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Optics (27 May)

Recent events have got me thinking about ‘optics’. No, I haven’t been thinking about glasses (although I am reminded of the reason for cleaning your glasses: you can’t be optimistic with a misty optic). I have been thinking about political optics. That’s the way that events are perceived by the public. I am not going to go into the wrongs or rights of what Dominic Cummings did or said, or the Prime Minister’s responses about them, but it seems to me that they have made judgements based on the optics of the scenario. I suspect that the initial judgment was that if they kept quiet the storm would pass, but as the clamour got louder there was a realisation that a public statement needed to be made to change the optics. That is why we had the unprecedented press conference in the garden at 10 Downing Street yesterday when Mr Cummings explained his actions.

Much of what is said and done in public life is affected by optics – how it will be perceived. And in a society where public opinion matters then sometimes it feels that optics matter more than anything else.

It’s not just contemporary politics where optics matter. Remember Judas’s reaction to the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, poured expensive perfume over them and wiped them with her hair? At face value he seems to have been worried about the expense. But was he perhaps more concerned about the optics? How would it look if people thought Jesus was allowing strange women to treat him that way? What would people think about the extravagance and how he seemed to have encouraged it rather than condemning it? Could it damage Jesus’ approval ratings at a time when the authorities were looking for ways to discredit him, or even worse? Of course we know that he had missed the point entirely. This wasn’t about ruining Jesus’ reputation, it was about restoring hers. It wasn’t about the cost of the perfume it was about the cost of forgiveness. It wasn’t about an embarrassment caused by the excluded it was about embracing one who knew she was included.

Do we think about optics? Have we changed our online meetings background so people can see how many theological books we own and be impressed? Do we track the statistics and comments about our latest online service to see how many people watched and how many ‘thumbs up’ we got, and does that affect what we may say? Do we sometimes hope that people will let others know that we have been helpful to them, and perhaps drop into a conversation how busy we have been to ensure that people are impressed with us? Are we sometimes more aware of the loud voices in our church and change what we were planning to do or say in order not to upset those people in particular?

Jesus was not worried about optics. The only person he sought to please was his Father in heaven. That’s why the first part of his prayer-pattern is: “Our Father in heaven, your name is holy. May your will be done and your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” He knew the worshipping woman’s heart – that she was seeking to show her gratitude, love and devotion and she didn’t care about the optics – Jesus mattered most. May we have the same approach to all that we say and do – for an audience of One.

Bless you

For your prayers:

This week we are praying for Benfleet Baptist Church, and we invite you all to join us each day in our week of prayer as part of Thy Kingdom Come – details are on the EBA website:

On Sunday Graeme is virtually joining Braintree Baptist Church on YouTube and Beth and I will join with churches somewhere else.

Be blessed, be a blessing


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