Love, Love, Peace, Peace
You should also, apparently, have Russians on roller skates, topless men drumming, a man in a hamster wheel, an old woman in traditional national costume, and - of course - a burning, fake piano.
The song they constructed out of all these elements and more, in the interval while the votes were being cast, was an absolute triumph, showcasing all the kitsch, quirky and downright bizarre elements we have come to love in the increasingly global song contest (Australia competed again this year, and it was broadcast live in the US for the first time).
But then Ukraine won with a simple song about war and death. Clearly the world didn’t get the memo.
‘1944’, described by The Guardian as a “ballad about [Stalin’s] deportation of Crimean Tatars”, was written and performed by Jamala (Susana Jamaladynova), who said the song was inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience of that deportation during WWII.
In a phone interview in the run-up to the competition, Jamala told The Guardian, “[If I win,] it will mean that modern European people are not indifferent, and are ready to hear about the pain of other people and are ready to sympathise”. I think she was right. Her song certainly wasn’t a typical Eurovision pop extravaganza with a bouncy beat, catchy tune and memorable refrain. It was honest and real and born out of real emotion, and I think that is what the voters responded to. It was a song with meaning.
Its meaning, however, ruffled feathers in Russia, where it was felt that maybe the lyrics had some allusions to the more recent annexation of the Crimea. Could it be that a victim of a dispute was making a negative reference to that dispute? Scandalous!
Jamala, “herself a Crimean Tatar who has not been home since shortly after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula”, made no secret of the modern application of the song:
Of course it’s about 2014 as well. These two years have added so much sadness to my life. Imagine – you’re a creative person, a singer, but you can’t go home for two years. You see your grandfather on Skype, who is 90 years old and ill, but you can’t visit him. What am I supposed to do: just sing nice songs and forget about it? Of course I can’t do that.
The weekend’s news also featured another uproar caused by a reference to historical events: Boris Johnson likened the trajectory of the EU to other attempts to create a single, superstate in Europe - attempts by people like Napoleon and Hitler. While he was clear that the EU is not using the same tactics, he felt that the goal was the same, and was equally pernicious.
Oh and then there was the Queen last week, who was recorded saying that officials in the Chinese delegation to the UK last year had been very rude to the Ambassador (not that the Chinese as a whole are very rude, as many headlines encouraged us to believe).
And what about… well, I’m sure you can think of more. There are plenty of examples of people saying - or singing - things that are factually, objectively, demonstrably true, but which cause deep offence among those of whom they are said.
Yet who comes off looking worse in those exchanges? Almost always the person kicking up the fuss.
Why? Because taking offence when someone points out your faults is usually a sign of insecurity or pride (or both - they’re not, as many believe, incompatible).
As Christians, we can, indeed should, be modelling a different way to respond to criticism. We’ve got the mandate (Turn the other cheek; as far as it depends on you, live at peace with one another; forgive your brother seventy-times-seven times; love one another as I have loved you…) and, as we celebrated this weekend, the supernatural power, to do so.
When I am criticised, my first response is to get defensive, and to start finding reasons to justify what I’ve done - preferably reasons that put the blame on someone else! ‘I would have completed that piece of work, but you gave me ten other things to do that you said were more important!’ (Insecurity - I’m afraid you’ll fire me.) ‘Yes, I ran into the back of that car, but she stopped too suddenly and there was nothing I could do about it.’ (Pride - I want you to know I’m a good driver.) ‘The woman you put here gave me the apple and I ate…’ (Both - I’m a good person, I was just tricked - but please don’t be angry with me.)
None of these responses allows me to apologise, to heal the relationship or to grow. In fact, even as I write about these hypothetical situations, I can feel the tension, the flooding shame, the anxiety that I have experienced in similar circumstances, even from years ago.
Yet as I think about the times when I have been, for whatever reason, teachable and correctable, the accompanying feeling is just one of peace. There have been times when I’ve been able to say, ‘You’re right, I did that. I’m sorry,’ or ‘Oh I see, I need to work on that, don’t I? Can you give me some pointers?’ and those times have resulted in the relationship developing and deepening, and in the other person’s respect for me rising.
It’s one of those weird paradoxes of life, that when I try to justify myself, save face and look good, I invariably lose face, look ridiculous and am haunted by it for years. When I am willing to humble myself, though, and accept the criticism, I actually go up in the other person’s esteem and am able to live free of shame and humiliation. Funny how Jesus understood that (Matthew 23:12).
Our culture - our world - needs to learn how to respond to criticism like this, to shrug off that which is untrue, and to take responsibility for that which is true, without wishing to fight back, to self-justify, or to take umbrage and sulk. They don’t have any great teachers modelling how to do this; all they have is us. Can we as individuals, as churches, as movements, as factions, start trying to model it and show the world a better way?
It takes security in our identity in Christ, a humble assessment of our own abilities/position/rightness, and a generous dollop of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, but we can do it, I’m sure.
I tell you what, next time you feel your hackles rising and your ‘offense mode’ kicking in, just take a deep breath, watch this video, and remember, Love, Love, Peace, Peace…