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To Be Absolutely Clear . . .

To Be Absolutely Clear . . .

Before I begin, I would like to be absolutely clear that I propose to be completely transparent . . .

If you give even a passing attention to political statements and interviews, you’ll have been showered with words like “clarity” and “transparency” which are totally obscure and cloudy.

Words tell stories, create visions, inspire adventure. I’m a bit frustrated when language is abused or meanings changed by passing fads and fashions. American euphemisms like “rest room” for toilet, “passed on” (died), “let go” (sacked), casket (coffin) irritate me. I abominate “you guys” for a collection of two or more people. Maybe it’s something to do with my Yorkshire upbringing, where we call a spade a spade (or a shovel). I’m allergic to catch phrases and social media jargon. Of course I realise language is dynamic and changes over time. Nevertheless, I accept defeat with regret when the new meaning of a word such as “gay” is completely absorbed into mainstream vocabulary.

Politicians are particularly prone in polluting language. Political speak permeates radio, TV and newsprint. “Clarity” is currently fashionable, with its twin, “transparency”. I expect you, like me, have listened to an opponent demanding clarity about something that you thought was perfectly understandable. In this case clarity seems to mean “an answer that agrees with my point of view”. Any alternative is unclear—what you are saying is not transparent because it is not the answer I would like to hear.

On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve heard answers that begin “to be perfectly clear . . .” which then go on, often at great length, to be impenetrably obscure. There is also the demand for clarity and transparency when no answer is available. Often the interrogator knows this. The current pandemic is a classic case. Even after eighteen months there is much we still don’t know about it. Politicians are bombarded with questions which interviewers choose because they know there are no answers. It’s a kind of game, points are scored according to the level of ignorance revealed and embarrassment achieved. It’s called “gotcha” interviewing. Never mind working together cooperatively for a solution, or to discover the truth: under the guise of “holding the government to account” let’s make it as difficult as possible to find a solution seems to be the agenda.

This question and answer tug of war is not new. Throughout the Gospels we find Scribes and Pharisees trying to trip up Jesus in just this way. They never succeeded. In the end they gave up debate and crucified him. A common misconception is that Jesus used parables to make it easier for people to understand. He told stories about farmers, tax collectors, harvest, fishing, everyday experience familiar to his audience. It’s true that in simple parables the meaning is obvious, yet often even his closest disciples had a hard time working out an interpretation. Some parables were like an impossibly difficult crossword puzzle. In Matthew 13, after the Parable of the Sower, we get this fascinating insight:

10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?

11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

In other words, I teach with parables so that they won’t understand. Verse sixteen refers to the fact that the disciples got to know because he explained the parables to them. In fact, immediately after this conversation he went on to explain the meaning of the Parable of the Sower to them. Without his explanation the disciples were just as clueless as everyone else. Those who came for entertainment (or for mischief), but were not true followers and didn’t linger, missed the explanation. Furthermore, a helpful feature of parables is that people remember stories more easily than abstract teaching.

The strange dance between politicians and reporters today parallels the problem Jesus was addressing through parables. Some of the listeners were just not ready to accept the doctrine. He would not put them under an obligation they were unable to keep. They were not spiritually mature enough. More deviously, others listened carefully to use his words to trap and convict him, not interested in truth or clarity. No doubt the Scribes and Pharisees would go away and chew over the hidden meanings of obscure parables in empty debate, or stalk off, stung at parables plainly told against themselves.

The underlying principle is true now as it was then. The source of truth, light and clarity is our Saviour Jesus Christ. Through him we make our way through a confusing cocktail of social trends, popular culture, deliberate obfuscation, and political precepts. It seems such a simple thing to ask him, yet, just as in Jesus’ time, few do it. At the end of the Book of Mormon, two verses are famous and known by all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Moroni 10:4 states: “if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. The significance of verse 5 though is often missed. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” This applies to intellectual, social and scientific issues; it isn’t limited to spiritual or theological questions. Jesus Christ is the source of all truth. However, it requires strenuous effort, faith and commitment, just as it did two thousand years ago.

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