The good lady of the house went to see Mamma Mia last night, there weren’t many blokes there. The sad thing is that if I had gone, I would have known all the words. I dug out my vinyl, and then remembered something I wrote four years ago. The posts were more thoughtful in those days – I’m still mystified at contriving to use Abba to make a theological point.
23rd June 2004
The approach of the summer holidays brings the prospect of a return visit to Somerset, and my parents’ home which I left in 1983 to get married.
Back with my parents in Somerset last summer my mother said, ‘Oh, by the way, I found your records’.
‘Mum’, I said, ‘I don’t have any records. I don’t have anything on which to play any records’.
‘Well, look in that box in the hall’. I looked. There were about fifty black vinyl 45 r.p.m. records, most of them in their original sleeves. I had assumed that 20 years ago such things had gone off to a jumble sale. For 20 years my records had been lying somewhere. I think one of my sisters might have had them for a while, but here they were back again.
I looked through them and they evoked a flood of memories.
‘Look at that one’, I said to my daughter Miriam. I paid a guy called Neil Hill 30 pence for that in 1976 because we were going out from school one Saturday afternoon and he had no money. (I remembered that Neil Hill was less charitably known as ‘Stalag’ because his poor health left him terribly emaciated – school can be a terribly cruel place). ‘Let’s play this record’, I said.
Miriam laughed at the primitive process involved. My mother suggested using the turntable that was above the CD player in the sitting room, ‘if not’ she said, ‘your old record player is up in the attic’. I was about to say that I didn’t have a record player and then remembered inheriting one from two guys I had shared a house with who had gone off to India in search of spirituality – it wasn’t even stereo. (The last I heard of one of the guys was that he was married and living in a posh part of Surrey). We played the record, from the summer of 1976, Abba singing ‘Dancing Queen’.
‘Dad’, said Miriam, ‘the sound quality is awful’. It was. I had forgotten how bad 45s sounded and how they only lasted three minutes. Nevertheless, it was brilliant. It evoked memories of a hot summer and big flared trousers and school friends playing silly pranks and hikes on Dartmoor and days when the future had unlimited possibilities. It was three minutes of smiles.
There used to be a slot on BBC Radio 1 on weekday mornings in the 1970s called ‘Our Tune’. The DJ, I think it was Simon Bates (he’s on Classic FM now), used to read people’s personal stories, sometimes happy, sometimes poignant, sometimes tearful, and at the end of the story the person would request a particular record, a tune that evoked for them the memories of particular moments. Being hopelessly sentimental in those days, I could be in tears by the end of the story!
Reflecting on the power of a single record to bring thoughts and memories and emotions, I wondered where I had gone wrong in my job. Presented with an unparalleled story about a most amazing, charismatic and life-changing man, I should be on strong ground when it comes to pulling on people’s heartstrings. I have a true hero, a hero who fights injustice, who frees those who are trapped, who leaves no life untouched amongst those whom he meets. He faces opposition, persecution, violence and finally death. In a blinding flash on a Sunday morning he walks out triumphant.
I’ve been given a story to tell that should draw on every single emotion of those who hear it. Instead of simply telling that story I’ve let the Church get in front of Jesus, most people now cannot see beyond the institution and its traditions; the power and the glory of the story have been lost.
Like digging out the old records and hearing them as I heard them at the time, with the emotions and the memories they evoke, I need to retell the story of Jesus as it is, free of all that has become attached to it, and allow the story the power to touch people’s hearts.