A couple of days ago John Clarke died. He dropped dead of natural causes at the age of 68 doing what he loved best; bush-walking with his family and photographing birds. John Clarke is a household name in Australia and New Zealand (Fred Dagg for NZers), well known as a TV personality, satirist and critic of government policy and behaviour. He and his fellow critic Bryan Dawes have run a weekly 2 minute mock interview onTV for almost as long as I can remember, where Dawes would interview Clarke acting as a member of the Government or Opposition, about current issues and policy. The interviews were enormously funny, pertinent, critical, but never vicious, patronizing or sarcastic. Parliament members on both sides of politics, right up to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition had praise and respect for John Clarke in their obituary comments.
John Clarke loved people and among the comments flooding the Australian and New Zealand social networks, there were many expressions of how he had always had time for a conversation, no matter how busy he was. His satire was always carefully thought out to get his message across without offending those to whom the satire was addressed. He left nothing to chance, even though his TV mock interviews seem so off-the-cuff. One of his colleagues said of him:
As scathing and incisive as his comedy could be, it was infused with an overwhelming, generous humanity that was the essence of the man. He loved what he was doing, he rejoiced in it. He was having fun, and it was infectious. Ben Pobjie
I don’t know whether John was religious. He was a New Zealander, and a keen bird photographer, which puts him in my good books for a start. But John practised the golden rule of communication: Treat the people that you are criticising as friends. His intelligent sense of humour and dry wit have always helped.
John Clarke’s career has a valuable lesson for us as Christians. All too often our sense of rightness about our beliefs and practices are expressed without regard to how they make others feel. Even here on the Sabbath School Net, when we disagree on the Trinity, the relationship of grace and the law, church music and all the other issues where we have a variety of opinions, we sometimes use language that good friends would never use to one another. We are sometimes patronizing, using words that indicate the other person is stupid, ignorant, or deceived, to hold that belief.
When we feel compelled to tell someone they are wrong it is worth remembering: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 5:35. It is a test of our character to be able to disagree with someone, yet remain friends with them.
The same applies when we are interacting with people not of our faith, or who are unchurched. We often say what we want to hear, not what they can hear and understand. Here is something to think about: I have atheist friends who are deeply critical of Christianity. Some of that criticism is justified and some of it is based on misunderstanding. I make it a rule never to oppose them in a public forum because it is all too easy to say something in the heat of the moment that you would later regret because it does not reflect the spirit of Christianity. Silence is sometimes the best witness. When the opportunity arises in private then you can talk to one another, respecting each other’s views.
Being Christ-like, led by the Holy Spirit, does not mean that we need to get up the noses of those we disagree with. We can learn from John Clark, who made a career out of being critical of wrong and injustice in such a way that even his targets still respected him.
The Psalmist knew that what we say needs to be thought out carefully:
I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.
I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred.
My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am. Ps 39: 1-4
Could this description by the Psalmist apply to us:
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. Ps 126: 2.