves to be punished twice, first by the poisoning of past relationships, and second by the undermining of future ones. Or we may single out a man like Rolf Harris as a uniquely perverse individual, worthy of our revulsion. But that’s to ignore disturbing traits that are widespread in human nature.

The second-century Christian theologian Irenaeus offers us these words: ‘Keep your heart in a soft and malleable state, that it may receive the imprint of God’s hands upon your life.’ I love that phrase, ‘a soft and malleable state.’ If we’re going to enjoy and share the truest and most intimate wonders of existence, we have to keep our hearts soft and malleable, lest the things that matter most bounce off us and we miss the true texture and tenderness of creation. This means we’ll remain exposed to being deeply hurt by people near and far who betray our trust and disappoint our hopes. Truly to live requires us to keep a soft heart. But to survive we may also need to cultivate a thick skin.

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