Paul's Letter

Dear Friends,

Last Saturday night the Timmis family sat down to watch the Eurovision Song Contest together. I have to confess to having a love/hate relationship with Eurovision. I love my childhood memories of Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses for Me (1976), Bucks Fizz’s Making Your Mind Up (1981) and, of course, of all those ‘Royaume-Uni: nul points’ announcements most other years. I wasn’t quite five years old when ABBA won with Waterloo (1974) and, as result, I have no actual memories of that performance but I have a soft spot for them and for that song so I’ll add that to the ‘loves’ column as well.

Hate is a strong word, I know, but everything else about Eurovision probably falls into that category for me. The music is, in my less than humble opinion, mostly banal and dreadful; the politics is infuriating (“I thought this was meant to be a song contest!”) and the judging process has, for much of its history, been interminable. So why do I watch it more often than not? I have absolutely no idea.

This year there was at least the added attraction of a performance by Madonna. When it was announced that one of the two songs that she was to perform was Like A Prayer I was genuinely delighted. Although never a massive fan, I own a few of her albums and this is far away my favourite Madonna track and one that I have loved since it was first released 30 years ago (yes, THIRTY! Where does the time go?) Anyway, I confidently assured the girls that this was going to be the highlight of the night. ‘Madonna will show them all how it’s done’, I proclaimed. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Her vocal performance was all over the place even to my untrained ears. Being kind, I put it down to her being thrown by the minimalistic, monotonous Gregorian chant-like backing and it just being ‘a bad day at the office’. We all have them, after all.

What’s interesting is that a video of Madonna’s Eurovision performance subsequently appeared on her YouTube channel sounding remarkably different. In an article entitled, ‘Why did people hate Madonna’s 2019 ‘Eurovision’ performance? A professional singer explains’, Classic FM presenter and soprano, Catherine Bott, compares this video to the original broadcast and concludes that the edited version has ‘clearly been auto-tuned to within an inch of its life’ and that the actual performance is ‘Madonna au naturale and very badly tuned indeed.’ Needless to say, this less than subtle switch has drawn as much criticism as her Eurovision appearance and, in the online world, it has seemingly been declared “open season” as far as ridiculing her is concerned.

Please don’t misunderstand me: this isn’t an ‘in defence of Madonna’ piece. I can though see why Madonna would want to re-write history and offer a more polished version of herself to the world. Who wouldn’t? It’s what we do as human beings, isn’t it? Most of us will be able to look back over our lives and remember times when we have said or done something that we wish we could turn back time on and change. Beyond all of this, psychologists frequently remind us that our recollections are malleable, that our memories aren’t always reliable and that, in fact, we have an inherent ability to edit our recordings of events so that, each time we revisit them, the playback is slightly different. I have no idea why this is so - or exactly how it happens - but experience suggests to me that there is probably some truth in this claim.

For all of this, I long for a Church in which people feel safe enough to be able to be who they truly are before one another, all masks removed, knowing absolutely that there is no need for ‘performance’.

Psalm 139 reminds us that God knows us to the very core of our being. If this is so, what are we really hoping to achieve by all of our pretending anyway? Perhaps we should view the Psalmist’s words as an invitation from God to be ourselves, an invitation that offers freedom if we could only respond to it. Which sounds a bit like a prayer to me.

With every blessing,