Image sources: The internet.
This is generally known as a quote from humourist writer, Mark Twain, purported to be commenting on the false news of an illness that was killing him.
The two images above are ones I have come across this week – both expressions of some kind of fake news. The church notice sheet phrase – funny and likely as it is – was in fact doctored to look like ite appeared this week in the Chester Road church bulletin. I have also seen a version of it with 2019 as a date. Whether or not it had ever appeared as a poorly phrased but funnily genuine call to prayer at that church, or at any church, I do not know.
The Daily Star front page is fun! I thought Bigfoot was from North America but it turns out it’s a West Midlands monster. I have heard rumours of a panther on the Chase – going back years - so it must be very old now. Or was it a leopard? There are certainly reports of Jaguars there, but these are well attested sightings of cars being used for certain sexual activities.
The thing is, the context – a notice sheet from a Birmingham Baptist Church, or a newspaper – is something we have grown to trust. It is hard to not have some level of belief in the established organs of our culture. And the more intimately held that communication - a facebook post for instance – the more likely we are to trust its veracity.
With so much news around that sounds true but isn’t or doesn’t sound true but is, it is hard to know how to navigate the pathways that should be walked in the light of such news. Generally, the Bible has been held by Christians as the only truth, but even that is subject to translation, contextual and historical implications as well as debates over the meaning of language and the impact of style. The Bible does have plenty of truths about living that are clear and generally accepted. Crime doesn’t pay. Laziness does not get you anywhere. But these are broad brushstrokes, because we all suspect that for some, crime pays really well and doesn’t get found out, and laziness sounds like a brilliant kind of life if we all had the money to live that way. On a Greek island. With free food and drink and our villa cleaned.
The Bible’s role in the way we seek the truthful path, through the various truths, suspected half-truths and unsuspected untruths that surround us, is not to be a text book with a sentence for every situation. But it is the unfolding story of God who lives with people and come to bring wisdom and correction so that people and planet may flourish. But our approach needs to be like eating it, or soaking in it, or breathing it.
The genius of the bible is not as a Haynes Manual, with faded pictures and the need for impossible tools and skills, for broken down people. It is story, poetry and prophetic ideas that inform wisdom and form a mindset. And as we are surrounded by news and views that may or may not be true, we really do need something that will enable us to think and feel in the way that God, our designer, intends. This is probably best done together – with questions and expressions and investigations where one person’s revelation impacts another; as well as personally, in the Holy Spirit, as a spiritual discipline that leads us to living well. If we ever needed the bible – this gift of wisdom and Spirit-life – it is now. We may end up with slightly different views and approaches in fact, but with a unity of heart and a mutual honour for one another and for the Kingdom of Jesus.
The quote from Mark Twain is a misquote – the real response from him was, (and you’ll have to look this up in a reputable library with Oxford scholars on hand to make sure it’s true; I got it from an internet article of course
'I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. [A cousin] was ill in London two or three weeks ago, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of this illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.'
Not so different in meaning to the first quote – a bit fuller – but generally OK, and with some helpful detail, and less extreme than Bigfoot being seen near the new retail outlet in Cannock.
Martin J Young