1 May 2021 |

You may remember I visited Milan a few years ago – I am so pleased I managed to get there before the onslaught of the pandemic – to attend an opera at the Teatro alla Scala. It had been on my ‘bucket list’ since I went to my first opera nearly 50 years ago. I am a great fan of Puccini, who wrote among others Madam Butterfly, but among opera fans I would be looked down on because Puccini is very populist, unlike the more serious operas by Verdi or Wagner!

I think lovers of opera fall into the same trap lovers of good wine do. Personally, I think if I like it, then it is good. I used to live with a ‘wine snob’ who spent about ten minutes swirling the wine round his glass, sipping it, making a gargling noise, again some more swirling, this time around his mouth, before at last actually swallowing it. It drove me mad!

I like musicals. And even here, there are serious musicals – for example those of Stephen Sondheim – and there are popular musicals, like those of Andrew Lloyd Webber. There is a hierarchy of taste – sometimes called ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’, an idea originating in white people thinking they had superior taste and high foreheads over those of a black skin, who had no taste and a low forehead. How did a Shakespearean play go from being popular entertainment for the masses, to a serious work of art for those ‘in the know’, who have to sit in silence during performances? Try sitting through an opera in the amphitheatre in Italy’s Verona, where the Italians bring picnics, talk through the performance and cheer and shout when a ‘popular’ aria is being sung.

I admit: I too can be a culture snob, preferring more ‘serious’ works of art, to the more popular and populist art of today. 

Probably the area I feel less at ease with, is the attitudes we have to worship. Let’s take hymns as an example – quite controversial, I am sure. Are there some hymns more suitable for worship? Its true there is a different style for those sung by congregations to those sung by choirs and/or soloists. But I do feel very uncomfortable in a what we regard as a normal congregation listening, or joining in, with a gospel choir. “Dad dancing” comes to mind. Certain churches look down on the use of choruses, or perhaps the old Victorian hymns we were brought up with – and perhaps its equally true, when put the other way round, a preference for those old traditional hymns over the more ‘complex’ modern hymn, chorus or not. It always amuses me to recall the origins of Christmas carols – tunes from drinking houses or folk songs – and how most of them have been around for fewer years than we think.

Is my preference for a modern, but ‘more accurate’ translation of the Bible (like the New Revised Standard Version) over the Good News Bible, say, a hidden snobbery? I am challenged too by my preference for binary thinking where I see the world in either/or terms, when actually the world is far more an ‘and/and everything in between’ world. Do we see the world full of either black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, the led or the follower type people? In Hebrew the use of extremes is actually a sign that the writer thought it included everything in-between!

If we are to be churches that accept everyone and if we believe the Gospel news is for all, we are going to have to review how we think and be more open and honest about our prejudices. 

 I posted a photo on Facebook recently and was surprised by those who liked it as much as by those who ignored it. It said: “No matter how open-minded, socially conscious, anti-racist I think I am, I still have old, learned hidden biases that I need to examine. It is my responsibility to check myself daily for my stereotypes, prejudice and, ultimately, discrimination.”