Piano 1

Of all the TV programmes over Christmas and the New Year there was one which gripped more than any other. No not ‘Downton Abbey’, far too depressing for Christmas night, not the Raymond Briggs animation ‘The Snowdog’, cute though it was, not even the Strictly Christmas Special, my interest ends the week before with the presentation of the glitter ball trophy. No it was in fact the Victoria Woods scripted drama ‘Loving Miss Hatto’.

‘Loving Miss Hatto’ was based on the true story of Joyce Hatto, concert pianist who enjoyed mixed reviews during her career in the 50’s and 60’s. However she shot to fame shortly before her death when recordings attributed to her began to circulate and receive wide acclaim. It was only after her death in 2006 that it was claimed that the recordings had been plagiarised. Her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, a record producer who had been found guilty of tax fraud 40 years previously, initially denied any wrong-doing but admitted that he had copied works by other pianists and put them out over his wife’s name.

It was a touching drama of enduring love and deceit. It spoke to me of a malaise in society that of the need to be appreciated whatever the cost.

Authenticity is important. Being authentic is not to be perfect but it is to be genuine; a faithful, honest depiction of what is true.

As Christians, we do ourselves no favours by living a life of pretence. Once the deceit becomes apparent even the good things that we achieved will be brought into question.

It is better to be honest about ourselves.
• About the struggle to live the life to which we are called
• About the mistakes we make
• About the doubts that assail us
• And so much more.

Our critics have a field day when we hold on to fantasy and ignore the facts. I offer two examples.

Example one: the birth narratives were ultimately intended to convey a message, not record historical events. The sooner we get to grips with this the better.

Without Matthew we would know nothing of Joseph’s dream and Magi from the East. Without Luke we would know nothing of Mary’s Magnificat and shepherds on hillsides. But the message is that this Jesus who enthralled thousands on the hillsides of Galilee was born of an earthly father and mother, and as the Son of God was recognised by the wealthy and the poor alike, from far away and near.

Example two: the challenges Jesus laid down were intended to encourage and not condemn. The sooner we appreciate this fact the better.

Because the Gospel accounts were written at a time of tension within the Jewish communities, Jerusalem had fallen and the Temple had been destroyed, it was inevitable that a debate would ensue as to which sect within Judaism would carry the purposes of God forward. Those who followed Jesus believed they were the ones to do so and those who followed the Pharisees and Rabbis were to found Rabbinic Judaism which exists and flourishes to this day. But at the time the debate spilt over into polemic and so Matthew in particular contains very harsh words about the Pharisees. ‘Woe to you scribes and Pharisees’ begins no fewer than eight attacks on an otherwise respected and pious group of people. All this sounds very contradictory to the Jesus who would not condemn a woman caught in adultery. What he is most concerned about is authenticity, that people should be honest about themselves, not engage in judgment but recognise their own weaknesses and failings.

Interestingly the term chosen by Matthew to describe those who are unable to stay true to the claims they make of themselves is hupokrates, the Greek word for actor which we have developed in to hypocrite which is defined as someone who claims to have higher standards or beliefs than is the case.

2012 was not a good year for authenticity.
• News that police officers had falsified statements on the Hillsborough disaster didn’t help.
• A US Presidential campaign never helps neither as insults are traded about the political rivals.
• Even a nature documentary used footage from a zoo but gave the impression it was shot in the wild!

And the Church takes a battering whenever same sex marriage or women bishops are debated.

We should be honest and stop pretending. We ain’t got everything right. Like the rest of society we do not have all the answers, indeed we still have a lot of questions still to be asked.

One of my favourite children’s books has to be the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. It is the story of a toy rabbit that wants to be as real as the rabbits he sees running around the garden. Conversations are held in the nursery and the following is an absolute gem:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Being a hypocrite, being inauthentic, pretending to be someone we are not arises out of an understandable fear of being seen to be what we truly are. We prefer others to view us as stronger, better, even more beautiful than we actually are. If they knew the truth our fear is that they won’t like us let alone love us.
God isn’t like that.

The coming of Jesus into our world as a weak, vulnerable child, in poverty, and as a member of an oppressed race, speaks volumes. It tells us that God loves us no matter what.

The psychotherapist Carl Jung claimed that ‘The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.’

It is never too late to be the person God intended you to be, that is yourself, as you are; to put to one aside what others expect you to be; to give up on being someone you are not.