Saturday, 8 August 2015

Songs of Praise in The Jungle at Calais

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 news reports.

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.

6 comments:

  1. I so agree. Sadly it will provide one more excuse for the government to criticise and try to limit the effectiveness of the BBC.

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  2. Another example of the BBC being prepared to go where others (aka commercial channels) fear to venture.
    No matter what the BBC does to try and protect itself over the coming (vital) months Parliament's right wingers, cheered on by Rupert Murdoch, will do all in their power to dismantle a truly valuable British institution.

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  3. Every time the stance taken by the Sun and like-minded newspapers is challenged the response is deafening. Sadly government figures are doing nothing to change the tone but are using the language of which such publications would approve. I am pleased that the Church, aided by the BBC, has taken the bold step of being alongside the vulnerable and powerless. As we are reminded above, this is what Jesus would surely have done in such a situation.

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  4. What is wrong with you people? The BBC is an organisation shot through with nepotism and celebrity worshipping luvvies. They do not do things like having songs of praise at Calais as a nod to Christian values it is done to bolster the vanity of their editors and so they can congratulate themselves on their warped liberalism. By the way it is not solely 'right wingers' who want the BBC to be made to operate more accountably and in a less profligate manner.

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