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Reform Magazine | August 17, 2017

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Jumble Sales of the apocalypse: Social faux pas

Jumble Sales of the apocalypse: Social faux pas

Simon Jenkins on social faux pas

One Sunday, in a church in Cornwall, the minister had a problem with his radio mic. It was the start of the morning service and everyone was getting ready to sing the first hymn; but the minister was struggling to locate the microphone lead under his vestments. Spotting the problem, the sound desk guy rushed to the front, knelt down behind the minister and adjusted the lead. “Er, it’s all right,” said the hapless minister to the congregation: “He’s just turning me on.”

Human miscalculation in the religious life can leave a congregation rocking with laughter, but not always. Take just two mishaps in the past few weeks which found their way into the media. In the first, the doves of the Vatican came under attack – and, for once, that’s not a reference to liberal modernisers in the Roman curia.

Two children released real, cooing doves from the pope’s window overlooking St Peter’s Square, to huge applause from the crowd below. But then, a crow and a seagull swooped in and suddenly the doves of peace were being pecked by the seagull of doubt and the crow of derision. In other words, the intended symbolism of the moment got rather lost.

The press coverage was bad enough, but then animal welfare groups started lecturing the pope on the folly of releasing domesticated birds into the avian rough-house that is Rome, and Francis was probably left reflecting on how this never happened to John the Baptist.

This pope does have amazing good luck though, because, just a day later, a man in the St Peter’s Square crowd offered the Holy Father his pet parrot, who hopped onto the Pope’s finger and said: “Papa!” What are the chances that a pilgrim would bring his parrot to see the pope? Those Vatican spin doctors have everything covered, don’t they?

The second mishap was a lot more theological, and, in a way, more fascinating. Some bright person had the idea of scripting a text message conversation between Jesus and an iPhone user and putting the screenshot into an evangelistic leaflet. The conversation (pictured) went back and forth like this:

“Hey”
“What’s up”
“We need to talk”
“Can it wait? I’m kinda busy”
“That’s the problem. You seem too busy for me”
“I’ll make it up to you. Maybe tomorrow”

A problem arose when a sharp-eyed user of the social media channel Reddit noticed something wrong. The texts were meant to be started by Jesus, trying to get a distracted believer’s attention, but the bubbles were the wrong way round. It looked like Jesus couldn’t be bothered to answer prayers right now.

This triggered a flood of comedy and comment on Reddit. Some users were intrigued as to why Jesus was so distracted: “Jesus, are you seeing someone else?” asked Human_Sandwich, while MisterWoodhouse suggested Jesus’ next text: “Trying to beat my Father’s high score in Candy Crush. The guy is Godlike at this game…”

But alongside all the banter, small discussions of issues arising started to crop up. There was a flurry of debate about prayer. An argument about the Trinity started with mockery but became quite educational. Some users cast doubt on whether Jesus ever actually lived, and others pointed to the historical evidence. And there was some to and fro about free will, to the point where one user quoted the philosopher Alvin Plantinga.

It got to the point where a user called teeelo asked: “Wouldn’t it be great if the creator of this ad knew exactly what they were doing?”

Sometimes things go wrong in our communication and it leads to laughter or criticism rather than the things we were hoping for. But maybe, more often than we think, positive things spin out of it as well, such as genuine conversation and encounter, as happened here. Our crazy mistakes can reveal our flawed humanity and draw people to us.

Simon Jenkins is the editor of shipoffools.com. Follow Simon on Twitter: @simonjenks

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This article was published in the March 2014 issue of  Reform

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